Why No Labor Day?

By Catalina Righter

News Editor 

Monday, Sept. 7 marked Labor Day with the closing of businesses across the country in recognition. This holiday, nationally recognized since 1894, is “a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country,” according to the website of the US Department of Labor.

However, a visitor to the Washington College campus would still find teachers and students in class, Dining Service workers preparing food, or Buildings and Grounds workers tending to service requests, or any number of other members of the workforce dedicatedly doing what’s required to keep the campus running. As a private college, WC chooses not to recognize Labor Day by closing the school.

Provost and Dean Of the College Dr. Emily Chamlee-Wright said this decision was made during the 2013-2014 academic year. “Faculty and staff explored both the pros and cons of closing the College for Labor Day. Previously we had held classes, but administrative offices were closed for the holiday. Many staff, such as dining services staff, housekeeping, and Buildings and Grounds still had to report to work.”

A historical newspaper illustration shows the first US Labor Day parade in New York City.
A historical newspaper illustration shows the first US Labor Day parade in New York City.

This seemed to be an inadequate answer to the question of how to recognize the holiday. Besides requiring personnel to work, “there was no obvious date that would replace Labor Day if there were no classes,” said Dr. Chamlee-Wright. “Finally, we believed that it was important for students, particularly first-year students to get acclimated to campus and adjusted to a regular schedule of classes and program activities in the first critical weeks of the semester.”

Comparable colleges to WC do recognize Labor Day by cancelling classes. According to their online campus calendars, Hood College, another private liberal arts college and Loyala University, a private Jesuit university did not have classes on Labor Day.

Many students at WC side with the decision of the administration for various reasons. Some, like sophomore Lily King, feel that the concept of Labor Day as a rest day is not needed in the context of a college student’s calendar. “We already get plenty of time off already. For instance, our winter break is a little more than a month and summer is just as long as a semester. So to complain about not getting an additional day off is, in my view, a bit absurd in the grand scheme of things,” she said.

The trouble for many is when they consider whether professors deserve the day of rest. Alumna Amanda Varvar, cClass of 2015, said, “Being a student is one thing, but given what Labor Day is and what it celebrates, I don’t think it’s fair to ask our professors and other staff to work that day.”

Whether classes were cancelled or not, as Dr. Chamlee-Wright observed, certain staff were needed for the running of the college. Olivia Libowitz, sophomore, said, “As students, who have chosen to go to school, I do not believe we fall under the title of ‘hard laborers’. The dining staff, however, does, which is ironic seeing as even if we as students had been given the day off, the staff still would have been called in to school to serve us our food and clean our houses while we take a long weekend.”

Senior Richard Lomas agreed with Libowitz on the unfair result of a cancelled day of classes. “Labor Day is intended as a day to thank the workers who keep this country running every day, and the sacrifices of the labor movement over the decades to improve working conditions and living standards. It would be a cruel irony to give a mostly-affluent student body the day off from their non-jobs while the dining staff, grounds keeping, janitorial staff, and other actual laborers at WC continue working,” he said. “However, it would reflect the reality of Labor Day, in that the day off is enjoyed mostly by middle and upper class people while retail and service sector employees, the largest sector in the US workforce, are assigned longer hours to service the aforementioned lucky ones.”

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