Federal holidays weren’t created equal

Labor Day should be set aside so “the laboring man can feel that he holds an honorable as well as a useful place in the body politic, so long will he be a loyal and faithful citizen,” the House Committee on Labor declared when the holiday was established in 1894.

It’s one of 11 holidays established by the federal government.

These days are frequently called “national holidays,” but the notion is wrong. The holidays — and the paid time off — only apply to federal employees and the District of Columbia, according to the Congressional Research Service.

Washington and other states established their own set of holidays.

The private sector is not required to offer any pay for vacations or holidays, according to the Fair Labor Standards Act. Employers generally agree employees on holidays and vacations as a way to attract and retain workers.

Here are how the federal holidays evolved:

1870s: Congress established the first federal holidays: New Year’s Day, Independence Day, Christmas Day, Washington’s Birthday and “any day appointed or recommended by the President of the United States as a day of public fasting or thanksgiving.”

The holidays applied only to federal employees who worked in Washington, D.C. At the time, there were 5,300 federal employees in D.C. and about 50,600 in the rest of the country, according to the Congressional Research Service.

The holidays didn’t apply to all federal workers until 1885.

1888: Decoration Day, what is now called Memorial Day, was added to the list of holidays, primarily because a large number of federal employees were members of the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization of Union Civil War veterans who wanted a day to honor those who had died in the conflict.

1894: Congress established Labor Day as a way to honor American labor and foster the feeling of brotherhood across the crafts, according to the Congressional Research Service. “The use of national holidays,” the House Committee on Labor reasoned, “is to emphasize some great event or principle in the minds of the people by giving them a day of rest and recreation, a day of enjoyment, in commemoration of it.”

1938: Armistice Day was created to mark the close of World War I. In 1954, the holiday was changed to Veterans Day to honor Americans who fought in World War II and the Korean conflict.

1941: President George Washington issued a “day of public thanksgiving and prayer” on Nov. 26, 1789. Then six years later, Washington called for a second day of thanksgiving in February. But it wasn’t celebrated annually until 1863 when President Abraham Lincoln made it a tradition to celebrate the day on the last Thursday of November.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt moved Thanksgiving to the third week in November in 1939 and 1940, with the hope “to aid retail business by producing a longer Christmas shopping season.” After criticism from the public, Roosevelt signed a law on Dec. 26, 1941 to permanently make the holiday on the fourth Thursday of the month.

1957: President Dwight D. Eisenhower established Inauguration Day as a legal holiday for federal workers on Jan. 11, 1957. It’s the only federal holiday observed quadrennially.

1968: Congress created the Monday Holiday Law in 1968 to create “uniform annual observances of certain legal public holidays on Mondays. Before the legislation, Washington’s Birthday was observed on Feb. 22, Memorial Day on May 30 and Veterans Day on Nov. 11. After the law, the holidays were celebrated on the third Monday in February, the last Monday in May and the fourth Monday of October. In 1978, Veterans Day was moved back to Nov. 11.

The Monday Holiday Law also created Columbus Day as a federal holiday, adding that the holiday would provide “an annual reaffirmation by the American people of their faith in the future, a declaration of willingness to face with confidence the imponderables of unknown tomorrows.”

1983: President Ronald Reagan signed the law establishing the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. as a federal holiday on Aug. 2, 1983. After King’s assassination in 1968, several proposals came about to create a federal holiday to honor the civil rights hero. Opponents argued that it would cost taxpayers $220 million to $240 million a year in lost productivity. Reagan, after signing the law, said King “stirred our nation to the very depths of our soul.”

It was first observed in 1986. This year, MLK Day and Inauguration Day were observed on the same day.

Labor Day

Here are some scheduled closures and changes in Snohomish County for Labor Day:

  • Government: Federal, state and local offices are closed.
  • Schools: Closed.
  • Post offices: Closed, although Express Mail service continues in metropolitan areas.
  • Commerce: Many businesses and most banks are closed. Everett and Alderwood malls are open.
  • Transportation: Community Transit is not operating and Everett Transit is on a Sunday schedule. For state ferry information, go to www.wsdot.wa/gov/ferries or call 888-808-7977.
  • The Herald: The delivery deadline is 7:30 a.m. Classified advertising and the front lobby are closed. Customer service for home delivery is open from 7:30 to 11:30 a.m.
  • All Rubatino Refuse Removal trucks will be on their regular garbage and recycling schedules on Labor Day and throughout the week. The office, however, will be closed on Monday.

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