Updated: Sep 11, 2021
Labor day is back again. My union-loving friends love to point out that the holiday wouldn’t exist without unions fighting for it, and I suppose that’s true… but we shouldn’t just celebrate a sector of the workforce.
We should celebrate all good and fruitful labor. From the barista fueling so many folks’ early morning to the nighttime security guard walking a beat around a new construction site downtown, these efforts bear fruit.
My friend Al heads up a union of grocery workers, and the union makes sure the folks ensure we all have access to food - always a hugely important job, one no less necessary but made more difficult by the pandemic of these past 20 months.
When many were locked in houses trying to keep the virus away, these folks were at it every day, making sure our local stores had food for folks. Always essential, their job became more noble during the crisis.
I used to work in construction. Big projects, like an eight-story Hilton Beach and Tennis Resort in Mission Bay, Calif.
What I liked about the hard work was that at the end of each day it was easy to see what had been accomplished. Over time those small chunks of progress mark a path of large transformation as demolition becomes rough framing, then each trade’s work makes the place functional. Then the finishers do the detail work, completing the journey from needing upgrades to truly new.
For many of the guys, it wasn’t “noble,” it was just how they got paid. Yet, without that tradeoff of their time and talent for pay, society would crawl to a halt.
Sadly, this Labor Day, many places are seriously understaffed, begging for new hires precisely because that tradeoff isn’t being made for many folks. Food stamp cards magically have thousands of dollars appear and landlords are forbidden from requiring rent during a federal moratorium, and many folks are sitting at home enjoying the fruits without the labor.
This isn’t good. Yet, the hard lesson we’ll learn will likely remind us of how the trade of talent and time for remuneration greases the wheels of progress, a cycle that goes back to the very first folks who cleared a small circle of trees in order to plant more maize than their own family needed. From such sprung the capacity to grow a clan into a village, and onward from there.
I’m up to my neck in labor again now. The refurbishment of Faithbridge’s new property in Stowe hasn’t been as big as the tennis club, but it’s been big enough. Watching the progress day by day has been amazing. Regrading the yard, carpeting the sanctuary, cleaning the brick, painting, staining, rewiring and more. Seeing the team of hired workers, volunteers and contractors light up as the progress takes place brings a smile to my face.
This Labor Day, spare a moment to think about how your efforts, and the efforts of others, really do keep society moving along. There’s nobility there.
Rev. James Hogan is a native of Stowe Township and serves as pastor of Faithbridge Community Church in McKees Rocks.