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The united states government on the issue of minimum wage

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By Jonathan Grossman When he felt the time was ripe, President Roosevelt asked Secretary of The united states government on the issue of minimum wage Perkins, 'What happened to that nice unconstitutional bill you had tucked away?

Roosevelt signed 121 bills. Against a history of judicial opposition, the depression-born FLSA had survived, not unscathed, more than a year of Congressional altercation. In its final form, the act applied to industries whose combined employment represented only about one-fifth of the labor force.

In these industries, it banned oppressive child labor and set the minimum hourly wage at 25 cents, and the maximum workweek at 44 hours. Why all the fuss? Courting disaster The Supreme Court had been one of the major obstacles to wage-hour and child-labor laws. Among notable cases is the 1918 case of Hammer v. Dagenhart in which the Court by one vote held unconstitutional a Federal child-labor law. Similarly in Adkins v.

Children's Hospital in 1923, the Court by a narrow margin voided the District of Columbia law that set minimum wages for women.

During the 1930's, the Court's action on social legislation was even more devastating. On signing the bill, the President stated: Employers who signed the agreement displayed a "badge of honor," a blue eagle over the motto "We do our part.

The Cotton Textile Code was the first of these and one of the most important. The President said this code made him "happier than any other one thing.

The 1935 case of Schechter Corp. United States tested the constitutionality of the NRA by questioning a code to improve the sordid conditions under which chickens were slaughtered and sold to retail kosher butchers. Even the liberal Benjamin Cardozo thought it was "delegation running riot. Most notorious was the 1936 case of Joseph Tipaldo.

When Tipaldo was jailed on charges of violating the State law, forgery, and conspiracy, his lawyers sought a writ of habeas corpus on grounds the New York law was unconstitutional. The Supreme Court, by a 5-to-4 majority voided the law as a violation of liberty of contract.

Ex-President Herbert Hoover said the Court had gone to extremes. Conservative Republican Congressman Hamilton Fish called it a "new Dred Scott decision" condemning 3 million women and children to economic slavery.

Wage-hour legislation was a campaign issue in the 1936 Presidential race. The Democratic platform called for higher labor standards, and, in his campaign, Roosevelt promised to seek some constitutional way of protecting workers.

He tried to pave the way for such legislation in his speeches and new conferences in which he spoke of the breakdown of child labor provisions, minimum wages, and maximum hour standards after the demise of the NRA codes. When Roosevelt won the 1936 election by 523 electoral votes to 8, he interpreted his landslide victory as support for the New Deal and was determined to overcome the obstacle of Supreme Court opposition as soon as possible.

In February 1937, he struck back at the "nine old men" of the Bench: He proposed to "pack" the Court by adding up to six extra judges, one for each judge who did not retire at age 70. Roosevelt further voiced his disappointment with the Court at the victory dinner for his second inauguration, saying if the "three-horse team [of the executive, legislative, and judicial branches] pulls as one, the field will be ploughed," but that the field will not be ploughed if one horse lies down in the traces or plunges off in another direction.

In an unexpected turn-around, Justice Owen Roberts voted with the four-man liberal minority to uphold the Washington minimum wage law. As other close decisions continued to validate social and economic legislation, support for Roosevelt's Court "reorganization" faded.

Meanwhile, Justice Roberts felt called upon to deny that he had switched sides to ward off Roosevelt's court-packing plan.

  • They continued to point to "horror stories;
  • Chambers, "Big Switch," pp;
  • Among notable cases is the 1918 case of Hammer v;
  • Having lost popularity and split the Democratic Party in his battle to "pack" the Supreme Court, Roosevelt felt that attacking abuses of child labor and sweatshop wages and hours was a popular cause that might reunite the party;
  • Cases are assigned by their jurisdiction, meaning that local cases will be fought and determined in local courts, which by appeal and necessity can make it to higher courts when needed;
  • O'Conner of New York, whom Roosevelt called an "obstructionist" who "pickled" New Deal programs prevented discussion of the bill on the House floor by a vote of 8 to 6.

He claimed valid legal distinctions between the Tipaldo case and the Parrish case. Nevertheless, many historians subscribe to the contemporary view of Robert's vote, that "a switch in time saved nine. But a policeman threw her back into the crowd. Roosevelt told an aide, "Get the note from the girl. We have been working in a sewing factory. To a reporter's question, the President replied, "Something has to be done about the elimination of child labor and long hours and starvation wages.

V New York, Random House, 1936pp. Back to the drawing board Justice Roberts' "Big Switch" is an important event in American legal history. It is also a turning point in American social history, for it marked a new legal attitude toward labor standards.

U.S. Department of Labor

To be sure, validating a single State law was a far cry from upholding general Federal legislation, but the Parrish decision encouraged advocates of fair labor standards to work all the harder to develop a bill that might be upheld by the Supreme Court. No top government official worked more ardently to develop legislation to help underpaid workers and exploited child laborers than Secretary Frances Perkins.

Almost all her working life, Perkins fought for pro-labor legislation. To avoid the sometime pitfall of judicial review, she consulted legal experts in forming legislation. Her autobiographical account of her relations with President Roosevelt is filled with the names of lawyers with whom she discussed legislation: When, in 1933, President Roosevelt asked Frances Perkins to become Secretary of Labor, she told him that she would accept if she could advocate a law to put a floor under wages and the united states government on the issue of minimum wage ceiling over hours of work and to abolish abuses of child labor.

When Roosevelt heartily agreed, Perkins asked him, "Have you considered that to launch such a program. She then told Roosevelt, "I have something up my sleeve. I've got two bills. You're pretty unconstitutional, aren't you? One of the bills that Perkins had "locked" in the bottom drawer of her desk was used before the 1937 "Big Switch.

Under the bill Government contractors would have to agree to pay the "prevailing wage" and meet other labor standards. The idea had been tried in World War I to woo worker support for the war. Then, President Hoover reincarnated the "prevailing wage" and fair standards criteria as conditions for bidding for the construction of public buildings.

This act -- the Davis-Bacon Act -- in expanded form stands as a bulwark of labor standards in the construction industry. Roosevelt and Perkins tried to make model employers of government contractors in all fields, not just construction. They were dismayed to find that, except in public construction, the Federal Government actually encouraged employers to exploit labor because the Government had to award every contract to the lowest bidder.

In 1935, approximately 40 percent of government contractors, employing 1. The act required most government contractors to adopt an 8-hour day and a 40-hour week, to employ only those over 16 years of age if they were boys or 18 years of age if they were girls, and to pay a "prevailing minimum wage" to be determined by the Secretary of Labor.

The bill had been hotly contested and much diluted before it passed Congress on June 30, 1936. Though limited to government supply contracts and weakened by amendments and court interpretations, the Walsh-Healey Public Contracts Act was hailed as a token of good faith by the Federal Government -- that it intended to lead the way to better pay and working conditions.

After the "switch in time," when he felt the time was ripe, he asked Frances Perkins, "What happened to that nice unconstitutional bill you tucked away? To cope with the danger of judicial review, Perkins' lawyers had taken several constitutional approaches so that, if one or two legal principles were invalidated, the bill might still be accepted. The bill provided for minimum-wage boards which would determine, after public hearing and consideration of cost-of-living figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, whether wages in particular industries were below subsistence levels.

Perkins sent the united states government on the issue of minimum wage draft to the White House where Thomas Corcoran and Benjamin Cohen, two trusted legal advisers of the President, with the Supreme Court in mind, added new provisions to the already lengthy measure. To that version Roosevelt added a child-labor provision based on the political judgment that adding a clause banning goods in interstate commerce produced by children under 16 years of age would increase the chance of getting a wage-hour measure through both Houses, because child-labor limitations were popular in Congress.

Connery of Massachusetts introduced corresponding legislation in the House. The Black-Connery bill had wide Public support, and its path seemed smoothed by arrangements for a joint hearing by the labor committees of both Houses.

The US Government and the Minimum Wage

Generally, the bill provided for a 40-cent-an-hour minimum wage, a 40-hour maximum workweek, and a minimum working age of 16 except in certain industries outside of mining and manufacturing. The bill also proposed a five-member labor standards board which could authorize still higher wages and shorter hours after review of certain cases.

Proponents of the bill stressed the need to fulfill the President's promise to correct conditions under which "one-third of the population" were "ill-nourished, ill-clad, and ill- housed. For example, a survey by the Labor Department's Children's Bureau of a cross section of 449 children in several States showed nearly one-fourth of them working 60 hours or longer a week and only one-third working 40 hours or less a week.

The economy, he reported, had deteriorated to the chaotic stage where employers with high standards were forced by cut-throat competition to exploit labor in order to survive. Prosperity, they insisted, depended on the "genius" of American business, but how could business "find any time left to provide jobs if we are to persist in loading upon it these everlastingly multiplying governmental mandates and delivering it to the mercies of multiplying and hampering Federal bureaucracy?

In fact, when Southern congressmen asked for the setting of lower pay for their region, Dubinsky's union suggested lower pay for Southern congressmen. Lewis of the Congress of Industrial Organization CIOon one of the rare occasions when they agreed, both favored a bill which would limit labor standards to low-paid and essentially unorganized workers.

Based on some past experiences, many union leaders feared that a minimum wage might become a maximum and that wage boards would intervene in areas which they wanted reserved for labor-management negotiations. They were satisfied when the bill was amended to exclude work covered by collective bargaining.

  • The victory was significant because much of the opposition to wage-hour laws came from Southern congressmen;
  • Proponents of the bill stressed the need to fulfill the President's promise to correct conditions under which "one-third of the population" were "ill-nourished, ill-clad, and ill- housed.

The weakened bill passed the Senate July 31, 1937, by a vote of 56 to 28 and would have easily passed the House if it had been put to a vote. But a coalition of Republicans and conservative Democrats bottled it up in the House Rules Committee. After a long hot summer, Congress adjourned without House action on fair labor standards. Having lost popularity and split the Democratic Party in his battle to "pack" the Supreme Court, Roosevelt felt that attacking abuses of child labor and sweatshop wages and hours was a popular cause that might reunite the party.

A wage-hour, child-labor law promised to be a happy marriage of high idealism and practical politics. On October 12, 1937, Roosevelt called a special session of Congress to convene on November 15. The public interest, he said, required immediate Congressional action: Therefore, Norton told the House of Representatives that the Labor Committee would offer an amendment to change the administration of the bill from a five-man board to an administrator under the Department of Labor.

Local Government, State Government and the minimum wage issue

Urging representatives to sign a petition to jar the bill out of committee, Norton appealed: I now hope and urge that these Members will keep faith with me, as I have kept faith with them, and sign the petition. I do not see how any Member of this House can enjoy his Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow if he fails to put his name to that petition this afternoon.

Though Norton missed her Thanksgiving Day dead-line, by December 2, the bill's supporters had rounded up enough signers to give the petition the 218 signatures necessary to bring the bill to a vote on the House floor. The AFL accused the Roosevelt Administration of favoring industrial over craft unions and opposed wage-board determination of labor standards for specific industries.

Accordingly, the AFL fought for a substitute bill with a flat 40-cent-an-hour minimum wage and a maximum 40-hour week. In the ensuing confusion, shortly, before the Christmas holiday of 1937, the House by a vote of 218 to 198 unexpectedly sent the bill back to the Labor Committee.

This was the first time that a major administration bill had been defeated on the floor of the House. The press took the view that this was the death knell of wage-hour legislation as well as a decisive blow to the President's prestige.

In his annual message to Congress on January 3, 1938, he said he was seeking "legislation to end starvation wages and intolerable hours.