On Sept. 5 of this year, many Americans will sleep in on a Monday, enjoying the beginning of their Labor Day celebrations. Friends and family will join together, meats and vegetables will be grilled, cold drinks will be served, and working Americans will savor a day off from their jobs. Though the holiday provides a much-appreciated day of relaxation each year, it is sometimes easy to forget the reason the US commemorates Labor Day—a reason embedded in over 100 years of American labor movement history. The labor movement brought about monumental advances to workers’ rights, one of those advances being the creation of workers’ compensation legislation. The people at Lewis & Keller, a Winston-Salem workers’ compensation attorney’s office, wish to remind Americans of the history behind Labor Day and the sacrifices made to strengthen workers’ compensation law.
The Birth of Labor Day
As America began to industrialize in the late 19th century, the role of the commercial laborer was born. These workers needed protection from dangerous labor conditions and company policies that denied employer responsibility for job-related injuries. Thus, activists began battling for workers’ rights, and American industries changed dramatically.
On the morning of Sept. 5, 1882, a group of laborers met in New York City to organize a parade celebrating the work of laborers and raising awareness of workers’ rights. The parade organizers chose an early September date so as to overlap with a NYC conference of the Knights of Labor, hoping to gain support from the conference attendees. Though the event started slowly, by the end of the day over 10,000 individuals were participating in the festival. New York City and other cities across the US began honoring laborers annually with festivals in early September, and Oregon became the first state to make Labor Day an official holiday in 1887.
The commemoration of May Day, or International Workers’ Day, also contributed to the creation of Labor Day. After the violence of the 1886 Haymarket Affair in Chicago, labor movement activists declared May 1 an unofficial holiday promoting the rights of laborers. In 1894, President Grover Cleveland decided to grant the labor movement an official holiday, but he chose for Labor Day to fall on the first Monday of September.
Workers’ Compensation: The Beginning
The idea for workers’ compensation bloomed in the US with the onset of Labor Day. However, according to the Honorable Richard S. Tirrell, the tradition of workers’ compensation traces back half a century to when “cutthroats and pirates” instituted the first workers’ compensation system. Henry Morgan, the infamous English privateer, formed a union with other sailors in which he agreed to pay 600 “pieces of eight” for the loss of a limb while working under his leadership.
In the mid-1800’s, Chancellor Otto von Bismarck brought workers’ compensation to Europe. With the advance of the Industrial Revolution, the laborers of Germany began uniting against dangerous working conditions. The Chancellor needed to prevent laborers from forming a militant political party, so he instituted a social reform in which workers no longer needed to prove their employers’ guilt when injured on the job. This reform laid the basis for workers’ compensation in the US.
Workers’ Compensation Advancements in the United States
In the early 20th century, President Theodore Roosevelt pushed the issue of workers’ compensation into the public eye when he published an article entitled “Sarah Kinsley’s Arm”. The article discussed the case of Ms. Kinsley, who was denied compensation by her employer after her arm was severely damaged in a factory cog. President Roosevelt’s article, in conjunction with the public outcry from the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire tragedy, helped promote a growing system of workers’ compensation in the US.
Sam Horovitz, a Harvard lawyer, significantly strengthened the workers’ compensation system in the US in 1946. Mr. Horovitz met with 10 other lawyers in a Portland hotel room to lay the foundation for the National Association of Claimant’s Compensation Attorneys (NACCA). This organization sought to promote the rights of injured laborers while reforming compensation legislation. Eventually, NACCA would become the American Association for Justice, an organization dedicated to legally protecting injured workers and ensuring just compensation from employers.
Hiring a Winston-Salem Workers’ Compensation Attorney
The fight for workers’ compensation has been a long one, but it’s still not complete. Learn more about the workers’ compensation system and how to receive your compensation by contacting Lewis & Keller, a Winston-Salem workers’ compensation attorney’s office.