Labor Day

Labor Day in America has come to mark the end of the summer. Years ago in “high society” Labor Day is (or was) considered the last day of the year when it was fashionable to wear white or seersucker.  I am not sure how relevant that is anymore.  I just purchased a white, sleeveless wool dress for fall.  White jeans are now de rigeur year round.

As Labor Day approaches, what is on most people’s minds is snatching one more lazy summer weekend respite, having a few folks over for a backyard barbecue before the tsunami of the Fall’s calendar overtakes us. But in the background, the news and talk shows will be replete with the debates of this political season- what the unemployment rate really means, how to create jobs, how to drive economic growth.  And I guess that is what has prompted me to share a few thoughts on the meaning of Labor Day in 2012.

By most accounts, in 1882, Matthew McGuire, head of the CLU, Central Labor Union of New York, first proposed celebrating the worker with a recognized day.  After labor tensions rose, culminating in the deaths of workers during the Pullman Strike, the proposal was rushed through Congress to be voted a federal holiday in 1894.

A hundred some years later, as a (now former) participant in a professional union (AFTRA), membership was mandatory but hardly a life and death matter for folks like me. The worst thing that can happen in a TV studio is that you get caught in the crossfire of anchor banter on the set.  We “labored” under the protection of personal contracts, which rendered inconsequential most of the gains or losses of collective bargaining.  Yet it was interesting to be part of a group of employees who had some common goals.  At the time I lived in a world where most people I knew had an us versus them view of the workplace.

Now as an entrepreneur and CEO, I get down on my knees and say a prayer of gratitude every day for the people who show up and give it their all. That doesn’t change the fact that I was as miffed as any business owner to hear President Obama declare, “You didn’t build that!”  My husband’s lawyer-like analysis was this.  If you apply Mr. Obama’s logic, then the roads that bring people to your company’s doorstep also take them to rob your house or sell drugs to your kids.  Therefore, criminals didn’t make themselves into criminals. The society that built the roads is responsible for their crimes.

But setting politics aside, and I mean it, every business owner and CEO I know is absolutely in awe of the good people who show up and deliver above and beyond. It is true that they don’t always express it.  Let’s just say most business owners could hit the pause button on the 24/7 task of “building that” to express thanks.

For example, I usually stay at the office until about 6:15 PM, and the last hour of the day I try to power through to get a couple things done. When the phone stops ringing and the inbox quiets down, I relish that hour and go into a zomby-like trance checking off those last important tasks.

Around 5:45, the woman who maintains our offices shows up to empty my wastebasket.  Most evenings I am so engrossed in work I don’t hear her walk in.  Since she doesn’t speak much English, she often stands there waiting politely until I look up, and (reluctantly) move my chair aside to hand her the receptacle.  If I am honest I will tell you that I often have to fight off feeling annoyed at the interruption.  In the heat of getting one more thing done, I have go force myself to pause, smile and say thank you.

This morning when I woke up and thought about writing this blog post, she was the person that leapt to mind.  Her contribution to keeping our office spiffy and spotless goes beyond cleanliness.  A great looking office environment is part of our company brand.

Every task matters.  Every person’s contribution should be acknowledged, not just for what it is on the face of it, but what it creates. If you haven’t taken time to think about that, and thank some people who get forgotten, this would be a good week to do it.

I hope all Americans can all come together this weekend, in spite of our political differences, to celebrate what built this country…hard work. We do honor labor in all its forms.  Every man and woman’s sweat and toil contributes to our collective well-being.  We may disagree on how to create jobs or get our economy on track, but we must appreciate the enduring meaning of Labor Day, to celebrate each person’s earnest measure of labor, which has created a society that is still second to none.