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Not Literally Labor Day

Michael J. Ring

Recently a group of local malls ran an advertisement in the Boston Globe, telling the readers they would be celebrating Labor Day in the most fitting way possible: they would be working.

While the chutzpah mall management showed in running this ad is impressive, that is all that is to be admired in its message. The notice blatantly mocks the meaning of Labor Day. Labor Day is not meant to be a day to labor, which unfortunately is how much of corporate America feels. Rather, it is supposed to be a day to honor the contributions working men and women make to our society and give them a chance for leisure and relaxation.

Today fewer and fewer workers can enjoy rest on Labor Day, and nowhere is that trend more apparent than it is in the retail industry. It was not all that long ago that stores would close on holidays such as Labor Day and Veterans' Day. Those breaks were needed by the industry's burdened, stressed workers. Upper management now is unresponsive to the needs of these laborers for a day's rest. For many of our nation's retail employees, Labor Day is just like any other: A day to labor.

There was previously a solution to check the desires of the retail industry. Society once enforced blue laws, preventing shops from opening on holidays. Most of these laws, however, have been purged from the statutes of most states. Some would call these repeals "modernization" and "progress." I believe the repeal of the blue laws heralds exactly the opposite motion.

The repeal of the blue laws has meant a repeal of time for working families to spend together. It has ushered in a repeal of vacation time for workers. It has also demonstrated a new level of greed among the management of retail companies. The blue laws can help check corporate greed and restore the free time duly owed to the hardworking laborers in the retail industry.

The current economic dynamics, while favorable overall, are not friendly to many blue-collar workers. Manufacturing jobs, the best opportunities for non-college educated workers to find high pay and good benefits, are continuing to flow overseas. Jobs in the service sector, particularly the retail industry, are filling the void for many of these workers.

Unfortunately, employment in the retail sector is not as rewarding as that in manufacturing. Pay is generally lower in the retail industry, and benefits packages are less impressive. Workers must put in longer hours to make ends meet and have fewer precious free hours to spend with family and friends.

Politicians love to talk about "family values" and lament the decline of the family structure in this country. It is for largely economic reasons such as these that many families are weak. Restoring Labor Day as a time of rest and respite with one's family is one small step society can take to reverse this trend. It is not unreasonable to give workers an occasional day off such as Labor Day to spend with their spouses and children. Those are "family values" that we should all support.

Let us not forget either that working in the retail industry can be incredibly stressful. Poor benefits, low job satisfaction, and cranky customers all add to the burden that cashiers, sales associates, and stock clerks face. These people are often compelled to work odd hours and nights and weekends as well. They truly deserve an occasional holiday to rest and relax.

Some companies in the retail industry would argue that they would not remain competitive if they were not allowed to conduct business on holidays such as Labor Day. I, however, strongly doubt their fears would come to fruition if we returned to the blue laws.

Shopping malls have substantially increased their hours of operation from what they were a generation ago. Most large stores operate until 10 at night; some now are open 24 hours a day. Both weekend days are major shopping days, with many stores holding extended hours on Saturday. Malls and shopping centers have also expanded their Sunday hours as well.There are plenty of opportunities throughout the week for people to shop and buy what they need. The retail industry doesn't have to take away its employees' holidays in order to serve its customers.

In today's hectic world, everybody deserves to enjoy an occasional holiday of rest and relaxation. The employees of the retail industry should not be unfairly burdened and denied this opportunity, especially when many companies are raking in record profits and are not dependent on opening for these few days. The blue laws may be antiquated in origin, but they have certainly not outlived their purpose. It's time to put the retail blue laws back on the books and to let workers in that industry enjoy some time for themselves.