Some still labor on Labor Day

Many must do so, others just enjoy it

tmiller@mercedsunstar.comSeptember 8, 2013 

While many spent Labor Day at home around a barbecue with family and loved ones, Juan Covarrubias of Merced was hard at work, mowing the lawns around an apartment complex.

"I have four kids," the 48-year-old said on Monday. "I have to pay for school supplies, shoes, everything."

The holiday, which is set aside to honor workers, dates back to 1894.

Congress passed a bill recognizing the holiday after a railroad strike turned violent.

Regardless of the holiday's history, Covarrubias was one of many people working in the Merced area on Monday.

He owns a landscaping business, and said he couldn't afford to take the day off.

Working on the holiday is common, according to a Bloomberg Bureau of National Affairs survey.

Of queried employers, 39 percent maintain operations on Labor Day and require some employees to report to work.

Employers with 1,000 or more employees were more likely to require at least some employees to report to work than employers with fewer workers — 63 percent versus 29 percent.

Many people don't mind the holiday work. Mark Thompson, 46, said the holiday was the optimal time for him to be working.

As a maintenance worker for Quad Graphics in Merced, he can get more done when everyone else is not around.

So, what does Labor Day mean to Thompson?

"It's the day my son was born," Thompson said with a laugh. "That's the real Labor Day."

James Shelton of Chowchilla also doesn't mind working on Labor Day, as he explained during his lunch break, sitting his truck, eating grapes.

The 45-year-old AT&T repairman said he would get time-and-a-half pay.

"It's hard for me to complain about having to work today," Shelton said, adding he's happy to have a job. "I see too many people without work."

Unemployment is a problem in Merced County. The county's unemployment rate is currently the third worst among the 58 counties in California.

Merced County's unemployment rate bumped up in July, but remains well below where it was during the same month last year, according to the Employment Development Department.

The jobless rate is down 2.6 percentage points from this time last year. It was 17.2 percent in July 2012.

However, the number of people without work bumped up to 14.6 percent in July from 14.1 percent the previous month.

July's unemployment rates in Merced County's six cities were 14.4 percent for Merced, 14.9 percent for Atwater, 19.8 percent for Dos Palos, 8.4 percent for Gustine, 16.9 percent for Livingston and 15.4 percent for Los Banos.

The EDD report showed California's jobless rate rose to 9.3 percent, up from 8.5 percent in July.

That's still higher than the nationwide jobless rate of 7.7 percent in June.

Reporter Thaddeus Miller can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or tmiller@mercedsunstar.com.

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