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Fair Labor Standards Act

FAIR LABOR STANDARDS ACT

FAIR LABOR STANDARDS ACT. During the Great Depression, many employees with little bargaining power were subjected to onerous conditions of employment and inadequate pay. In June 1938, Congress passed a bill designed to limit the maximum number of hours that could be required of employees and the minimum wages they could be paid. This legislation, known as the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), or the Wages and Hours Act, was the last major piece of New Deal legislation. In general, the FLSA, administered by the U.S. Department of Labor, set minimum wages and maximum hours for all employees manufacturing products that were shipped in interstate commerce. It also established requirements for overtime and restricted child labor. Originally, the act's provisions extended to approximately one-fifth of the working population. Over the years, Congress amended the FLSA to add categories of employees to its coverage and to raise the level of the minimum wage. Effective 1 September 1997, the minimum wage became $5.15 an hour.

When first proposed the bill created controversy for a number of reasons. First, some legislators feared it would violate workers' "liberty of contract." From the 1890s through the 1930s, the Supreme Court carefully evaluated all wages and hours legislation to ensure that such laws did not infringe upon this constitutional guarantee. The liberty of contract doctrine held that in general the government should not be able to set the terms of contracts freely entered into by private parties. The Court allowed statutes designed to protect groups it considered either dependent or vulnerable but invalidated any other wages or hours legislation. For example, in Holden v. Hardy (1898), the Court upheld a state law limiting the working hours of miners. In Lochner v. New York (1905), however, the Court struck down similar legislation regulating bakers' hours on the grounds that bakers were not engaged in an inherently dangerous occupation.

For much of this period, the Court held that the freedom of contract granted to men by the Constitution did not apply to women or children. For example, in Muller v. Oregon (1908), the Court upheld a maximum-hours law for women. After women gained the right to vote in 1920, the Court reversed its position in Adkins v. Children's Hospital (1923), holding that women's new political rights made them no longer a dependent class. Freedom of contract for both sexes was largely abandoned in the late 1930s, when in West Coast Hotel v. Parrish (1937) the Supreme Court dramatically altered much of its constitutional jurisprudence.

At the beginning of his administration in 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt wished to propose legislation to guarantee minimum wages and maximum hours and to restrict child labor, but he feared constitutional challenges. In addition, he was aware that such legislation faced opposition by conservatives in Congress. Some conservatives objected to the creation of another New Deal agency. Many southern conservatives feared that the bill's requirements of minimum wages and maximum hours and abolition of child labor would eliminate the competitive advantage that the region possessed because of its generally lower wage rates. Finally, some southern congressmen did not wish to pass legislation that required that black workers receive the same wages as white workers. When the Supreme Court signaled in the Parrish decision that wages and hours legislation was now more likely to be found constitutional, Roosevelt encouraged members of Congress to introduce the bill that became the FLSA.

Nevertheless, some concerns remained as to whether or not the proposed law lay within the scope of congressional commerce power based on Supreme Court precedent. Congress passed the FLSA pursuant to its constitutional power to regulate interstate commerce. In Gibbons v. Ogden (1824), the Court interpreted the commerce power of Congress broadly. As a result, in the early twentieth century, Congress began to use its commerce power to achieve certain social purposes. For example, in 1916, Congress outlawed child labor by passing the Child Labor Act, which prohibited transportation of products made with child labor in interstate commerce. The Supreme Court, however, resisted such innovative uses of the commerce power. In Hammer v. Dagenhart (1918), the Court held the Child Labor Act unconstitutional as an interference with state regulatory power. The Hammer decision suggested that Congress lacked the power to pass legislation regulating the conditions of labor, including wages or hours. This conclusion was placed in doubt, however, by the Court's adoption in the 1930s of a more tolerant view of economic regulation. When the constitutionality of the FLSA was challenged in United States v. Darby Lumber Company (1941), the Court unanimously upheld the statute, stating that the decision in Hammer v. Dagenhart had been a departure from the Court's other holdings and should be overruled.

After Congress passed the FLSA, questions arose as to which types of work-related activities were covered by the act. One particularly difficult issue was whether or not the act should apply to the underground travel by miners to and from the "working face" of coal mines. In Jewell Ridge Coal Corporation v. Local Number 6167, United Mine Workers of America (1945), a closely divided Court held that the miners should be compensated for their travel time. In response, Congress in 1947 amended the FLSA by enacting the Portal-to-Portal Act, which overturned the Court's decision. Under the Portal-to-Portal Act only work deemed an integral and indispensable part of the employee's principal activities is entitled to compensation.

Congress also passed legislation that covers the federal government as both an employer and a purchaser of goods and services. The Davis-Bacon Act of 1931 requires that the federal government pay preestablished minimum wages to its employees, and the Walsh-Healey Public Contracts Act of 1936 requires that parties holding government contracts do the same. In 1963, Congress passed the Federal Equal Pay Act, which provides that men and women must receive equal pay for equal work in any industry engaged in interstate commerce.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Hall, Kermit L. The Magic Mirror: Law in American History. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989.

Leslie, Douglas L. Labor Law in a Nutshell. 4th ed. St. Paul, Minn.: West, 2000.

Katherine M.Jones

See alsoAdkins v. Children's Hospital ; Child Labor ; Commerce Clause ; Equal Pay Act ; Gibbons v. Ogden ; Labor Legislation and Administration ; Lochner v. New York ; Minimum-Wage Legislation ; Muller v. Oregon ; Wages and Hours of Labor, Regulation of ; West Coast Hotel Company v. Parrish .

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Fair Labor Standards Act

FAIR LABOR STANDARDS ACT

The Fair Labor Standards Act controls the employment of children. Child labor, defined as employment of children less than eighteen years of age, has become increasingly common in American society, and it is widespread in many societies around the world. In many countries, children begin working at ages as young as three or four. Legal requirements to attend school are ignored or evaded through measures such as providing a few minutes of instruction each day in "carpet schools."

In the United States, under the Fair Labor Standards Act, children under sixteen years of age may not work during school hours, and, by law, limits are set on the number of hours of employment allowed on each school day and cumulatively for each school week. In general, employment should be in a nonhazardous, nonagriculturally related job where restrictions are in place regarding work that would be hazardous to this age group. For example, no one under eighteen is allowed to work in mining, logging, brickmaking, roofing, or excavating, or to operate power-driven machinery. In other settings, work is prohibited with equipment such as meat slicers, box crushers, and power-driven heavy equipment.

The agricultural setting does not generally come under the Fair Labor Standards Act, and there are no regulations regarding children working on family farms. Children as young as four or five have chores related to farming activity. Unfortunately, farming activity, while not regulated, is a serious source of hazard. Over one hundred American children below the age of eighteen die working on farms each year. The only restrictions for agriculture are to preclude children from applying pesticides and herbicides.

In reality, many adolescents under eighteen often work far more hours than are allowed, and some do jobs that put them at considerable risk. Some jobs appear to be relatively benign, such as packers in grocery stores, but in the fast-food business adolescents are often abused with regard to working hours (e.g., "clocking out" but continuing to work), or they are asked to handle dangerous equipment such as deep fat fryers. In most states there is a lack of supervision of children in the workplace, and accurate data collection is often not available. Studies have begun to document poor school performance due to excessive work hours.

Another aspect of poor record keeping regards filing for health claims. When a child is hurt in a workplace setting, he or she is often asked to obtain care under parental insurance, rather than applying through the worker's compensation system, which would allow for a better tracking of difficulties in the workplace.

There are seasonal variations in injuries and fatalities among working children, with more injuries occurring during the summer months when children are out of school. This especially applies to agriculturally related injuries and fatalities.

Arthur L. Frank

(see also: Child Welfare; Childhood Injury; Children's Environmental Health Initiative; Farm Injuries; Occupational Disease; Occupational Safety and Health; Risk Assessment, Risk Management )

Bibliography

Pollock, S. H.; Rubenstein, H. L.; and Landrigan, P. J. (1992). "Child Labor." In Public Health and Preventive Medicine, 13th edition, eds. J. Last and R. B. Wallace. Norwalk, CT: Appleton & Lange.

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Fair Labor Standards Act

Fair Labor Standards Act or Wages and Hours Act, passed by the U.S. Congress in 1938 to establish minimum living standards for workers engaged directly or indirectly in interstate commerce, including those involved in production of goods bound for such commerce. A major provision of the act was establishment of a minimum wage, initially $0.25 an hour, along with a maximum workweek of 44 hours; these were to become to become $0.40 an hour and 40 hours after seven years. Other provisions set standards for overtime compensation and banned products of child labor from interstate commerce. A Wage and Hour Division was created in the Dept. of Labor, headed by an administrator empowered to accelerate the raising of standards within an industry if a committee representing the public as well as employers and labor recommended change. Classes of workers initially exempt from the act included agricultural and seasonal laborers, handlers of perishable foods, and workers in certain industries covered by collective bargaining. The Fair Labor Standards Act has been amended repeatedly in subsequent decades, with changes expanding the classes of workers covered; raising the minimum wage; redefining regular-time work and raising overtime payments so as to encourage the hiring of new workers, as opposed to the loading of extra work on the lowest-paid; and equalizing pay scales for men and women.

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Fair Labor Standards Act

FAIR LABOR STANDARDS ACT

The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (29U.S.C.A. § 201 et seq.) was federal legislation enacted in 1938 by Congress, pursuant to its power under the commerce clause, that mandated a minimum wage and maximum 40-hour work week for employees of those businesses engaged in interstate commerce.

Popularly known as the "Wages and Hours Law," the Fair Labor Standards Act was one of a number of statutes making up the new deal program of the presidential administration of franklin delano roosevelt. Aside from setting a maximum number of hours that a person could work for the minimum wage, it also established the right of the eligible worker to at least "time and a half"—or one and one-half times the customary pay—for those hours worked in excess of the statutory maximum.

Other provisions of the act forbade the use of workers under the age of 16 in most jobs and prohibited the use of workers under the age of 18 in those occupations deemed dangerous. The act was also responsible for the creation of the Wage and Hour Division of the labor department.

Over the years, the Fair Labor Standards Act has been subject to amendment but continues to play an integral role in the U.S. workplace.

cross-references

Employment Law; Labor Department.

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FLSA

FLSA (USA) Fair Labor Standards Act

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