Amarillo, TX -- The official last day of summer provided perfect weather for Labor Day celebrations - but most of us probably didn't give much thought to what the holiday actually represents.
In the late nineteenth century, labor unions started cropping up in tandem with the Industrial Revolution. In those days, their demands were simple: safe working conditions and reasonable wages. The first Labor Day celebration took place in 1882, but it wasn't until 1894 that then-President Grover Cleveland officially designated it as a national holiday.
"Labor Day is about the people who agitated for benefits in the workplace - things we take for granted today," says Ed Sills, Director of Communications for the Texas AFL-CIO. "Some of those things include paid holidays, paid vacations, a 40-hour workweek, health care plans, retirement benefits - and I could go on and on."
Today, unions have evolved into much more comprehensive and influential organizations that still have a significant continuing impact on working conditions and quality of life for both laborers and those who reap the benefits of their labor.
"Unions are still needed because we can negotiate benefit packages," says Abel Bosquez, President of the Amarillo Central Labor Council. "Collectively we can ask for better wages - we've got 40-hour weeks because of unions."
"Most labor unions have apprenticeship programs that are without question the best of their kind," says Sills. "If a union is working on a construction project, you can be confident that the workers on that project had years of training as apprentices, and learned their craft very carefully, and that the building is going to be solid."
In some professions, it's all but impossible to get a job without membership. Commercial airline pilots, for example, must go through hundreds of additional hours of training to hold membership in the Airline Pilots Association.
"I'd venture a guess that nobody in the viewing audience would prefer to have an airline pilot who's not in a union, who wasn't trained the way these pilots are," says Sills. "That's true for firefighters, that's true for police officers - it's true for people who we depend on for our lives."