For many people in the U.S. Labor Day means the unofficial “last” day of summer, the start of the new school year and the start of fall sports. For Katz Friedman it means so much more and entails many of the principles on which our firm was founded.
Labor Day is a federal holiday in the United States celebrated on the first Monday in September to honor and recognize the American labor movement and the works and contributions of laborers to the development and achievements of the United States. Having the first Monday in September be a day off from work has been significant for American workers since the late 1800s. At the peak of the industrial revolution, working conditions in factories, mills, mines and most other industries were very unsafe. The average worker, many of whom were young school aged children, were often required to work 12 hours a day, six days a week, in crowded, poorly ventilated spaces. Workers began holding strikes and rallies that called for shorter workdays and better conditions. During this time period most of the labor unions as we know of them today were born, and memberships in unions were at their peak in the period leading up to the late 1960s.
In 1953, when labor union memberships were at an all-time high, Harold Katz represented the United Auto Workers, and Irving Friedman was a trial Attorney for the National Labor Relations review board. Although the two labor lawyers met as opposition, they inevitably joined forces and went on to have a 50+ year partnership to fight for economic justice for workers across Illinois.
Today, Katz Friedman looks at Labor Day as a day of reflection and pride in the work we have done hand in hand with the labor movement over the years. Larger unions in the manufacturing, medical, and education industries have relied on our understanding of employment and labor issues to guarantee the best business practices and working conditions for their members. We have offered legal guidance and representation before federal and state judges, the National Labor Relations Board, and arbitrators.
Over the years we have worked side by side with our brothers and sisters at the United Auto Workers Union, United Steel Workers’ Union, Illinois Nurses Association, Illinois Education Association, the Chicago Federation of Labor, the third largest central labor council of the National American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations and countless other unions to help negotiate and enforce contracts with employers that guarantee workers fair wages and better working conditions without the fear of retaliation.
Last week, over 500 nurses, led by their union, the Illinois Nurses Association (INA), participated in a strike against St. Joseph Ascension Hospital in Joliet. The INA and its members continue to fight for fair wages and adequate staffing at the hospital. The refrain exclaimed by the nurses on the picket line was “Ascension won’t break us!” Many leaders and members of the community and employees of the hospital expressed their support for the nurses during the strike. When asked about the union’s morale in the ongoing strike, John Fitzgerald from the INA stated, “we are unbowed and unbroken.” Katz Friedman, whether fighting in court or handing a cold drink to a member on the picket line, continues to support and stand in solidarity with the INA.
Other significant Labor negotiations are looming with the UAW’s pursuit for better contracts with Ford, General Motors and Stellantis (Chrysler) and we pray for a new vehicle to be built in the plant in Belvidere. Additionally, the fight continues for the AFA and APFA for better contracts for flight attendants with United Airlines and American Airlines.
This weekend, as we continue to consider the significance of Labor Day, in addition to our reflection on the impact of unions, we will also take time to appreciate the essential workers who kept the country running through an ongoing pandemic. We celebrate those workers in health care, public health, public safety, agriculture, transportation, public works, information technology and manufacturing.
At Katz Friedman we recognize Labor Day as a holiday that celebrates all of us contributing to the strength, prosperity, and wellbeing of the economy and our fellow workers. Samuel Gompers, the founder and longtime President of the American Federation of Labor put it best when he said, “Labor Day is devoted to no man, living or dead, to no sect, race or nation.”