CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 03: Union supporters march in the 'Charlotte Labor Day Parade' on September 3, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina. Labor groups from across the state participated in the Labor Day event on the eve of the Democratic National Convention. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
By Natalie DiBlasio, USA TODAY
The long weekend was full of barbeques, parades and travel. But labor unions want Americans to remember why they get the first Monday of September off every year: to honor the achievements of working people.
"Each of us relies on the work of others, and Labor Day should be a time to recognize all those contributions," said Liz Shuler, secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO. "Our work binds us together, and as Americans, we're stronger when we celebrate those ties that make us better."
The AFL-CIO, which represents 56 unions and more than 12 million workers, allows people to send thank-you e-cards and videos from its website through Facebook and e-mail to American workers whose work they depend on.
One card reads, "Work is collar-blind. Whether your name is on your front pocket or the front office, everyone's work matters. Thanks for the work you do."
Across the country Monday, union workers used the holiday as an opportunity to lobby for better benefits and work conditions:
•At Brown University in Providence, janitors and dining services workers rallied to in support of food service workers, whose contract expires Oct. 12, and janitors, who, the organizers said, are often only offered part-time work and get paid as little as $38 per day.
•Several unions gathered for the Annual Labor Day Rally in Chicago, where the theme was "Jobs, Dignity and a Fair Contract." The Chicago Teachers Union, which has been negotiating a contract since November 2011, set a strike date for Monday.
•In Massachusetts, hundreds of janitors, security guards and airport workers rallied for better job security and higher wages at the Boston Common.
•In North Carolina, union members gave out free hugs. The North Carolina State AFL-CIO called the event "Hug-A-Thug" in an effort to point out that members are not "union thugs," as some Republicans have portrayed them.
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka drew chants of "Union! Union!" at a pro-union rally in Philadelphia after telling workers that they were "job creators."
"We built this country. We wake it up every day, we make it run and we put it to sleep every night - and it's time that we took it back for the American worker," he said.