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Why I celebrate Labor Day

The Labor Day holiday gives cause to pause and reflect on the important work of all those who labor in our society. For United Methodists, Labor Day also provides a reminder of our faith tradition’s historic involvement in advocating on behalf of low-wage workers—something which should inform our efforts as people of faith throughout the year.

In his sermon on “Scriptural Christianity,” John Wesley reminds his followers that the one who “‘loved God’ could not but ‘love [one’s neighbor]’ also; and ‘not in word only but in deed and in truth.’” Thus, Wesley claims that economic justice and the Christian faith are inextricably linked, both in direct action as well as the embodiment of beliefs, or truth.

We often limit our understanding of labor issues to include fair pay, abolition of human trafficking and slavery, safety of working conditions, health care, and sick leave. In reality, these injustices have permeated society and demand creative responses which include the voices of workers. Wesley’s blending of belief and action inspires our responsibility to seek sustainable solutions which secure the wellbeing of all who labor.

While living in Denver, I had the opportunity to advocate for the needs of low-wage workers into a long-term public transportation development project. Low-wage workers in Denver share transportation struggles with peers across the nation where affordable housing and available jobs are often located miles apart, leaving many in a struggle to balance irregular schedules with lengthy, exhausting commutes.

Drawing on the resources of our faith, we advocated for the newly developed residences along mass transit routes to be mixed-income housing units, providing affordable housing in locations convenient for low-wage workers, while simultaneously securing living wage provisions for parking lot attendants, janitors and window washers at these sites.

Victories like this represent proactive changes that address the roots of injustice and include the voices of workers as valued and equal participants in the conversation.

As a young leader in The United Methodist Church, I understand part of my call as revealing the practical and theoretical intersections of economic justice and spirituality. The celebration of Labor Day reminds me of the complexities of labor justice and need for creative responses. As United Methodists, we are led by grace to labor for economic justice by embodying love of neighbor in word, deed, and truth.

*This blog post was originally published September 1, 2011. At that time, Ellis was a second year master of divinity school student at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn. and a member of the United Methodist Western North Carolina Annual (regional) Conference.