Labor Day- Philly Style

The summer is moving along very quickly. Soon it will be Labor Day, and fall won’t be long after. Time seems to fly faster as you age, and it seems like my first full-time job was just a few short years ago. In fact, it was over 62 years ago.

When you grew up in Philadelphia, and especially the Kensington section, which was considered a working person’s part of town, landing a job was a big deal. It was imperative. My friends and I all looked forward to meaningful work either in one of the many factories or, even better, the construction trade. Both required challenging work, but I think replacing roofs, digging ditches for pipes, and hauling bricks, cement, and bathtubs up five-story buildings, was a bit more strenuous.

My generation was lucky because our grandparents and great-grandparents fought the battle for better working conditions. Some were killed in the process. In those early days, kids worked in mines, factories, construction, and other hard jobs. There was no overtime, and it was normal to work 70-hour weeks and more for a meager salary, barely enough to feed a family. It didn’t matter if you were an adult or a kid.

If you want to read more about the Labor Day movement, I suggest you go to the PBS website and look under articles and read this one, Worker’s Rights Activists and the History of Labor Day.

What I think would be fun is to hear from you what your first full-time job was and how that affected your working future. I’ll start and tell you about the only three jobs I had working for someone else.

My first job was as an apprentice plumber. I was lucky my brother knew some people and got me hired by Seifert Plumbing. It was 1961, and I made $1.00 per hour. No overtime extra pay and I often worked 50 to 60 hours a week. It was a difficult job, full of arduous work, and as an apprentice can tell you, it was dirty work. My mom was proud that I was an apprentice plumber, and so was I.

In 1962 the Bay of Pigs emergency prompted me to quit and join the U.S. Air Force. I don’t include it in my job list as I felt that was a duty. I was lucky to be sent to school to learn photography, and that influenced my entire work history.

In 1966, after four years, two in Vietnam, I left the Air Force and got a job at Aero Services Corp in Olney. They were an aerial photography firm, and that is what I was taught in the USAF. A year later, I opted for a new job as a medical photographer working for the University of PA Vet School. In all these cases, the pay was abysmal, but the working conditions were particularly good.

By 1970, another photographer and I started a company. I still had to have a job, so I went to work with my business partner’s father selling plastic tubing. By 1971 I was full-time at our new company, and I was self-employed until, well, even now that I am semi-retired.

If it had not been for those brave labor fighters of the early part of the 20th Century, I doubt my job trajectory would have been what it was. In 1894 President Grover Cleveland made Labor Day a national holiday. It took many more years to get fair labor laws, but it was a start. Philadelphia has had a rich history of labor reform, and all those from Philly should be proud of our heritage.

I chose some photos from my Philly Tales photo Album of past working Philadelphians. Have a happy Labor Day on September 4th, 2023.

What’s your working history?

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