Laboring on Labor Day

By Mac McPhail - Contributing columnist
Mac McPhail -

This past Monday, I was driving in the highway construction area on Sunset Avenue here in Clinton. There was little traffic and, although it was hot, the weather was sunny and clear. It was a perfect time for the road construction crews to work when there was little traffic and several of the businesses were closed.

Was there any road construction going on? Were they working to try to catch up on the already delayed several times project? Nope, not a worker to be seen anywhere. But, Mac, remember it is Labor Day. People don’t work on Labor Day.

You should have told that to my Daddy. If you are around my age or older and were raised in rural Sampson County, you probably know what I’m talking about. Starting around July 4th, you were barning (harvesting, for you city folk) tobacco. We normally finished the crop on another holiday, Labor Day. My daddy said, “That’s what’s you’re supposed to do on Labor Day – labor.” He thought that comment was funny. I didn’t.

(Yes, this is another column about working in tobacco. And another one about the endless delays with the completion of the highway construction on Sunset Avenue and Highway 24.)

Why did we have to work on Labor Day barning tobacco? First, the crop, the tobacco, was ripe, and needed to be harvested. Second, school was starting, and Daddy was about to lose much of his work force. The next day, Tuesday, many of us would be heading back to Clement for classes. So, in my childhood, I spent several Labor Day holidays, not at the beach or the pool, but in the tobacco field hopefully finishing harvesting a crop.

Harvesting tobacco back then was much more labor intensive than it is today. Now, machinery and technical innovations have taken the place of many of the laborers needed. And what labor needed today is usually provided by migrant help.

That wasn’t the case during my childhood. Much of the labor harvesting the tobacco crop came from kids, just like me. If you weren’t working at your parent’s farm, you were working at a neighbor’s, earning some spending money or saving up to buy school clothes.

So it was important to be finished harvesting tobacco by the beginning of the school year. It was so important that they would occasionally delay the first day of school a few days if the tobacco crop was late in ripening. School officials knew that otherwise there would be many absences by students because of having to work. (I don’t think school officials are too concerned about that today.)

So Daddy would make his joke, and we would end up in the tobacco fields on Labor Day. Why? Because it was urgent and had to be done. Evidently there is not that much urgency by those responsible for the Highway 24 construction project. Let’s have a little review of those responsible.

The Fred Smith Company was awarded the contract for the sixteen miles of road construction from the Faircloth Freeway in Clinton to just past Roseboro. (The rest of the project, awarded to Barnhill Construction Company, was completed last year.) The scheduled completion date for the project was originally set for November 2017. Later, completion date was set for March, 2018. Now, we hear that the project is slated to be completed by early 2019.

The Fred Smith Company bought out C.C. Mangum Company, a Raleigh-based highway contractor, in 2010. Fred Smith, a former state Senator, ran as a Republican for governor in North Carolina in 2008. He lost in the Republican primary to Charlotte mayor, Pat McCrory. Smith then endorsed McCrory. McCrory lost in 2008, but won in 2012. In 2013, Governor McCrory appointed Smith to the North Carolina Economic Development Board. That same year, in 2013, The Fred Smith Company was awarded the huge contract for their part of the NC 24 widening project by the NCDOT. (You do the math.)

It’s been aggravating to us motorists driving through the construction zone these past years. But, more than the aggravation, the delays in the completion of the project have financially cost businesses and individuals, who have property and operate in the construction zone. In the business world, usually there are penalties, mainly financial, for failure to complete a project by the agreed upon due date. I have not seen where Fred Smith Company has been, or will be, penalized for failing to live up to their end of the contract.

If that was the case, who knows, you might have seen a highway construction crew working on Labor Day. Or, maybe if Daddy had been their boss. Because that’s what you do on Labor Day, you labor.

Mac McPhail McPhail

By Mac McPhail

Contributing columnist

Mac McPhail, raised in Sampson County, lives in Clinton and can be reached at [email protected]

Mac McPhail, raised in Sampson County, lives in Clinton and can be reached at [email protected]