EDITORIAL: U.Va. should observe Labor Day

The University should suspend non-essential services for the holiday

Alderman-AWalsh03

While many businesses, government agencies and other universities cancelled classes on Labor Day, the University declined to do so.

Andrew Walsh | Cavalier Daily

While many businesses, government agencies and other universities cancelled classes on Labor Day, the University declined to do so. Instead, services continued as they would have on any regular weekday. The decision to continue nonessential services undermines the University’s relationship with its employees, and demonstrates a missed opportunity to unite the community in gratitude towards those who work to maintain and improve the school. As a public school, the University should be required to adhere to the national holiday calendar because of its close financial and managerial ties to the federal and state governments.

Labor Day started as a time to recognize the contributions of the labor movement to U.S. social and economic prosperity. The U.S. labor movement saw the establishment of labor unions, which advocated for workers’ rights. These unions negotiated significant labor rights for their members, such as the implementation of a minimum wage and the eight-hour work day. In the 1880s, labor unions such as the Central Labor Union and the Knights of Labor proposed a holiday to honor those who had contributed to the movement. The unions’ proposition quickly gained traction, and in 1894 Labor Day became an official federal holiday.

Although observance of the holiday originally included massive street parades and speeches from prominent members of society, and today’s celebrations are more characterized by family and community gatherings, the holiday still represents national appreciation for those who work to improve our country. The significance of  Labor Day, and many of its celebrations, cannot occur without a recess from daily work. Many businesses and schools suspend activity to create an environment where people can recognize and appreciate the labor force’s contribution to society — absence of this relief undermines laborers’ efforts.

The University offers an innumerable number of services to its community. Twelve individual schools, including the College at Wise, 22,805 undergraduate and graduate students and the beautiful Grounds of the University require an immense amount of funding, time and work. In addition to its academic offerings, the more than 100 research centers on Grounds explore disciplines in both the sciences and humanities. In order to maintain daily operations as well as plan for future success as an institution, the University employs around 28,000 people including health system employees. 16,788 of those employees are faculty and staff members, 14,136 of whom work full-time. Without these services and the people who perform them, the University could not maintain its status as a premier institution of higher education and health system. 

Clearly, many daily and long-term University operations would fail without the work of the University’s employees. Labor Day provides the University a valuable opportunity to express its gratitude for that work, and by not celebrating Labor Day, it fails to show well-earned appreciation. There are operations of the University, however, that cannot afford to close for a single day, such as many of the medical facilities and research centers. The University should prioritize the work of these facilities, which would require the presence of some employees. Nevertheless, certain services, such as regularly scheduled classes, should not occur on Labor Day. As the area’s largest employer, the school could improve its relationship with the greater Charlottesville community by demonstrating care for those who ensure the University’s continued wellbeing.

As the public flagship university of the Commonwealth of Virginia, the University is closely tied to both the federal and state governments. Federal departments provide funding for various University functions, such as research, for which the Department of Health and Human Services appropriated $191 million for the 2017-18 fiscal year. According to the Approved Budget of the Commonwealth of Virginia, the University was appropriated almost $1.3 billion for the 2017 year.

These appropriations do not, however, reflect key endeavors that operate independent of the government. The University has increased its research capabilities through the Strategic Investment Fund, as shown by the establishment of the UVA Brain Institute. The SIF also allowed for the creation of the Affordable Excellence model, which has increased the University’s affordability for 70 percent of Virginia residents in 2015. These autonomous initiatives would not be possible without the Board of Visitors — appointed by the Governor of Virginia — which oversees all University operations. This connection to the state government implies that although the University acts autonomously in certain ways, its decisions are subject to the approval of the Commonwealth. This relationship with the government should require adherence to federal and state calendars, which include Labor Day as a recognized holiday. 

Although observance of Labor Day does incur a cost on the University, the benefits of doing so are far greater. Cancellation of non-essential services offers a University-wide appreciation for its employees, which greatly improves the integrity of our University community.

The Cavalier Daily Editorial Board is composed of the executive editor, the editor in chief and three at-large members of the paper. The board can be reached at eb@cavalierdaily.com.

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