True meaning of Labor Day in basin | TahoeDailyTribune.com

True meaning of Labor Day in basin

Andrew Pridgen

Labor Day weekend fireworks over the lake signal the end of the summer season Sunday night. / Jim Grant / Tahoe Daily Tribune

In September 1892, union workers in New York City took an unpaid day off in support of winning their own holiday. The labor force’s unrest over President Grover Cleveland’s strident policy against them had come to a head.

Soon after their protest, a bill to grant workers around the country an annual day of rest crossed Cleveland’s desk.

In 1894 the bill was passed, although it was too little, too late as Cleveland was defeated in his bid for re-election that year.

Samuel Gompers, who then headed the American Federation of Labor, coined the term Labor Day: “The day for which the toilers in past centuries looked forward, when their rights and their wrongs would be discussed … that the workers of our day lay down their tools of labor for a holiday, but upon which they may touch shoulders in marching phalanx and feel the stronger for it.”

Just try telling that to the phalanx of workers in the Lake Tahoe Basin, whose busiest weekend of the year is Labor Day.

“It’s just another day for us locals,” said Ernesto Perez, who was working at Napa Auto Parts of South Lake Tahoe on Sunday.

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Perez, who has lived here for 25 years, said he used to long to take time off on Labor Day, but he “just got used to (working).”

Visitors expressed a more casual look at the meaning of Labor Day.

“It’s an opportunity to celebrate the memory of those who served in this great country, who organized or non-organized,” said Van Howell of Boise, Idaho.

His son, Bryan, wanted to “honor the little guys,” opposed to the publicity hounds found in the entertainment and sports worlds.

Still, Ernie Schmidt of Stockton planned to enjoy the day off from his job as a San Joaquin County social worker.

“I think of it as a time to relax and be with family and friends,” he said, walking on Harrison Avenue with the Howells.

From construction to landscaping, retail, and the restaurant business, Labor Day in the basin has come to represent “one last big push” for summer. Or, as one local landscaper put it: “Like the bears, we’ll sleep in the winter.”

What may be surprising to some is the fact that most workers seemed happy about having to work Labor Day weekend, extolling the “good vibes” that come from visitors and locals enjoying a time that has become known as the last rite of summer.

Others, however, were worried that the uncertainty the nation faces with Hurricane Katrina in the South, gas prices and the war overseas would deter many from enjoying any type of three-day holiday.

Jordi Mateo took the stairs two at a time from the Village Ski Loft’s parking lot to the main store on the second floor. He played down the “work” aspect of it all, even though the Labor Day weekend sale is the store’s busiest three days of the year.

“To be honest, once the sale starts there’s a bit of relief here,” Mateo said. “We spend the week – lots of late nights – just setting up a new store in the parking lot. Strange to say, but by the time we open Friday morning, our work is half done.”

Mateo said a lot of the store’s employees and management look forward to the sale as a reunion of sorts. With 20 regular employees working the sale and an additional 30 employees flying into town or taking time off from their regular jobs to volunteer their services, the atmosphere is a convivial one.

“We have food brought in or a barbecue; everyone hangs out at night after we’re closed,” Mateo said. “It’s good to see people come through here that you haven’t (seen) in a while. Everyone’s in a good mood and the days go by fast.

“Besides you’re basically selling toys all day.”

While foursomes made haste from the links and began to take over the outside tables at Rookies in Incline Village on Friday afternoon, servers were busy making sure the beginning of the rush was happy with their nachos and beers.

“Yeah this is a huge weekend for us to work and do well,” said Darren Wilkinsen whose business partner is owner of Rookies. “We’ve got the start of college football, baseball’s heating up – and people are here from out of town. I think everyone’s looking towards a good turnout.”

Wilkinsen said he was “pretty sure” everyone at the sports bar was glad to be working and hoped for a steady weekend. If the Friday afternoon rush was any indication, the Rookies staff may be the ones really in for a long weekend to honor Labor Day.

“Can’t talk to you now – too busy,” bartender Sam Mott said.

– Tribune staff writer Susan Wood contributed to this report.