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Labor Day 2006

September 04, 2006

Labor Day is often thought of as the unofficial end of summer. Most school systems start earlier now, but we'd bet most citizens think less about the holiday's origins than they do on the fact that it is the one weekday most people don't do any labor.

Its history is more interesting. As researched in 2001 by Jim Lehrer of the Public Broadcasting System, it goes something like this:

In 1894, President Grover Cleveland sent 12,000 U.S. troops to break a strike by workers for the Pullman Company, which made railroad sleeping cars.

The strike was broken, but only after two protesters were killed. It was an election year and in the strike's wake, Congress quickly made a concession to American workers - a holiday of their own.

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Cleveland signed the bill, but was not re-elected. Four years later, Samuel Gompers, head of the American Federation of Labor, said the holiday was "the day for which the toilers in past centuries looked forward, when their rights and their wrongs would be discussed ..."

We recall this history now because it is another election year. That makes it as a good a time as any to discuss the state of working people in Washington County.

Maryland's Secretary of Transportation recently delivered the bad news that the average Marylander's commuting time continues to increase.

This is due to a combination of factors, but the simplest explanation is that people are traveling from rural counties to metropolitan areas because that's where the better-paying jobs are.

In turn, people who once lived in the metropolitan areas are enduring a longer commute in return for what they believe is a better, more affordable lifestyle.

Of course, as the transportation secretary noted, all this causes a waste of time, money and gasoline, which isn't as cheap as it was last year.

A year ago today, we suggested that it was time for county government to survey workers who leave the county about the types of jobs they're doing, then try to attract such companies.

Time spent on the road is time that can't be spent with family or in contributing to the community by volunteering to help with youth activities such as sports or Scouting.

As we said last year, such a plan might not work. But we urged the county commissioner candidates to give it a serious look.

We remain concerned that some of the brightest people who live in Washington County can't contribute more to the community because they spend so much time traveling elsewhere to work. Let's try harder to keep them and their brainpower at home.

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