By Denise Richardson Staff Writer
The Daily Star
---- — Labor Day, though a working holiday for UUP members at SUNY Oneonta on Monday, was also a day of celebration.
After a decade of advocacy, the local United University Professions Oneonta Chapter recently won a change in the calendar that marks Labor Day 2014 as a day off, when no classes will be held.
“We’re looking forward to the celebration that people will have next year,” William Simons, UUP chapter president, said Monday.
The observance of Labor Day with the day off recognizes the hard work and dedication of employees and their need to be appreciated and to have time for rejuvenation, Simons said.
“Labor Day should never go by unacknowledged,” Simons, a history professor, said.
UUP has about 800 members, including faculty, computer and information technology staff and library and other professionals working in admissions, alumni, career placement and residential life, among other offices.
SUNY Oneonta enrolls about 6,000 students. Of 493 faculty, 259 are full-time and 243 are part-time, officials said, and the staff numbers 654 employees.
At Hartwick College, a private liberal arts and sciences school in Oneonta that enrolls about 1,600 students, classes start today.
Simons said unions have contributed to the economic strength of the United States and helped set safety conditions and wage standards of workers. Labor Day is a time to reflect on those accomplishments, he said, and UUP works not only on its agenda but toward the greater good of society.
“Labor Day is a totem — it’s a symbol of workers,” Simons said.
Labor Day grew from the labor movement and gained first governmental recognition though municipal ordinances passed in 1885 and 1886, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
The first state bill was introduced into the New York Legislature, but the first to become law was passed by Oregon on Feb. 21, 1887. During that year four more states — Colorado, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York — created the Labor Day holiday.
By 1894, 27 other states had adopted the holiday, the federal website said, and on June 28, 1894, Congress passed an act making the first Monday in September of each year a legal holiday.
In New York state on Monday, Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman released a statement to recognize “the immense contributions of working men and women to the strength, security and prosperity” of the nation.
“Let us continue to uphold New York’s proud tradition of standing up for working people, and protecting those who are struggling in these tough economic times,” he said. “From vigorously enforcing our state’s labor laws using civil and criminal tools to investing to create jobs and get our economy moving, let’s ensure that the working men and women of this country are treated with respect, no matter how modest their work or their means.”
At the SUNY Oneonta campus Monday, underneath a canopy set up in the quad, UUP members invited faculty, staff and students to stop by for lemonade and cookies and a moment to celebrate Labor Day and spread the word next year.
About 70 people stopped by, according to UUP members, and some but not everyone knew about the calendar change, which generally was welcomed.
Reaction was mixed among some students mingling elsewhere in the quad Monday.
Two freshman students said the change was a positive one for faculty.
“They can have a day off and spend it with the ones they love,” Jenn DeSantis, 18, a music industry student from Danville, Pa.
For students, it would be “a nice breather” after the first week of the semester, said Elise Iwanyckyj, 18, a dietetics student from Long Island.
“We can take time to appreciate the ones who are hard-working,” she said.
Tom O’Neill, 21, a senior from Summit, studying computer art, said a day off is welcomed, but he expressed concerns about having sufficient class time, especially for courses offered only on Mondays.
“It’s a hard decision,” O’Neill said.
According to the SUNY Oneonta 2014-15 calendar, new-student arrival and orientation will be Aug. 21 and 22, with classes starting on Monday, Aug. 25.
Simons said, as far as he knows, there isn’t a change in the number of teaching days. Most SUNY campuses observe Labor Day and there haven’t been reports of adverse impacts to academic calendars, he said.
For 10 years on Labor Day in the quad, UUP would present panels and speeches aimed at changing the practice at SUNY Oneonta of having a working holiday, Simons said. He attributed the change to support from college President Nancy Kleniewski, a recommendation by the College Senate Calendar Committee, a faculty-administration panel, as well as UUP efforts.
“This is an example of President Kleniewski’s being happy to look at things with fresh eyes,” Hal Legg, SUNY Oneonta college spokesman, said Monday.
He cited her other steps to propel the college to include the newly implemented five-division structure and the continuing program to manage resources.
Simons said priority issues for the UUP Oneonta Chapter include status and compensation of adjunct faculty and part-timers; gaining public support for SUNY and advancing discussions with the Legislature about the need for funding; accessibility, and developing a diverse work force and student body; and adequate compensation for faculty SUNY-wide.
Fred R. Miller, a retired SUNY Oneonta speech and communications professor who remains active with UUP, said the education of students involves eight unions on campus.
“It takes all of us — it’s the community,” Miller said, and Labor Day is about recognizing working people.
“Labor Day needs to be celebrated not just at SUCO but everywhere,” Miller said.
Jeff Silvernail, 25, a senior math major from Maine near Binghamton, said Labor Day is federal holiday that should be observed with time off, and he appreciated the change at SUNY Oneonta.
“Thank you,” he said.