For many people Labor Day conjures up visions of end-of-summer celebrations to squeeze in a cookout or trip to the beach or pool before the cooling temperatures, back-to-school and work routines of autumn return.
In reality Labor Day is a 128-year-old tradition in the United States, providing citizens with an opportunity to reflect upon the contributions of the American worker.
In this regard, the scrap metal recycling industry has much to celebrate.
By way of background, it was on June 28, 1894, that Congress passed an act marking the first Monday in September every year as a federal holiday to celebrate the social and economic achievements of the American worker, according to the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) website. During the late 19th century labor supporters had been advocating for a holiday to recognize the contributions of American workers to the country’s strength, prosperity and well-being. In 1885 and 1886, individual states began to consider legislation to create their own Labor Day holidays. Oregon was the first state to establish the holiday in 1887, followed by Colorado, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York. By 1894, 23 more states had adopted the holiday before Congress acted later that year.
The scrap metal recycling industry is among the many industries that has been in existence since that first Labor Day so many years ago. Like other industry sectors its workforce has contributed to its success. Scrap metal recyclers in return have worked to provide good-paying jobs and improve working conditions over the decades. Today, the recycling industry is a source of “green jobs,” according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, meaning that a career in recycling is recognized to contribute both to the economy and the environment.
According to statistics compiled by the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI) 2021 Economic Impact Study:
- Some 159,640 jobs are directly supported by recycling and brokerage operations of recycling industries in the U.S.
- These jobs pay an average of $77,300 in wages and benefits to U.S. workers.
- Additionally, there are 346,499 jobs throughout the U.S. economy that are indirectly supported by the recycling industry through suppliers and the indirect impact of the industry’s spending.
The above statistics include businesses recycling all materials, such as paper, plastic, glass, and scrap metal. IBIS World, an industry research firm, reported in March of this year that for scrap metal recycling there were:
- Some 43,667 scrap metal recycling employees in the United States.
- The scrap metal recycling industry has had 5.6 percent annualized employment growth from 2017 to 2022.
- Scrap metal recycling wages in the U.S. totaled $3.3 billion in 2022.
- This amounts to a 6.9 percent increase in wages annualized from 2017 to 2022.
- The IBIS report adds, not only did scrap metal recyclers add more employees during that time period, but that also the “revenue per employee” for the average business increased as well, demonstrating the value of these employees.
Over the decades recyclers have increased emphasis on worker safety. Industry associations offer guidance and tools for improving workplace practices and procedures so they can be injury free. With mottos like “Safely or not at all,” recyclers have made worker safety a top priority. The National Waste and Recycling Association (NWRA), the Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA) and ISRI provide resources to help promote and facilitate the safety of recycling industry workers.
As the calendar page turns from August to September, the DOL website reminds us: “It is appropriate, therefore, that the nation pays tribute on Labor Day to the creator of so much of the nation’s strength, freedom, and leadership—the American worker.”
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