Labor Day: Not a Day Off for Everyone

Most Americans go to the beach and munch out at family barbecues, but some laborers have to work on the holiday

Labor Day celebrates workers. But not all of them get to take the day off.   Waiters, emergency first responders, security guards and many others have  no choice but to go to work. For them, this holiday s just like any other day. NYCity Lens staffers worked too, talking to New York’s Labor Day “laborers.” Here are their stories:

Feeling lousy on Labor Day 

On the corner of Third Avenue and 42nd street, every other passing taxi has an illuminated sign, revealing the drivers for whom Labor Day is a working day.

Emil Mircea, a 56-year-old taxi driver from Romania, is one of them—and he feels lousy about working during Labor Day. But he says he has to do it to support his loved ones.

“My family probably goes to movies,” he said. “They feel good and I have to work.”

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Mircea said he works every Labor Day because he has a different personal situation than the other drivers he knows. He alternates between working two months in New York City and spending two months with his family, who lives in Nashville, Tennessee.

“So when I’m over here I’m working,” he said. “I really work every minute.”

Mircea said he has a business partner and roommate that he shares the taxi with. He is currently in Romania. Mircea plans to go to Romania too, once his  two-month shift ends in late September, he said.

When asked what his view of Labor Day was, Mircea said, “Labor.”  On the holiday that exists solely for worker appreciation, Mircea’s sole choice is deciding his quitting time. — Daniella Emanuel

People gotta eat…

For Michelle Brown, 40,  a restaurant manager at Bernheim & Schwartz Hall in Morningside Heights, working on Labor Day is cruel.  But after 20 years in the business, it’s not that a big of a deal for her any more.

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“I’m used to working holidays”, said Brown, who works long hours five days a week as a restaurant manager in Morningside Heights.

Brown has worked in the restaurant business for 20 years and as manager of  Bernheim & Schwartz, located on Broadway between 113th and 114th streets, for the last three and a half years.  It’s tough:  she sometimes has to work more hours or days than scheduled if the restaurant is busy.

“The long hours and working weekends and holidays can be a pain,”  she admitted. “I’ve had to work on my birthday and miss family occasions because of work.”

Still, she says working in eateries has an upside.

“The money is good and the hours are flexible”, Brown said. “Plus I get to eat food and drink on the job.”

What would she do if she could celebrate Labor Day like everyone else?

“If I were off today, I would be at a cookout or barbecue,” she said.Patrick Ralph

 

Keeping data humming around the clock

When most of the towers in downtown Manhattan sat empty for the holiday, one office literally hummed with activity.

Because people expect to be able to access websites at any time, the countless blinking lights in New York Internet’s downtown Manhattan data center can never sleep. Nor can the technicians who make sure that websites stay online.

“We’re here 24/7, everyday,” said Kyle Williams, 30, a junior systems administrator.

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Data centers hold the servers where the information needed to run a website is stored. Clients rent storage space at the center, which offers better infrastructure, technical support and faster speed, for their websites.  Williams couldn’t talk about specific clients, but said his company works with any kind of website.

There were about three million data centers in the United States as of 2014, according to the federal Department of Energy.

“If anything goes wrong, we’re here,” said Williams, “Whoever has the server doesn’t have to wait for someone to drive all the way through Manhattan in a hurry.”

Williams said common problems include hardware failures and overloaded websites. If problems aren’t fixed, then websites can go offline. That has serious consequences for New York Internet’s clients.

“A lot of businesses have their infrastructure here. If their infrastructure goes down they loose money,” said Williams.

The threat of Tropical Storm Hermine made this long weekend slightly more tense for Williams. “Storms that can knock out power are a big deal,” he said, but the center has a backup generator and has weathered worse storms before.

“I’ve heard stories about the preparations for Sandy. Apparently they rented out the hotel across the street and stayed there for the duration,” said Williams, “we had 100 per cent uptime for the storm. It didn’t impact us at all. The power went out but we ran off the generator for 10 days.”

Williams, for one, said he doesn’t mind working on Labor Day.

“I would rather take a different weekend off than Labor Day, everything is so crowded,” he said, “So I’m working today in exchange for taking off a couple days in a couple weeks.”   — Joshua Oliver

Working the crowds at the US Open

“Welcome to the US Open,” said Rosemary Marrugo, 30, a US Open Ambassador from Freeport, Long Island, greeting afternoon visitors at the US Open grounds at Flushing Meadows, Queens.

On Labor Day at the tennis event, Marrugo was dressed in a navy US Open jump suit, a white shirt and a wide brimmed sun hat as she welcomed guests. US Open officials say nearly 37,000 people attended the day session, and nearly 25,000 watched the night matches.

Every year for the last seven years, she has worked at the tennis event that overlaps Labor Day weekend. “It’s a holiday but it’s part of an event,” she said. “I like being here. It’s great and I get to watch the matches.”

When she is not working at the US Open, Marrugo works as a full time mental health counselor at a substance abuse agency. It’s only during her vacation time that she he has taken on the role as a US Open Ambassador. As a tennis player herself, working at the US Open during the holiday and during her vacation is worth it, she said.

“I’m a seasonal worker and I take vacation time to be able to work the US Open,” she said. “So, you can tell how much I love working the Open.”

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Her parents were also at the event, enjoying their holiday from work.  “That’s their opportunity to come actually on Labor Day weekend,” Marrugo said. But rather than take the holiday like her parents, she’s decided to put on her US Open jumpsuit, greet guests as they enter the grounds, and direct them when they need help.

Marrugo said working as an ambassador is different every year. And not only that, but there’s one thing that continues to surprise her. “I’m never prepared for how crowded it gets. It’s really impressive,” she said about the people that surround the fountains in front of Arthur Ashe Stadium–the event’s main arena.

It’s not just the crowds that keep Marrugo coming back to work at the US Open, but the exposure she gets by watching professionals in action. “It’s exciting to see the players up close,” she said. “I do play tennis and I learn from them by watching.”

When asked who her favorite tennis player was she didn’t hesitate to respond.

“Roger Federer,” she said. — Hillary Marie Ojeda

Gotta pay the bills

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College tuition doesn’t pay for itself. That’s why you might find some college students out in the streets of New York City working on Labor Day. For them, like thousands of others, the national holiday isn’t that much of a holiday at all. 

Instead of enjoying the the last day of summer, Rudy Falcon, 22, who lives on Walton Avenue in the Bronx, works at Rite Aid, a 24-hour pharmacy on 235th St, Riverdale. He’s worked part time for Rite Aid for almost two years doing all kind of things: stocking, working the cash register, collecting the bottles for the “Take-it-back NYC” recycling program, and other tasks. 

“I prefer being in the back,” he said, pointing at the shelves.  The reason?  Being a cashier involves more customer interaction —and sometimes, he admits, some of them are  rude and “throw their bad days at you.”

When he’s not working, he studies physical education at the Bronx Community College;  he has only two semesters left until graduation. In a blue shirt and brown trousers, Falcon worked a 1 to 9 p.m. shift Monday and still managed to smile at everyone in the store, while he picked up bottles from the recycling bin and put them in transparent plastic bags.

“This is my first Labor Day working,” he said, adding that he’d actually asked for the shift.  “I don’t feel bad,” he said.  “It’s all right.” — Maria Belen Smole 

Another car, another dollar

Labor Day for Heulod Compere, 46,  is just another normal work day. He heads to the Upper West Side to 112th street where he works as a parking attendant just like he does every day, while his wife heads to Brooklyn to work as a nurse.

“Up until about 10 years ago I used to take Labor Day off but now I just don’t see the point,” Compere, who is originally from Haiti, says.  “There’s so much violence happening at the carnivals , I don’t see the meaning in taking off to be involved with that.”

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Compere, who is originally from Haiti, has worked as a parking attendant at Gallery Garage Management Corporation  for 10 months. He explained that Labor Day in New York is different  than anywhere else in America. “Labor Day is supposed to be a day for workers but in New York it’s a day of joy for people from the Caribbean.” The West Indian American Day Carnival Association promotes festivities starting on September 1st all the way to September 5th.

But Compere also says when he gets off at work at 4 p.m.  he wouldn’t be heading to any of the carnival events because of the violence.  Sunday evening, police said that at least two people were shot, one fatally, during the festivities leading up to the J’Ouvert and the West Indian Day Parade.

Labor Day in Haiti is traditionally celebrated on May 1st and when asked to compare Labor Day in America to Labor Day in Haiti, Compere said, “May 1st is a day for workers, everything is closed,” while here in America, “everybody is supposed to be home enjoying (themselves) but they’re working!”   — Margie Merritt

A noble job watching the waves

Dressed in a bright orange swimming suit, lifeguard David Cascone whistled towards a guy who crossed the security cordon and tried to step into the ocean.

“Stay away from the water!” he shouted.

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Cascone has been a lifeguard for 10 years, but he only began to work on Coney Island this May. Before that, he worked at the Hamilton Fish Pool. On Labor Day, his job was to keep people away from the water, as the city had issued bans against swimming because of the rip tides triggered by Tropical Storm Hermine that churned off the Atlantic coast.

“This job is noble,” he said. “It feels very good to save people’s lives and deal with emergency situations.”

Cascone felt the most accomplished, he said, when he saved a 4-year-old boy at the Hamilton Fish Pool. The water had reached the boy’s eyes so Cascone quickly jumped into the water and dragged the boy out. The boy, with the cutest voice, said to him, “I can’t breathe,” which melted his heart.

Over 200 lifeguards stand watch at Coney Island,  he said, and they are divided into different sections depending on the geographical features of the beach. After the ban on swimming took effect, Cascone’s responsibility was to keep people out of the water.

He was paid 50 percent more for working on Labor Day, so he felt totally okay to work on the holiday, even though his family were taking the day off to hang out with friends.  — Xiaoxian Liu

The summer harvest doesn’t stop

For Awilda Santana, 62, of Hamilton Heights, the corner of 145th Street and Saint Nicholas Avenue is the perfect spot to sell fruits and vegetables, even on Labor Day.

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With a considerable amount of foot traffic down 145th Street, the action never stops, and she loves interacting with the people around her. She also makes sure that everyone is on his or her best behavior.

“I act as another set of eyes for the community,” she says.

This is a new job for Santana, who has been working at the produce stand for just a couple of months. She calls the stand Black Seeds NYC, referring to its most popular product — watermelon, of both the red and yellow variety.

Is Santana bitter about working on Labor Day, of all days?

“Not at all,” she responds. “To me, [Labor Day] means go to work.”

While Santana admits that it can be nice to spend time with family at a barbeque or the beach, she says that taking off work would be a luxury that she cannot afford right now. She prefers to earn some money so that she can indulge in other things later. Working at this stand, she may earn $50 on a good day.

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As customers pass, Santana greets them warmly with “Hi sister, how are you?” or “Buen día.” One middle-aged woman asks “Cuánto cuesta?” or “how much?” in Spanish, to which she promptly responds, “dos dólares” — “two dollars.” When a young woman pauses to ask, “What’s with the yellow?” Santana explains to her that this watermelon has more fiber and is juicier than the red variety. With certain “regulars” that are familiar with the produce, she knows to pass them their order without even asking.

The diverse set of customers is a reflection of Hamilton Heights’s ever-evolving community. From 2000-2010, the neighborhood’s White non-Hispanic population increased by 231 percent, according to the latest New York census. Santana says stands such as Black Seeds NYC are the result of an increased demand for fresh produce.

“As demographics change, needs change for the community,” she says.

Santana enjoys working at this produce stand because she gets to know everyone. Although gentrification has brought new people and businesses to the neighborhood, she doesn’t feel bitter about this.

“Because of gentrification, vendors ingratiate themselves with the new population, and the new residents ingratiate themselves with the vendors in return,” says Santana.

And while she likes some of the trendy new restaurants in the neighborhood that have popped up as “downtown money comes uptown,” Santana cares most about maintaining a sense of community with her customers, no matter where they come from. She notes that all residents benefit from learning to cooperate with one another.

“You have to learn to live together,” she says, “and try to be gracious with everybody.” — Courtney Vinopal

Working for love of the job

In the lobby of the Cielo Condominium, Pablo Sanchez secures a black trash bag to a garbage bin. He greets tenants coming home from their Labor Day activities.

Sanchez is a porter for the building on East 83 Street at the Upper East Side and says it is easy to work on a holiday.

“I chose to work,” he said. “Because I like working here, I like everything about it.”

Sanchez has been working as a porter for the past ten years. Before the Cielo, he worked at a restaurant where he found taking orders really confusing. He found the opening for a porter in the newspaper and kept applying over a two-year period  before he got the job.

“It is an easy job,” said Sanchez, who immigrated from Mexico in 1996. “But it depends on the person. For me it suits me.”

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He has a schedule for trash collection and keeping the building clean. Sometimes he has to man the lobby desk, whenever the doormen need a break. Overall, he is comfortable with his job and how he is able to support his three children.

Sanchez remembers talking to a friend years ago who said he would rather work than have a vacation. He says he was very surprised to hear that and thought it would be nice to think about a job like that.

“And then I got this job, then little by little it felt good and now I really like it,” he said. “The guys that I work with are really nice and the tenants are great.”

Pablo works the afternoon to evening shift, starting at three in the afternoon to 11 at night. Porters are part of the 32BJ Service Employees International Union so he has great benefits, medical insurance, and gets time and a half for working on a holiday. This is a far cry from the life he had in Mexico 20 years ago.

“I am very happy to be working on Labor Day,” said Sanchez.  — Bernadette Young

They call me “Mr. Strange”

Only one block away from people screaming on the roller coaster, the entrance of the Coney Island Circus Sideshow was quiet Monday afternoon. Patrick Salazar, a barker in his 40s, broke the silence. A barker talks people into buying a ticket for the show, but Salazar prefers to describe himself as an “outside talker.” He walked out on Labor Day  in a black vest, straw hat, and a wand. Twirling the wand, Salazar called out to passers-by, and asked them if they wanted to see a show as good as Cirque du Soleil but only cost $10 dollars.

“They call me Mr. Strange in Coney Island,” said Salazar.

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Salazar says he has worked in Coney Island for five years. He lives only two blocks away. Labor Day is one of the busiest days for him, as more people come to the beach for vacation. Salazar says he never takes the day off.

“I don’t mind working on holidays,” he said. “I like the reaction from the crowd.”

The crowd cheered and whistled when Salazar introduced an actress onto the stage outside, which was only as big as a twin bed. But his performance on the small stage outside drew tourists to the big stage inside.

“Look at her,” Salazar raised his voice, leaning toward his audience. “Do you know she can eat fire?”

Salazar says he brings his own costumes to work. The vest he wore on Labor Day was black in front. But when he turned around, the word “LOOKA” stood out in bright red letters, calling people’s attention to it even when he turned his back to the audience and walked away from the stage.

“I dress up like this every day. It’s my job to dress up.” said Salazar. “When I leave here, I’m just in short jogging shorts and a T-shirt. And people would be like, ‘You look weird.’”  — Yuqing Zhu

Making a celebration out of it

On the morning of the Labor Day, Central Taxicab Service dispatcher and driver Donna Albanese was working in her Scarsdale office, slicing up melons and organizing them on a platter. “Coming to work today is purely voluntary,” said Albanese. “We try to make a celebration of it.”

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The Scarsdale Station on the Metro North Line is used by more than 4,000 passengers each day. While many commuters use the bus service or their own cars, the Central Taxicab Service, located near the station, ferries more than a thousand people to their homes.

Twenty cabs are pressed into service; at peak rush hours, the dispatcher organizes shared taxis to ensure that people don’t have to wait too long on a route to be dropped home.  Six drivers had reported to work on the Labor Day morning. Albanese was hopeful that they would have ten drivers by the evening.

“Labor Day evenings get real busy as people begin to head back home after a weekend of fun,” said Albanese. “ We don’t want them stranded at the station.”

The two women on the team make a celebration of the day and organize food for those who report for work. “My colleague cooks well and has got a turkey and potatoes,” said Albanese. “I don’t cook so I have brought melons and cake, and we will set up a buffet table.”

A few years ago, a client gifted the team a hamper of cheese, wine and fruit. That changed the Labor Day menu.

“We loved it,” said Albanese. “ And decided that henceforth we would celebrate Labor Day by being healthy!”  — Preeti Singh

Fire and crime don’t take days off

labor11Fires—and crimes— happen even when it’s a holiday.  So for  fireman Jonathan Greene, 27, working on Labor Day is no big deal. He says he does not know what his family or friends are doing and he does not mind working. He even has had to work during Christmas and New Years’ eve before. This isn’t any different.

Greene says he wanted to be a fireman since he was eight years old.  “As a kid you see a firetruck and you are like, ‘Wow!’ you know?’,” he says. His dream finally came true three years ago. He works twice a week in a 24-hour shift so he gets to sleep and cook together with other firemen at the fire station.

“The best part of the job is eating together” he says. The hardest part? Being too late to a fire incident. “We do what we can whenever we can,” he says.

Having to work when other people rest or celebrate is not new for police officer Marcelo Sepulveda, 26, because he worked at restaurants that were open on holidays before he became a police officer two and a half years ago. He says he does not mind it because he is used to it and because he is not missing out on any friend or family reunion. His father, a mechanic, and his mother, a designer, also work on Labor Day.

For Sepulveda, the day feels the same as any other working day:  He picks up calls from people reporting incidents or asking for help, and patrols the neighborhood to make sure there are no illegal activities. He says what he likes about being an officer is that he has “the opportunity to help people” and keep the community safe. However, he admits that the job is stressful.

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Even if they could use a break, Labor Day isn’t a day off for many firemen and police officers.  “It is not like fires take a day off,” says Greene.  Same goes with crime for Sepulveda.  — Fernanda Uriegas Fabian

 

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