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In 1894 Grover Cleveland signed a law establishing Labor Day as a federal holiday. However, this historical moment arrived twelve years after Labor Day was first celebrated in New York City, on September 5, 1882.
On that day, ten thousand workers marched from City Hall to Union Square, marking the first Labor Day parade in history.
In addition, workers gathered for picnics, concerts and speeches as a strike to demonstrate an opposition to unfair treatment in the labor industry.
It was the height of the Industrial Revolution. People worked twelve-hour days, seven days a week in unsafe conditions with no vacation and no healthcare benefits.
However, following a deadly railroad strike, Cleveland signed the holiday into law on June 28, 1894, marking the first Monday in September as the working man’s holiday.
It wasn’t until 1938, however, that The Fair Labor Standards Act was signed into law by Franklin D. Roosevelt, establishing an 8-hour work day, a 5-day work week and an end to child labor.
Today, Labor Day is celebrated with barbeques, picnics, parades and most of all retail sales. Ironically, with the majority of the employees in the United States filling positions in the retail industry (4.5 million) most working Americans will not be relaxing on Labor Day, but rather laboring.
And while we’re not striking to fix labor conditions or working to make changes within in the labor system, it’s not unusual to find some that love what they do.
Among that fortunate portion of society, here three Shelby County community members and workers who have been happily serving our community for more than 100 years combined.
Employment:West Middle School
How long: Forty years in total. She spent 21 years as a teacher, administrator and principal at The de Paul School in Louisville and 19 years as a 7th grade Language Arts teacher at West.
Why did you start: “I really started working with kids when I was 15 in a tutorial program…But I knew early on in high school that I wanted to be a teacher.”
What has changed since you began: “My teaching has changed over the years. The district has always been…the kind of district that encourages professional development…Shelby County [Public Schools] never stays still, they are always looking at how to grow the kids and grow the teachers. Teaching is just totally different today than when I first started.”
What do you love about your job: “I love the kids. I come to school every day because of the kids. When I walk in this door I’m excited to be here to work with the children. It’s all about the kids…I’ve got terrific co-workers.”
Name: Susan Curry-Aldridge
Place of employment: Shelby County Clerk’s office
How long: 27 years
Why did you start: “[County Clerk] Sue [Carole Perry] had called the vocational school looking for a co-op student and I was recommended…I started co-oping in March of ’87. And then I went full-time the day after I graduated.”
What has changed since you began: “Everything…The way we process…the county’s grown. In ‘94 when I started doing the election process we had 18 precincts and 14,324 voters. And as of to-date we have 34 precincts and 29,190 voters.”
What do you love about your job: “I love the people and working with the public.”
Name: Ricky Cox
Place of employment:Quality Assurance Manager at Roll Forming
How long: 41 years
Why did you start: “I came here in May of ’73, not really knowing what I wanted to do with my life…I came here honestly just as a summer job…I liked it…and I stayed. It didn’t seem like a job. I just took to it.”
What has changed since you began: We went from a small private corporation to a much larger company. Our parent company is in Europe…so the structure has changed. There has been a lot of technology changes…the addition of computer design and computer aided processes, those are huge.
What do you love about your job: “I’m grateful to work in the same community where I live. I worship and go to church with a lot of these people. I hunt and fish with a lot of these people…they are like family. I like taking the wisdom of the things that we’ve learned and passing them on to new people that are really talented. I don’t consider this a job…I get in here early by choice.”