Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938

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Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 – as Amended

As the United States endured the hardships of the Great Depression, the struggles of the working class grew and employers were able to take advantage of desperate workers by overloading hours and shrinking wages. In 1938, President Franklin Roosevelt, in his New Deal legislation, saw the opportunity to attend to the issues concerning workers involved in interstate commerce. The Fair Labor Standards Act was passed, and the President described it in the following way “Except for the Social Security Act, it (the FLSA) is the most far-reaching, far-sighted program for the benefit of workers ever adopted here or in any other country.” (Nordlund). The FLSA, as it is known, set a maximum number of hours worked, established a minimum wage earned, and set standards for overtime pay. The other aspect of the FLSA is that it outlawed child labor, restricted interstate trade of items made using child labor and set strict penalties for violators. The law has been amended numerous times as commerce has changed and to address Supreme Court rulings.

The Fair Labor Standards Act is my selection for this paper because it has directly impacted my life. As a call center manager, I was deposed regarding a lawsuit claiming there had been a violation of the FLSA. As a potential witness in a pending lawsuit I am not allowed to give specific detail. The case is centered around a violation of the Portal to Portal Act of 1947 which was passed in response to court rulings regarding whether or not employees were due to be paid for “performing certain employment-related activities.” (Langston) Due to my involvement in this case, I developed an interest in the FLSA and this paper was an excellent opportunity for me to learn much more.

The Fair Labor Standards Act was not an easy or swift law to pass. Labor unions had been fighting for a shorter work week and eight hour work days since the Civil War with slogans like “Whether you work by the piece or by the day, decreasing the hours increases the pay.” States began passing laws that limited hours for women and children. New Zealand and Australia had passed minimum wage legislation in 1894 and 1896 respectively and been successful with them. Massachusetts passed a state level minimum wage law in 1912. In 1910 and 1911, Federal Bureau of Labor released a nineteen volume report from a study on the working conditions and wages for women and children describing employment conditions as “unsafe and unhealthy.” (Nordlund) The Great Depression, in the United States, started in 1929 and ended around 1939. Unemployment was incredibly high and both labor unions and the President were looking at reduced hour as a way to reduce the unemployment issue. (Samuel) In 1933, Roosevelt attempted to get voluntary support from employers to adopt a 35 hour work week and 8 hours days, but it did not mandate maximum hours or minimum wages. (Samuel) Some of the goals of supporters of the Federal Minimum Wage and a Maximum Hours hoped to accomplish were to eliminate “labor conditions detrimental to the maintenance of the minimum standard of living necessary for the health, efficiency, and the general well-being of workers” and “to increase employment by spreading the amount of available work.” (Costa) The President did not feel that a Federal Law would succeed because of U.S. Supreme Court rulings like Adkins V Children’s Hospital in 1923, which declared Oregon’s State Minimum Wage unconstitutional because it violated its 5th Amendment right to Freedom of Contract. It wasn’t until West Coast Hotel v. Parrish, on March 29, 1937 that minimum wage was declared constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court. With the weight of that decision behind him, Roosevelt contended that “A self-supporting and self-respecting democracy can plead no justification for the existence of child labor, no economic reason for chiseling workers’ wages or stretching workers’ hours” (Nordlund). Throughout...
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