By the Numbers: Labor Unions and Labor Day


The year of the first building-trades strike by Philadelphia carpenters, who wanted to reduce their hours to a 10-hour work day.


The year when the Federal Society of Journeyman Cordwainers (shoemakers) in Philadelphia was formed, marking the beginning of trade-union organization in America.


The year when the Lowell [Massachsetts] Female Labor Reform Association began petitioning for a 10-hour work day.


The year when New Hampshire enacted the first 10-hour-day law.


The year when the American Federation of Labor (AFL) was born under the leadership of Samuel Gompers of the International Cigar Makers Union. By 1892, the AFL represented 40 unions. The five largest were carpenters (57,000), typographers (28,000), cigar makers (27,000), iron and steel workers (24,000) and iron molders (23,000).


The year when the Carpenters Union went on strike and won the eight-hour day for its 28,000 members.


The year when President Grover Cleveland signed a law making Labor Day a legal holiday. It was originally celebrated on a Sunday.


The year when Mary Harris “Mother” Jones organized a children’s march from Philadelphia to New York to improve the enforcement of child-labor laws.


The year of the Bread and Roses strike, begun by immigrant women in Lawrence, Massachusetts. It ended with 23,000 women, men and children on strike. It was also the year when the Department of Labor was created.


The year when Frances Perkins became the U.S. Secretary of Labor and the first woman to be appointed to the U.S. Cabinet post. Two years later, she drafted the Social Security Act.


The year when the National Labor Relations Act was passed, which was supposed to put the power of the government behind the right of workers to organize unions and engage in collective bargaining.


The year when the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) was formed under the leadership of John L. Lewis of the United Mine Workers, which broke away from the AFL.


The year when the AFL and CIO combined forces.


The year when Cesar Chavez formed the AFL-CIO United Farm Workers Organizing Committee.


The year when the Uniform Monday Holiday Act was enacted so federal employees could have more three-day weekends. Along with Labor Day, it fixed Washington’s birthday, Memorial Day and Columbus Day as Monday holidays. Since then, Martin Luther King Jr. Day has been added.


The year when the Occupational Safety and Health Act was passed.


The year when Pride at Work – a national coalition of lesbian, gay, bisexual and trangender workers and their allies – became an AFL-CIO constituency group.


The year when labor unions joined with community activists to enact living-wage ordinances in 76 communities across the nation.


The year when the Wisconsin legislature passed former Gov. Scott Walker’s Budget Repair Bill (also known as Wisconsin Act 10), which affected the collective bargaining, compensation, health benefits, compensation and sick leave of public-sector employees (except for firefighters and most law-enforcement workers).