Fair Labor Standards Act

views updated May 18 2018

Fair Labor Standards Act

United States 1938


The Wages and Hours Act, later known as the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), was passed on 25 June 1938. The act made it the U.S. government's responsibility to set a minimum wage. Though the law set a relatively low initial minimum wage of 25 cents an hour, it provided for increases up to 40 cents an hour by 1945. The act also banned child labor in all businesses engaged in interstate commerce. It established a 44-hour workweek and mandated the 40-hour week by 23 October 1940. Beyond these minimum hours, the bill institutionalized overtime payments for additional hours worked. The law did not cover workers in the public sector or those in agriculture and service industries. As a result it favored workers employed in larger businesses and excluded large numbers of women and minorities.

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt considered the FLSA among the most important New Deal reforms, second only to the Social Security Act. More than any other New Deal legislation, the FLSA had its origins in the recognition that workers were also consumers. Advocates of the bill hoped to give workers the material conditions to consume enough to pull the nation out of the depression.


  • 1923: Conditions in Germany worsen as inflation skyrockets and France, attempting to collect on coal deliveries promised at Versailles, marches into the Ruhr basin.
  • 1928: At the first Academy Awards ceremony, the best picture is the silent Wings.
  • 1933: Newly inaugurated U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt launches the first phase of his New Deal to put depression-era America back to work.
  • 1935: Second phase of New Deal begins with the introduction of social security, farm assistance, and housing and tax reform.
  • 1938: Hitler's troops march into Austria, and Germany proclaims a political union between the two countries. Later that year, Britain and France, guided by the elder statesman Mussolini of Italy, agree at Munich to let the Germans take a portion of Czechoslovakia. (Germany will annex the remainder the following year.) After Munich, the die is cast: Hitler justifiably believes that if he moves to annex further territory in Europe, the Allies will not react.
  • 1938: In an incident that pointedly illustrates the heightened tensions of the era, Orson Welles's radio broadcast of War of the Worlds causes massive panic in the United States. Despite disclaimers that the program is a mere dramatization, people believe that Martians actually have invaded Earth.
  • 1941: Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor on 7 December brings the United States into the war against the Axis. Combined with the attack on the Soviet Union, which makes Stalin an unlikely ally of the Western democracies, the events of 1941 will ultimately turn the tide of the war.
  • 1943: To offset the costs of war, the U.S. government introduces income tax withholding—which it claims to be a temporary measure.
  • 1948: Stalin places a blockade on areas of Berlin controlled by the United States, Great Britain, and France. The Allies respond with an airlift of supplies, which, like the blockade itself, lasts into late 1949.
  • 1953: Korean War, a conflict with no clear victors, ends with an armistice establishing an uneasy peace between South Korea and North Korea.

Event and Its Context


Organized labor had been advocating a shorter workweek since the mid-nineteenth century. Progressive Era reformers had sought increased government regulation of business. Several changes needed to take place before these policies could be addressed by Congress. First, the brutal conditions of the Great Depression raised sentiment against unregulated business. Second, the formation of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) and early New Deal legislation had brought a couple of million more workers into trade unions. Third, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt had received crucial support from organized labor in the 1936 election. Legislators took note; labor controlled a growing number of votes, especially in the cities of the nation's industrial core.

Other factors entered into the equation as well. The growth of interstate markets changed many employers' attitudes about federal wage legislation. Whereas earlier employers had resisted any government involvement in setting wages, by the 1930s employers in higher wage regions saw the minimum wage as a tool to prevent capital flight to lower wage regions. Industry and jobs would stop migrating south, they reasoned, when there was one national wage standard. Proponents saw the FLSA as one strategy by which to cut unemployment by reducing the number of hours worked by each individual worker.

Economists debated the potential effects of state intervention in business. Neoclassical economists believed that the market would lift the nation out of the depression without government involvement. In their view, government regulation would only delay recovery by raising the operating expenses of business and artificially inflating prices. Some reform economists saw things differently. A more rational economy regulated by the government would offer business both economies of scale and a more predictable climate. The higher wages would stimulate consumption, which would require increased production and ultimately help everybody.


The components of the FLSA had separate precursors. Although the notion of a shorter workweek had been a longstanding demand of labor, the notion of a federally regulated minimum wage standard came primarily from outside the labor movement. Calls for state regulation of child labor came originally from the labor movement but had been elaborated by Progressive Era reformers.

For the labor movement, the demand for a shorter workday had always been viewed as a way to decrease unemployment. By the 1840s workers in many skilled trades had won the 10-hour day. The National Labor Union began pushing for an 8-hour day in the 1860s. In 1868 Congress enacted an 8-hour day for federal employees. The 8-hour day became an early goal of the American Federation of Labor (AFL).

From the early twentieth century, the U.S. labor movement pushed several states to pass laws requiring that women and children be paid enough to provide for necessities. Men, presumably, were more likely to be protected by collective bargaining. Samuel Gompers and the early AFL were reluctant to support government regulation of matters that they felt were best resolved at the bargaining table.

William Green, president of the AFL, began promoting a shorter workweek as a means to end the Great Depression during the Hoover administration. The demand was aimed at employers, not regulators. Following AFL tradition, Green hoped to change social policy at the bargaining table rather than in the legislature.

Yet, in the mass-production unions that were to become the membership of the Committee for Industrial Organization (later the Congress of Industrial Organizations, or CIO), there was a growing consensus that legislative action might facilitate bargaining. Senator Hugo L. Black of Alabama and Representative William P. Connery of Massachusetts cosponsored a 30-hour week bill in 1932. They reintroduced the bill in 1933, 1935, and 1937, but never succeeded in getting it passed.

Upon his election, Roosevelt tried to promote recovery by raising wages and reducing hours with the National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA). The National Industrial Recovery Act stated, "Employers shall comply with the maximum hours of labor, minimum rates of pay, and other conditions of employment, approved or prescribed by the President." These hours were initially defined as follows: most classes of workers were limited to 40 hours a week. Factory and mechanical workers and artisans were limited to 35 hours. Firms with two or fewer employees in towns of fewer than 2,500 residents were exempted as were professionals, executives earning more than $35 per week, employees on emergency maintenance and repair work, and highly skilled workers on continuous processes who would be paid at least time and a third overtime.

In May 1935 the Supreme Court declared that the NRA had exceeded the federal government's power to regulate interstate commerce in its Schechter vs. United States decision. With the NRA rendered powerless, the Roosevelt administration set out to create a labor standards bill that would give the federal government power to regulate work conditions by another means. Both the AFL and the CIO had issues with the bill that the Roosevelt administration proposed, but nevertheless it was introduced as the Black-Connery bill in 1937. The bill set no specific minimum wage or maximum hours. It proposed creation of a five-member committee to determine fair labor standards for each industry on a regional basis. It also proposed to exclude goods made by children or under oppressive conditions from interstate commerce.

The Black-Connery bill faced broad opposition. The AFL opposed making wages the subject of government policy, arguing that they should be determined by collective bargaining instead. After extensive debate, the AFL executive council agreed to support the bill if it was limited to industries without effective collective bargaining. President William L. Green ended up supporting the bill, but without the full support of his membership. CIO leaders John L. Lewis and Sidney Hillman supported the bill, though Hillman was not optimistic about it. He worried about the labor movement depending too heavily on the federal government. "Perhaps there is going to be a new law, fixing minimum wages and maximum hours, but we are not going to take a chance on it. We are going to forget about it and go ahead on our own."

Most businessmen preferred the free-market model and opposed state regulation. A few, chiefly those from larger companies, thought that standardized labor practices would provide them an advantage over smaller firms. Regional differences were as important as size. Northern businessmen more readily favored a minimum wage, hoping that it would stop the movement of industry to the lower wage region of the South. For this reason, southern Democrats opposed the law most.

The biggest question remained whether the Supreme Court would accept national regulation of local labor practices, even if they came through the Congress rather than the executive branch.

Passage of the Bill

In this atmosphere it was inevitable that the bill would be highly debated and amended in the Senate. By the time the Senate passed it, the Black-Connery bill did not provide conditions that would raise the purchasing power of the majority of workers. Instead, it raised the minimum standards of the most oppressed workers, provided they fell into the affected categories. At the legislated $16 a week minimum wage, a worker would still not earn the $1,200 a year required for subsistence living.

Minimal as its requirements were, the bill still met with heavy resistance in the South, where it would have actually raised the standards the most. Southern Democrats felt that preserving their region's lower wages was the best way to keep their momentum toward industrialization.

As the bill passed the Senate in greatly amended form, Representative Connery died, leaving it to face the House without its strongest supporter. The committee began debating the exact wage and hour formula. AFL president Green urged the committee toward a lower minimum wage to keep wages a subject for collective bargaining rather than federal policy.

As the Congress debated the bill, American public opinion increasingly grew to favor federal standards for wages and hours. The CIO criticized both the Roosevelt administration and the AFL for the failure to pass the bill. The Democratic Party faced growing criticism for its inability to get the bill passed and create the conditions to end the depression. The 1937 legislative session ended without decisive action.

Early in 1938 Roosevelt redoubled his efforts to get the bill passed. He worked on several fronts at once, lobbying congressmen and appealing directly to public opinion. Labor Secretary Frances Perkins organized a national committee of leaders of business, industry, and labor to support the bill. In an effort to overcome southern opposition, the Labor Department drafted two different versions of the bill. One created national standards; the second proposed a lower minimum wage for the South. After extensive amendment, the bill passed the house by a vote of 314 to 77.

This sent the bill back to the Senate, where it was once again amended. Geographic differentials were not written into the final bill, but the time frame for reaching the 40 hour and 40 cent formula was extended. The compromise bill provided for a Wage and Hour Division of the Labor Department to oversee its implementation and gave that division a good deal of flexibility in enforcement.

Finally, on 27 June 1938 Roosevelt signed the Fair Labor Standards Act. The law did not serve its original goal of providing workers enough buying power to end the depression. It did, however, clearly establish a role for the federal government as regulator of employment practices.

Analysis of the Bill

The FLSA was an intricate piece of social legislation that represented an attempt to balance competing interests and solve many problems. It was created to exceed any existing local law.

Key Players

Black, Hugo L. (1886-1971): Black was Democratic senator from Alabama from 1926 until President Franklin Roosevelt appointed him to the Supreme Court in 1937. Despite a strong belief in federal economic intervention, Black consistently argued that local southern customs should be allowed to continue. During his controversial confirmation hearing, he admitted to being a former member of the Ku Klux Klan but argued that he could be fair to all Americans. Eventually, Black became a defender of civil rights and the first amendment.

Connery, William P. (1888-1937): Democratic representative from Massachusetts from 1923 to 1937, Connery served as chair of the House Labor Committee from the 72nd through 75th congresses.

Green, William L. (1873-1952): President of the American Federation of Labor (AFL) from 1924 to 1952, Green, like John L. Lewis, came from the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA). Interested in cooperation between labor and management, Green looked to government policy changes to secure a better future for labor. He was a Roosevelt appointee to the Labor Advisory Counsel of the National Recovery Administration.

Hillman, Sidney (1887-1946): Hillman participated in the1905 revolution in Russia before migrating to New York and becoming a garment worker. In 1914 he became president of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America (ACWA), which he served until his death. Originally a member of the Socialist Party, he became an active Democrat.

Lewis, John L. (1880-1969): A mine worker from Illinois, Lewis became head of the UMWA in 1920. He resigned from his position as AFL vice president in 1935 to concentrate on building the Committee for Industrial Organization. Striving to "organize the unorganized," Lewis became one of the most recognized figures in the country. Lewis retired as UMWA president in 1960.

Perkins, Frances (1880-1965): Perkins joined the National Consumers' League as a student at Mount Holyoke College. After a stint as a settlement house worker, she studied economics and sociology at the University of Pennsylvania and began a career in social research. She headed the Committee on Safety of the City of New York, which was formed to investigate factory conditions following the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, and she subsequently became a member of the Industrial Commission of the State of New York. Roosevelt appointed her as secretary of labor, in part because she had reform credentials but no connections with organized labor. She became a symbol of government intervention in the economy to many businessmen and was frequently red-baited. She remained secretary of labor until 1945 and later wrote a memoir of her years with Roosevelt entitled The Roosevelt I Knew.

Roosevelt, Franklin Delano (1882-1945): Roosevelt was president of the United States from 1933 to 1945 and governor of New York as a Democrat from 1928 until his election as president.

See also: American Federation of Labor; Congress of Industrial Organizations; Eight-hour Day Movement; National Industrial Recovery Act; Ten-hour Day Movement.



Paulson, George E. A Living Wage for the Forgotten Man: The Quest for Fair Labor Standards, 1933-1941.London: Associated University Presses, 1996.

Phelps, Orme Wheelock. The Legislative Background of the Fair Labor Standards Act. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1939.

U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics. Handbook of Labor Statistics. Washington, DC: 1936.


Boles, Walter E., Jr. "Some Aspects of the Fair Labor Standards Act." The Southern Economic Journal 6, no. 4 (1940).

Samuel, Howard D. "Troubled Passage: The Labor Movement and the Fair Labor Standards Act." Monthly Labor Review (December 2000).

—Jane Holzka

Fair Labor Standards Act

views updated May 29 2018


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.


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 .

Fair Labor Standards Act

views updated May 17 2018


The Fair Labor Standards Act, also known as the Wages and Hours bill, was signed into law by President Franklin Roosevelt on June 25, 1938. The Fair Labor Standards Act mandated minimum wage, maximum weekly hours, and child labor standards for workers engaged in interstate commerce. The law represented a departure from the policy of strict voluntarism that organized labor had supported prior to the Great Depression. However, continuing concerns on the part of American Federation of Labor (AFL) leaders about the state determining wage standards helped to shape a law that fell short of the aim of those New Dealers who wanted to require employers to pay a "living wage."

The Progressive era had witnessed various attempts by individual states to regulate working conditions for women, children, and those involved in hazardous jobs. Judicial hostility to any interference with "liberty of contract" and union fears of government intervention becoming a substitute for workers' self-organization severely limited the scope and effectiveness of such efforts prior to the Great Depression. The federal government did not become directly involved in trying to enforce minimum wage and maximum hours standards throughout the economy until the National Recovery Administration (NRA) was established in 1933. When the Supreme Court ruled in 1935 that the National Industrial Recovery Act was unconstitutional, Roosevelt considered offering a labor standards bill to salvage the wages and hours provisions of the industry codes set up under the NRA, but he waited until after his reelection to begin pressing Congress to pass such legislation.

New Deal lawyers Benjamin Cohen and Thomas Corcoran prepared the original version of the Fair Labor Standards Act, which in May 1937 was introduced by Hugo Black in the Senate and by William Connery in the House. The Black-Connery bill called for fixing an unstated minimum wage (widely assumed to be forty cents an hour) and a maximum hours standard (assumed to be forty hours per week) for workers involved in interstate commerce. Workers involved in agriculture or holding administrative or supervisory positions were deemed "exempt" from coverage under the law, as were workers in firms with fewer than six employees. Overtime work was to be paid at a rate of time and a half. In addition, the bill provided for the establishment of a five-person Labor Standards Board with discretionary power to set higher wage and lower hours requirements for individual industries in which there was a demonstrated "inadequacy or ineffectiveness of facilities for collective bargaining." Implicit in such a provision was the hope that the law would contribute to the establishment of "living wage" standards. New Deal proponents of the law saw the forty-forty standard itself as a means of raising the wage level and boosting the level of employment, and thereby contributing to efforts to end the Depression. The proposal also included a ban on child labor.

In spite of Roosevelt's backing, the Black-Connery bill faced tough going in Congress. The proposal encountered stiff opposition from the nation's business leaders and also failed to win the support of the AFL, whose leaders feared allowing a government board to exercise such wide authority over wages. The congressional battle over the Fair Labor Standards Act lasted fourteen months, and the law that finally emerged was significantly different from Cohen and Corcoran's original draft. In response to the concerns of the AFL and the secretary of labor, the independent and potentially powerful Labor Standards Board was eliminated. Administration of the law was given to the Department of Labor. The Fair Labor Standards Act set an initial minimum wage of only twenty-five cents, while providing for the rate to go to forty cents in seven years. The law set an initial weekly hours standard of forty-four, but called for a reduction to forty over three years. Although the law allowed individual industries to reach the forty-forty standard before the end of the phase-in period, the limited flexibility in the final bill was intended primarily to make it possible for southern employers to maintain regional differentials for several more years.

The Fair Labor Standards Act was path-breaking legislation that immediately improved wages for approximately 300,000 workers while reducing hours for more than one million employees. Yet, the standards established by the law were so low that full-time workers receiving the law's protection could still have incomes that would leave them in poverty. Subsequent increases in the minimum wage have only marginally improved this situation. Moreover, by excluding agricultural labor and domestic workers, who were not considered to be engaged in interstate commerce, the law failed to provide any benefits to large numbers of African-American and women workers.



Douglas, Paul H., and Joseph Hackman. "The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938: I." Political Science Quarterly 53 (1938): 491–515.

Douglas, Paul H., and Joseph Hackman. "The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938: II." Political Science Quarterly 54 (1939): 29–55.

Forsythe, John S. "Legislative History of the Fair Labor Standards Act." Contemporary Problems 6 (1939): 464–490.

Hart, Vivien. Bound by Our Constitution: Women, Workers, and the Minimum Wage. 1994.

Paulsen, George E. A Living Wage for the Forgotten Man: The Quest for Fair Labor Standards 1933–1941. 1996.

Larry G. Gerber

Fair Labor Standards Act

views updated May 29 2018

Fair Labor Standards Act

Federal legislation enacted in 1938 by Congress, pursuant to its power under the Commerce Clause, that mandated a minimum wage and forty-hour work week for employees of those businesses engaged in interstate commerce.

IBP, Inc. v. Alvarez

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), 29 U.S.C.A. § 201 et seq., was passed in 1938, giving U.S. hourly workers a 40-hour workweek (unless the workers gets overtime pay) and setting a minimum wage. However, FLSA does not define "work" or "workweek," which has pushed definitional questions into the judicial system. A series of Supreme Court decisions in the 1940s that were favorable to employees caused Congress to pass the Portal-to-Portal Act, 29 U.S.C.A. § 252(a), a 1949 amendment to FLSA. This act narrowed FLSA coverage by treating two activities as not compensable: walking on the employer's premises to and from the actual place of performance of the principal activity of the employees, and activities that are "preliminary or postliminary" to that principal activity. Despite Department of Labor regulations on when the workday starts and ends, there have been controversies about whether the time it takes for workers to put on and take off special work gear, and to walk to and from the changing room is compensable work time. The U.S. SUPREME COURT, in IBP, Inc. v. Alvarez, ___ U.S.___, 126 S.Ct. 514, 163 L.Ed.2d 288 (2005), resolved most of these matters in favor of employees.

The case consolidated two disputes from Washington state and Maine. In the Washington case, a group of workers at an IBP, Inc. meat-packing plant filed a class action lawsuit. Production workers are required to wear hard-hats, hairnets, ear plugs, gloves, sleeve, aprons, leggings, and boots. Those workers who use knives must also wear heavier gear, including chain link metal aprons and plexiglass arm-guards. These workers were "on the clock" when the first piece of meat processed and the compensable workday ended with the last piece of meat processed. In 1998 the company began paying the workers an extra four minutes for clothes-changing time but the workers' lawsuit asked for additional pay for the time spent putting on and removing protective gear and walking between the locker room to the production floor before and after each shift. The Maine case involved a class action lawsuit by workers at a poultry processing plant operated by Barber Foods, Inc. These meat processing workers also wore heavy protective gear and were not paid for the time it took to put on and remove the gear. They also wanted to be paid for the time spent waiting to don and doff the protective gear.

The Washington federal district court ruled in favor of the IBP employees, finding that the donning and doffing of protective gear for these particular jobs were compensable under FLSA because they were "integral and indispensable to the work of the employees who wore such equipment." In addition, the time spent walking between the locker room and the production was also compensable because it occurred during the workday. Based on these conclusions the judge ruled that workers who used knives were entitled to pay for between 12 and 14 minutes of work, including about 4 minutes of walking time. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the district court's ruling but employed different reasoning. The appeals court distinguished between workers who donned hardhats and safety goggles, who were not entitled to additional work time and pay, with the IBP workers who were required to wear elaborate and burdensome gear.

In the Maine lawsuit, the federal district court ruled that workers were entitled to be compensated for the time spent donning and doffing protective gear but not for the time walking to and from the production floor. In addition, the court ruled against the employees' request that they be paid for the time they spent waiting to pick up their gear and equipment at the beginning of their workday. The First Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the lower court. The Supreme Court agreed to hear the consolidated case to resolve this split in the circuits.

The Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision, upheld the Ninth Circuit's decision. However, the Court agreed with the First Circuit that the waiting time for picking up protective gear at the beginning of a shift was not compensable. Justice John Paul Stevens, writing for the Court, reviewed the history of the statutes, regulations, and court rulings that dealt with defining work and the parameters of the workday. A 1955 Supreme Court decision had ruled in favor of workers at a battery plant who had to change clothes and shower because of their work with caustic and toxic materials. The Court found that the employees had a right to be paid for the time it took to change clothes at the beginning and end of the shift, and for the time it took to clean up. The key to the decision was language in the Portal-to-Portal Act that principal work activities include all activities which are an "integral and indispensable part of the principal activities."

Justice Stevens concluded that the donning and doffing of protective gear in both plants were an integral and indispensable part of the work of meat processing. These activities signaled the start and end of the workday. Therefore, walking to and from the production was compensable time as well. As to the First Circuit ruling that waiting time was not compensable, Justice Stevens concurred. Under FLSA, waiting for the issuance of protective gear was a "preliminary" rather than a "principal" activity and should not be counted as part of the workday. Stevens noted that walking from the time clock near the factory entrance to a workstation was necessary for employees to begin work but the Portal-to-Portal Act ruled that it was not com-pensable under the FLSA. Therefore, the waiting in this case was "two steps removed from the productive activity on the assembly line" and was not integral and indispensable to a principal activity.

Fair Labor Standards Act

views updated May 14 2018


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 )


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.

Fair Labor Standards Act

views updated May 29 2018

Fair Labor Standards Act

The Fair Labor Standards Act was passed in June 1938 as part of the Second New Deal legislation of President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882–1945; served 1933–45). It is also known as the Wages and Hours Bill because it placed federal standards on both minimum wages and maximum work hours. It was the first piece of legislation to successfully put federal requirements on such aspects of business. It is also the bill that eliminated most child labor in the United States.

The Fair Labor Standards Act originally was limited in scope. It first applied only to businesses that engaged in or affected interstate commerce. The federal government used its power under the commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution to pass the act. Organizations whose business remained within a state without crossing into other states continued to be regulated only by state law.

The act set a minimum wage of 25 cents per hour to be slowly increased to 40 cents over time. Time-and-a-half pay was required for work over a normal full week of hours. That normal week was defined under the bill as 44 hours the first year, 42 the second, then finally 40 after that. Standards for keeping track of an employee's hours and wages were developed and regulated.

The Fair Labor Standards Act was significant for banning child labor under the age of sixteen. Some exceptions were made, including in the agricultural industry and some family businesses. Certain hazardous jobs, such as mining and factory jobs, were restricted to those over eighteen.

The legislation proved to be controversial among politicians and employers, although it was popular with the general public. There were many gaps in the final legislation as a result of political compromises. The act has been revised by more than twenty amendments since its passage to fix some of these shortcomings. The Supreme Court ruled on the constitutionality of the Fair Labor Standards Act in the 1941 case of United States v. Darby Lumber Company. The act continues to be enforced by the Wage and Hour Division of the U.S. Department of Labor through workplace inspections and audits.

Fair Labor Standards Act

views updated May 14 2018


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.


Employment Law; Labor Department.


views updated May 29 2018