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Labor Day Was Created to Cut Manufacturing Workers Hours, It Worked

Labor Day Successful in Cutting Workers' Hours

Sept. 2, 2019
Working hours went from 70 per week in 1830 to 40 today.

In the 1830s, manufacturing employees put in 70 hours per week.

By 1882, they had enough of that and wanted to unify union workers to get a reduction in working hours.

The first Labor Day was held in 1882 in New York City and was sponsored by the Central Labor Union. “The organizers of the first Labor Day were interested in creating an event that brought different types of workers together to meet each other and recognize their common interest,” writes Jay L. Zagorsky for Smithsonian Magazine. The goal was to move to an eight hour working day, six days a week.

To create the holiday, the unions had to declare a one-day strike in the city.

It worked. By 1890, manufacturing workers were putting in 60 hours a week; however, that was a far cry from the 40-hour work-week of today.

Another interesting angle on this story, Zagorsky points out, is that employers were in favor of the shortened working hours. It allowed workers to spend their earnings boosting the transformation of the U.S. economy.  By the late 1800s and early 1900s, the economy was moving away from farming toward manufacturing and thus began to rely on consumer’s purchasing power of the increasing number of goods that were being produced.

To gain further insights into the holiday read Zagorsky’s article here. 

About the Author

EHS Today Staff

EHS Today's editorial staff includes:

Dave Blanchard, Editor-in-Chief: During his career Dave has led the editorial management of many of Endeavor Business Media's best-known brands, including IndustryWeekEHS Today, Material Handling & LogisticsLogistics Today, Supply Chain Technology News, and Business Finance. In addition, he serves as senior content director of the annual Safety Leadership Conference. With over 30 years of B2B media experience, Dave literally wrote the book on supply chain management, Supply Chain Management Best Practices (John Wiley & Sons, 2021), which has been translated into several languages and is currently in its third edition. He is a frequent speaker and moderator at major trade shows and conferences, and has won numerous awards for writing and editing. He is a voting member of the jury of the Logistics Hall of Fame, and is a graduate of Northern Illinois University.

Adrienne Selko, Senior Editor: In addition to her roles with EHS Today and the Safety Leadership Conference, Adrienne is also a senior editor at IndustryWeek and has written about many topics, with her current focus on workforce development strategies. She is also a senior editor at Material Handling & Logistics. Previously she was in corporate communications at a medical manufacturing company as well as a large regional bank. She is the author of Do I Have to Wear Garlic Around My Neck?, which made the Cleveland Plain Dealer's best sellers list.

Nicole Stempak, Managing Editor:  Nicole Stempak is managing editor of EHS Today and conference content manager of the Safety Leadership Conference.

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