By Beth Mora
California declared Labor Day, the first Monday in September, a legally recognized holiday in 1892. Two years later, in 1894, Labor Day became a federal holiday as well. The origins of the holiday stem from parades to celebrate trade and labor unions and to honor their contributions, which strengthen the communities where they worked. Labor Day also helped activists gain recognition for the mistreatment of workers, leading to the impactful legislation California has approved in recent years.
Labor activists have contributed tremendously to our collective workplaces. Rose Schneiderman began working in a sweatshop in New York City in 1898 at 16 years old. Following the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory disaster, Schneiderman helped organize an all-woman hat-makers union to demand equal pay and standard working hours. In 1962, César Chávez and Dolores Huerta founded the United Farm Workers to protect the largely Mexican-born agricultural laborers. The union gave voice to the previously unheard members who protested inhumane working conditions. The August 28, 1963, March on Washington was organized by labor activists A. Phillip Randolph and Bayard Rustin. The historical event was designed to shed light on the workers’ rights issues Randolph and Rustin had dedicated their lives to. These are just a few examples of the countless manners workers’ rights activists have significantly contributed to the betterment of the workplace, including wage and hour standards, health and safety regulations, as well as anti-discrimination, harassment, and retaliation policies.
In recent years, worker advocates like Schneiderman, Chávez, Huerta, Randolph, and Rustin have called on civil rights groups, labor unions, religious leaders, and the general public to raise their voices collectively for all workers. Empowered by this collective workers’ rights advocacy movement, California has passed bold legislation promoting workers’ rights for all, including nonunion workers. A few examples of this monumental impact include:
- Paid Sick Leave: California’s Health Workplaces, Healthy Families Act of 2014 (AB 1522) which guaranteed three paid sick days per year for most employees in California.
- Wage Theft: Wage Deprivation as “Grand Theft” (A.B. 1003, 2021 Cal. Stat 325).
- Equal Pay for Equal Play: In 2019, California passed legislation (AB 467) requiring all sports competitions held on public lands in the state to offer equal prize money for men and women.
- Equal Pay (Gender & Race): California expanded upon an employer’s reporting requirements, pay scale disclosures, and wage and hour record retention in 2022 (SB 1162).
- Civil Rights Statute: Extended the statute of limitations to file an administrative charge with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (now California Civils Rights Department – CRD) from one to three years (AB 9)
For workers, worker advocates, and Labor Unions, Labor Day means far more than an end-of-summer activity. It is a celebration of contributions to their community. Thus, thank you, workers and advocates—Happy Labor Day!
Beth W. Mora is a member of the Executive Committee of California Lawyers Association’s Labor and Employment Law Section. Her law firm, Mora Employment Law, is dedicated to representing victimized employees, as well as those facing a wide range of employment law issues.
 Cal. Lab. Code 245 et seq.
 Cal. Pen Code section 487m