The First Labor Day I Spent Working

I had never worked a holiday — not even a minor one — until the Labor Day after I graduated from college.

When you grow up in a small town in rural Missouri, you don’t even think about that kind of thing. Undoubtedly there were people in my hometown who worked on Labor Day, and on Thanksgiving and Christmas, but I grew up in a community that still operated like a community. Holidays were holidays, even the small ones.

And then I graduated from college, moved to Minneapolis, got a job as a telemarketer, and was told that the office would be open on Labor Day.

Technically we were not allowed to make calls during the “business hours” of Labor Day. By some kind of reverse mathematics, the hours between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. were considered the official holiday and we were forbidden from calling during those hours for whatever reason. However, it was all hands on deck at 5:01 p.m., ready to autodial phone numbers until 9 p.m. when we were no longer legally allowed to make calls.

I was a sweet summer child, but summer was over and my eyes were opened. That whole day, as I waited to take the bus to my evening shift, I saw businesses staffed full of workers, grocery stores and convenience stores and all those clothing stores offering their Labor Day sales.

In order to keep in touch with my college friends, I had created a sort of proto-Facebook, not knowing that Mark Zuckerberg was doing the same thing that year. It was a shared blog where everyone had the password and could post short updates about their lives. (We very quickly moved on with our lives instead, and the blog is now so defunct that I couldn’t even find it on the Wayback Machine.)

So I posted that day, on our shared blog, about how terrible it was that people had to work on Labor Day, and that the original purpose of the holiday was to celebrate the American worker — but many of the people the holiday was designed to honor have to spend the day at work!

And that same argument comes out every Labor Day; The Atlantic carried the torch this year, as did The Progress, and no doubt other sources.

But that summer was the first summer I discovered it.

What about you? And who on Team Billfold spent Labor Day at work?

Photo: Michael Hicks

Support The Billfold

The Billfold continues to exist thanks to support from our readers. Help us continue to do our work by making a monthly pledge on Patreon or a one-time-only contribution through PayPal.