The BDN editorial board wishes Maine a happy Labor Day.
Striking writers and actors picket outside Paramount studios in Los Angeles on July 14, 2023. Credit: Chris Pizzello / AP

Editor’s note: Park officials said Saturday that Acadia plans to stay open through Sunday, Oct. 1 if the federal government shuts down.

This newspaper recorded the events of Labor Day 1904 with unusual enthusiasm, describing a parade of more than 2,000 union members in Bangor as “filled with good-fellowship and triumph … a potent example typified in thousands of silent, stalwart men, of the strength and force and dignity which labor organization brings.”

In particular it admired the keynote address delivered by J.F. Sheehan of Massachusetts, who laid the groundwork for the development of unions.

“It is often said that the union men of America are discontented,” Sheehan said. “If this be so — and I deny it not — then it is a virtue and not a vice. The discontent that urges a man to rise above the lowly station where his lot is cast; that makes more money, better homes, nobler men and truer women; that has shortened the hours of labor and improved the scale of pay; that has given the United States the political liberty and social equality which it enjoys now; and which lastly, the trade unions of the land are going to ferment until it has equalized the scale between employers and employed until the American working man can stand up to all the world and say: ‘I am a man, with a man’s feelings and a man’s rights; I will be the faithful employ of any; but the unconsidered slave of none’ — this discontent, I say, must be hailed as a glory rather than as a sin!”

Ever since President Grover Cleveland signed an act making the first Monday in September a legal holiday to honor America’s workers, Labor Day has been a holiday of conflicting themes, an odd mixture of the somber and the frivolous. Even 19th-century labor organizer Peter J. McGuire, credited with conceiving Labor Day, admitted the holiday designed to honor work was timed to “come at the most pleasant season of the year, nearly midway between the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving, and would fill a wide gap in the chronology of legal holidays.”

This Labor Day comes as Americans continue to grapple with an economy that continues to change after the COVID-19 pandemic. There are many good signs — labor market participation is at more than three-year high and unemployment remains low. Wages, especially for the lowest-paid workers, have grown in recent years. Inflation also has cooled while remaining above the Federal Reserve’s target rate.

Where workers work — in an office, at home or both — remains an open question for many employers. During the pandemic, many workers were sent home to prevent the spread of the virus. Some remote workers moved to Maine, spurring population growth. While many workers like the freedom of remote or hybrid work, many companies, including Zoom, are increasingly calling workers back to offices.

Given ongoing gaps between worker and employer expectations, unionization is on the rise. That has been on display across the state, including here. Last year, the Bangor Daily News voluntarily recognized a newsroom union.

With a backdrop of uncertainty, the country’s economy remains the top concern of U.S. voters, according to recent polling.

So, this holiday weekend, which often marks an unofficial end of summer, a dose of caution will likely be mixed in with the traditional hot dogs and hamburgers at the Labor Day picnic.

The Bangor Daily News editorial board members are Publisher Richard J. Warren, Opinion Editor Susan Young, Deputy Opinion Editor Matt Junker and BDN President Todd Benoit. Young has worked for the BDN...