History of Labor Legislation

History of Labor Legislation in the United States

History of Labor Legislation to 1910

Under the general head of Labor Legislation all American statute laws regulating Labor, its conditions, and the relation History. of employer and employé must be classed. It includes what is properly known as factory legislation. Labor legislation belongs to the latter half of the 19th century, so far as the United States is concerned. Like England in the far past, the Americans in colonial days undertook to regulate wages and prices, and later the employment of apprentices. Legislation relating to wages and prices was long ago abandoned, but the laws affecting the employment of apprentices still exist in some form, although conditions of employment have changed so materially that apprenticeships are not entered as of old; but the laws regulating the employment of apprentices were the basis on which English legislation found a foothold when parliament wished to regulate the Labor of factory operatives. The code of Labor laws of the present time is almost entirely the result of the industrial revolution during the latter part of the 18th century, under which the domestic or hand-Labor system was displaced through the introduction of power machinery. As this revolution took place in the United States at a somewhat later date than in England, the Labor legislation necessitated by it belongs to a later date. The factory, so far as textiles are concerned, was firmly established in America during the period from 1820 to 1840, and it was natural that the English legislation found friends and advocates in the United States, although the more objectionable conditions accompanying the English factory were not to be found there.

The first attempt to secure legislation regulating factory employment related to the hours of Labor, which were very long — from Early attempts to regulate hours. twelve to thirteen hours a day. As machinery was introduced it was felt that the tension resulting from speeded machines and the close attention required in the factory ought to be accompanied by a shorter work-day. This view took firm hold of the operatives, and was the chief cause of the agitation which has resulted in a great body of laws applying in very many directions. As early as 1806 the caulkers and shipbuilders of New York City agitated for a reduction of hours to ten per day, but no legislation followed. There were several other attempts to secure some regulation relative to hours, but there was no general agitation prior to 1831. As Massachusetts was the state which first recognized the necessity of regulating employment (following in a measure, and so far as conditions demanded, the English Labor or factory legislation), the history of such legislation in that state is indicative of that in the United States, and as it would be impossible in this article to give a detailed history of the origin of laws in the different states, the dates of their enactment, and their provisions, it is best to follow primarily the course of the Eastern states, and especially that of Massachusetts, where the first general agitation took place and the first laws were enacted. That state in 1836 regulated by law the question of the education of young persons employed in manufacturing establishments. The regulation of hours of Labor was warmly discussed in 1832, and several legislative committees and commissions reported upon it, but no specific action on the general question of hours of Labor secured the indorsement of the Massachusetts legislature until 1874, although the day’s Labor of children under twelve years of age was limited to ten hours in 1842. Ten hours constituted a day’s Labor, on a voluntary basis, in many trades in Massachusetts and other parts of the country as early as 1853, while in the shipbuilding trades this was the work-day in 1844.

In April 1840 President Van Buren issued an order “that all public establishments will hereafter be regulated, as to working hours, by the ten-hours system.” The real aggressive movement began in 1845, through numerous petitions to the Massachusetts legislature urging a reduction of the day’s Labor to eleven hours, but nothing came of these petitions at that time. Again, in 1850, a similar effort was made, and also in 1851 and 1852, but the bills failed. Then there was a period of quiet until 1865, when an unpaid commission made a report relative to the hours of Labor, and recommended the establishment of a bureau of statistics for the purpose of collecting data bearing upon the Labor question. This was the first step in this direction in any country. The first bureau of the kind was established in Massachusetts in 1869, but meanwhile, in accordance with reports of commissions and the address of Governor Bullock in 1866, and the general sentiment which then prevailed, the legislature passed an act regulating in a measure the conditions of the employment of children in manufacturing establishments; and this is one of the first laws of the kind in the United States, although the first legislation in the United States relating to the hours of Labor which the writer has been able to find, and for which he can fix a date, was enacted by the state of Pennsylvania in 1849, the law providing that ten hours should be a day’s work in cotton, woollen, paper, bagging, silk and flax factories.

The Massachusetts law of 1866 provided, firstly, that no child under ten should be employed in any manufacturing establishment, Employment of children. and that no child between ten and fourteen should be so employed unless he had attended some public or private school at least six months during the year preceding such employment, and, further, that such employment should not continue unless the child attended school at least six months in each and every year; secondly, a penalty not exceeding $50 for every owner or agent or other person knowingly employing a child in violation of the act; thirdly, that no child under the age of fourteen should be employed in any manufacturing establishment more than eight hours in any one day; fourthly, that any parent or guardian allowing or consenting to employment in violation of the act should forfeit a sum not to exceed $50 for each offence; fifthly, that the Governor instruct the state constable and his deputies to enforce the provisions of all laws for regulating the employment of children in manufacturing establishments. The same legislature also created a commission of three persons, whose duty it was to investigate the subject of hours of Labor in relation to the social, educational and sanitary condition of the working classes. In 1867 a fundamental law relating to schooling and hours of Labor of children employed in manufacturing and mechanical establishments was passed by the Massachusetts legislature. It differed from the act of the year previous in some respects, going deeper into the general question. It provided that no child under ten should be employed in any manufacturing or mechanical establishment of the commonwealth, and that no child between ten and fifteen should be so employed unless he had attended school, public or private, at least three months during the year next preceding his employment. There were provisions relating to residence, &c., and a further provision that no time less than 120 half-days of actual schooling should be deemed an equivalent of three months, and that no child under fifteen should be employed in any manufacturing or mechanical establishment more than sixty hours any one week. The law also provided penalties for violation. It repealed the act of 1866.

In 1869 began the establishment of that chain of offices in the United States, the principle of which has been adopted by other countries, known as bureaus of statistics of Labor, their especial purpose being the collection and dissemination of information relating to all features of industrial employment. As a result of the success of the first bureau, bureaus are in existence in thirty-three states, in addition to the United States Bureau of Labor.

A special piece of legislation which belongs to the commonwealth of Massachusetts, so far as experience shows, was that in 1872, providing for cheap morning and evening trains for the accommodation of working men living in the vicinity of Boston. Great Britain had long had such trains, which were called parliamentary trains. Under the Massachusetts law some of the railways running out of Boston furnished the accommodation required, and the system has since been in operation.

In different parts of the country the agitation to secure legislation regulating the hours of Labor became aggressive again Factory legislation, 1877. in 1870 and the years immediately following, there being a constant repetition of attempts to secure the enactment of a ten-hours law, but in Massachusetts all the petitions failed till 1874, when the legislature of that commonwealth established the hours of Labor at sixty per week not only for children under eighteen, but for women, the law providing that no minor under eighteen and no woman over that age should be employed by any person, firm or corporation in any manufacturing establishment more than ten hours in any one day. In 1876 Massachusetts reconstructed its laws relating to the employment of children, although it did not abrogate the principles involved in earlier legislation, while in 1877 the commonwealth passed Factory Acts covering the general provisions of the British laws. It provided for the general inspection of factories and public buildings, the provisions of the law relating to dangerous machinery, such as belting, shafting, gearing, drums, &c., which the legislature insisted must be securely guarded, and that no machinery other than steam engines should be cleaned while running. The question of ventilation and cleanliness was also attended to. Dangers connected with hoistways, elevators and well-holes were minimized by their protection by sufficient trap-doors, while fire-escapes were made obligatory on all establishments of three or more storeys in height. All main doors, both inside and outside, of manufacturing establishments, as well as those of churches, school-rooms, town halls, theatres and every building used for public assemblies, should open outwardly whenever the factory inspectors of the commonwealth deemed it necessary. These provisions remain in the laws of Massachusetts, and other states have found it wise to follow them.

Labor legislation in force in 1910

The Labor legislation in force in 1910 in the various states of the Union might be classified in two general branches: (A) protective Labor legislation, or laws for the aid of workers who, on account of their economic dependence, are not in a position fully to protect themselves; (B) legislation having for its purpose the fixing of the legal status of the worker as an employé, such as laws relating to the making and breaking of the Labor contract, the right to form organizations and to assemble peaceably, the settlement of Labor disputes, the licensing of occupations, &c.

(A) The first class includes factory and workshop acts, laws relating to hours of Labor, work on Sundays and holidays, the payment of Factory and workshop acts. wages, the liability of employers for injuries to their employés, &c. Factory acts have been passed by nearly all the states of the Union. These may be considered in two groups — first, laws which relate to conditions of employment and affect only children, young persons and women; and second, laws which relate to the sanitary condition of factories and workshops and to the safety of employés generally. The states adopting such laws have usually made provision for factory inspectors, whose duties are to enforce these laws and who have power to enter and inspect factories and workshops. The most common provisions of the factory acts in the various states are those which fix an age limit below which employment is unlawful. All but five states have enacted such provisions, and these five states have practically no manufacturing industries. In some states the laws fixing an age limit are restricted in their application to factories, while in others they extend also to workshops, bakeries, mercantile establishments and other work places where children are employed. The prescribed age limit varies from ten to fourteen years. Provisions concerning the education of children in factories and workshops may be considered in two groups, those relating to apprenticeship and those requiring a certain educational qualification as a pre-requisite to employment. Apprenticeship laws are numerous, but they do not now have great force, because of the practical abrogation of the apprenticeship system through the operation of modern methods of production. Most states Have provisions prohibiting illiterates under a specified age, usually sixteen, from being employed in factories and workshops. The provisions of the factory acts relating to hours of Labor and night work generally affect only the employment of women and young persons. Most of the states have enacted such provisions, those limiting the hours of children occurring more frequently than those limiting the hours of women. The hour limit for work in such cases ranges from six per day to sixty-six per week. Where the working time of children is restricted, the minimum age prescribed for such children ranges from twelve to twenty-one years. In some cases the restriction of the hours of Labor of women and children is general, while in others it applies only to employment in one or more classes of industries. Other provisions of law for the protection of women and children, but not usually confined in their operation to factories and workshops, are such as require seats for females and separate toilet facilities for the sexes, and prohibit employment in certain occupations as in mines, places where intoxicants are manufactured or sold, in cleaning or operating dangerous machinery, &c. Provisions of factory acts relating to the sanitary condition of factories and workshops and the safety of employés have been enacted in nearly all the manufacturing states of the Union. They prohibit overcrowding, and require proper ventilation, sufficient light and heat, the lime-washing or painting of walls and ceilings, the provision of exhaust fans and blowers in places where dust or dangerous fumes are generated, guards on machinery, mechanical belts and gearing shifters, guards on elevators and hoistways, hand-rails on stairs, fire-escapes, &c.

Working time statutes

The statutes relating to hours of Labor may be considered under five groups, namely: (1) general laws which merely fix what shall Hours of Labor. be regarded as a day’s Labor in the absence of a contract; (2) laws defining what shall constitute a day’s work on public roads; (3) laws limiting the hours of Labor per day on public works; (4) laws limiting the hours of Labor in certain occupations; and (5) laws which specify the hours per day or per week during which women and children may be employed. The statutes included in the first two groups place no restrictions upon the number of hours which may be agreed upon between employers and employés, while those in the other three groups usually limit the freedom of contract and provide penalties for their violation. A considerable number of states have enacted laws which fix a day’s Labor in the absence of any contract, some at eight and others at ten hours, so that when an employer and an employé make a contract and they do not specify what shall constitute a day’s Labor, eight or ten hours respectively would be ruled as the day’s Labor in an action which might come before the courts. In a number of the states it is optional with the citizens to liquidate certain taxes either by cash payments or by rendering personal service. In the latter case the length of the working day is defined by law, eight hours being usually specified. The Federal government and nearly one-half of the states have laws providing that eight hours shall constitute a day’s work for employés on public works. Under the Federal Act it is unlawful for any officer of the government or of any contractor or subcontractor for public works to permit Laborers and mechanics to work longer than eight hours per day. The state laws concerning hours of Labor have similar provisions. Exceptions arc provided for cases of extraordinary emergencies, such as danger to human life or property. In many states the hours of Labor have been limited by law in occupations in which, on account of their dangerous or insanitary character, the health of the employés would be jeopardized by long hours of Labor, or in which the fatigue occasioned by long hours would endanger the lives of the employés or of the public. The occupations for which such special legislation has been enacted are those of employés on steam and street railways, in mines and other underground workings, smelting and refining works, bakeries and cotton and woollen mills. Laws limiting the hours of Labor of women and children have been considered under factory and workshop acts.

Nearly all states and Territories of the Union have laws prohibiting the employment of Labor on Sunday. These laws usually make it Sunday Labor. a misdemeanour for persons either to Labor themselves or to compel or permit their apprentices, servants or other employés, to Labor on the first day of the week. Exceptions are made in the case of household duties or works of necessity or charity, and in the case of members of religious societies who observe some other than the first day of the week.

Statutes concerning the payment of wages of employés may be considered in two groups: (1) those which relate to the employment contract, such as laws fixing the maximum period of wage payments, prohibiting the payment of wages in scrip or other evidences of indebtedness in lieu of lawful money, prohibiting wage deductions on account of fines, breakage of machinery, discounts for prepayments, medical attendance, relief funds or other purposes, requiring the giving of notice of reduction of wages, &c.; (2) legislation granting certain privileges or affording special protection to working people with respect to their wages, such as laws exempting wages from attachment, preferring wage claims in assignments, and granting workmen liens upon buildings and other constructions on which they have been employed.

Employers’ liability laws have been passed to enable an employé to recover damages from his employer under certain conditions when Employers’ liability. he has been injured through accident occurring in the works of the employer. The common-law maxim that the principal is responsible for the acts of his agent does not apply where two or more persons are working together under the same employer and one of the employés is injured through the carelessness of his fellow-employé, although the one causing the accident is the agent of the principal, who under the common law would be responsible. The old Roman law and the English and American practice under it held that the co-employé was a party to the accident. The injustice of this rule is seen by a single illustration. A weaver in a cotton factory, where there are hundreds of operatives, is injured by the neglect or carelessness of the engineer in charge of the motive power. Under the common law the weaver could not recover damages from the employer, because he was the co-employé of the engineer. So, one of thousands of employés of a railway system, sustaining injuries through the carelessness of a switchman whom he never saw, could recover no damages from the railway company, both being co-employés of the same employer. The injustice of this application of the common-law rule has been recognized, but the only way to avoid the difficulty was through specific legislation providing that under such conditions as those related, and similar ones, the doctrine of co-employment should not apply, and that the workman should have the same right to recover damages as a passenger upon a railway train. This legislation has upset some of the most notable distinctions of law.

The first agitation for legislation of this character occurred in England in 1880. A number of states in the Union have now enacted statutes fixing the liability of employers under certain conditions and relieving the employd from the application of the common-law rule. Where the employé himself is contributory to the injuries resulting from an accident he cannot recover, nor can he recover in some cases where he knows of the danger from the defects of tools or implements employed by him. The legislation upon the subject involves many features of legislation which need not be described here, such as those concerning the power of employés to make a contract, and those defining the conditions, often elaborate, which lead to the liability of the employer and the duties of the employé, and the relations in which damages for injuries sustained in employment may be recovered from the employer.

(B) The statutes thus far considered may be regarded as protective Labor legislation. There is, besides, a large body of statutory laws enacted in the various states for the purpose of fixing the legal status of employers and employés and defining their rights and privileges as such.

A great variety of statutes have been enacted in the various states relating to the Labor contract. Among these are laws Labor contract. defining the Labor contract, requiring notice of termination of contract, making it a misdemeanour to break a contract of service and thereby endanger human life or expose valuable property to serious injury, or to make a contract of service and accept transportation or pecuniary advancements with intent to defraud, prohibiting contracts of employment whereby employés waive the right to damages in case of injury, &c. A Federal statute makes it a misdemeanour for any one to prepay the transportation or in any way assist or encourage the importation of aliens under contract to perform Labor or service of any kind in the United States, exceptions being made in the case of skilled Labor that cannot otherwise be obtained, domestic servants and persons belonging to any of the recognized professions.

The Federal government and nearly all the states and territories have statutory provisions requiring the examination and licensing Licensed occupations. of persons practising certain trades other than those in the class of recognized professions. The Federal statute relates only to engineers on steam vessels, masters, mates, pilots, &c. The occupations for which examinations and licences are required by the various state laws are those of barbers, horseshoers, elevator operators, plumbers, stationary firemen, steam engineers, telegraph operators on railroads and certain classes of mine workers and steam and street railway employés.

The right of combination and peaceable assembly on the part of employés is recognized at common law throughout the United Labor organizations. States. Organizations of working-men formed for their mutual benefit, protection and improvement, such as for endeavouring to secure higher wages, shorter hours of Labor or better working conditions, are nowhere regarded as unlawful. A number of states and the Federal government have enacted statutes providing for the incorporation of trade unions, but owing to the freedom from regulation or inspection enjoyed by unincorporated trade unions, very few have availed themselves of this privilege. A number of states have enacted laws tending to give special protection to and encourage trade unions. Thus, nearly one-half of the states have passed acts declaring it unlawful for employers to discharge workmen for joining Labor organizations, or to make it a condition of employment that they shall not belong to such bodies. Laws of this kind have generally been held to be unconstitutional. Nearly all the states have laws protecting trade unions in the use of the union label, insignia of membership, credentials, &c., and making it a misdemeanour to counterfeit or fraudulently use them. A number of the states exempt Labor organizations from the operations of the anti-trust and insurance acts.

Until then, all legal action concerning Labor disturbances was based upon the principles of the common law. Labor disputes. Some of the states have now fairly complete statutory enactments concerning Labor disturbances, while others have little or no legislation of this class. The right of employés to strike for any cause or for no cause is sustained by the common law everywhere in the United States. Likewise an employer has a right to discharge any or all of his employés when they have no contract with him, and he may refuse to employ any person or class of persons for any reason or for no reason. Agreements among strikers to take peaceable means to induce others to remain away from the works of an employer until he yields to the demands of the strikers are not held to be conspiracies under the common law, and the carrying out of such a purpose by peaceable persuasion and without violence, intimidation or threats, is not unlawful. However, any interference with the constitutional rights of another to employ whom he chooses or to Labor when, where or on what terms he pleases, is illegal. The boycott has been held to be an illegal conspiracy in restraint of trade. The statutory enactments of the various states concerning Labor disturbances are in part re-enactments of the rules of common law and in part more or less departures from or additions to the established principles. The list of such statutory enactments is a large one, and includes laws relating to blacklisting, boycotting, conspiracy against working-men, interference with employment, intimidation, picketing and strikes of railway employés; laws requiring statements of causes of discharge of employés and notice of strikes in advertisements for Labor; laws prohibiting deception in the employment of Labor and the hiring of armed guards by employers; and laws declaring that certain Labor agreements do not constitute conspiracy. Some of these laws have been held to be unconstitutional, and some have not yet been tested in the courts.

The laws just treated relate almost entirely to acts either of employers or of employés, but there is another form of law, namely, Arbitration and conciliation. that providing for action to be taken by others in the effort to prevent working people from losing employment, either by their own acts or by those of their employers, or to settle any differences which arise out of controversies relating to wages, hours of Labor, terms and conditions of employment, rules, &c. These laws provide for the mediation and the arbitration of Labor disputes (see Arbitration and Conciliation). Twenty-three states and the Federal government have laws or constitutional provisions of this nature. In some cases they provide for the appointment of state boards, and in others of local boards only. A number of states provide for local or special boards in addition to the regular state boards. In some states it is required that a member of a Labor organization must be a member of the board, and, in general, both employers and employés must be represented. Nearly all state boards are required to attempt to mediate between the parties to a dispute when information is received of an actual or threatened Labor trouble. Arbitration may be undertaken in some states on application from either party, in others on the application of both parties. An agreement to maintain the status quo pending arbitration is usually required. The modes of enforcement of obedience to the awards of the boards are various. Some states depend on publicity alone, some give the decisions the effect of judgments of courts of law which may be enforced by execution, while in other states disobedience to such decisions is punishable as for contempt of court. The Federal statute applies only to common carriers engaged in interstate commerce, and provides for an attempt to be made at mediation by two designated government officials in controversies between common carriers and their employés, and, in case of the failure of such an attempt, for the formation of a board of arbitration consisting of the same officials together with certain other parties to be selected. Such arbitration boards are to be formed only at the request or upon the consent of both parties to the controversy.

The enforcement of laws by executive or judicial action is an important matter relating to Labor legislation, for without The judicial enforcement of Labor laws. action such laws would remain dead letters. Under the constitutions of the states, the governor is the commander-in-chief of the military forces, and he has the power to order the militia or any part of it into active service in case of insurrection, invasion, tumult, riots or breaches of the peace or imminent danger thereof. Frequent action has been taken in the case of strikes with the view of preventing or suppressing violence threatened or happening to persons or property, the effect being, however, that the militia protects those working or desiring to work, or the employers. The president of the United States may use the land and naval forces whenever by reason of insurrection, domestic violence, unlawful obstructions, conspiracy, combinations or assemblages of persons it becomes impracticable to enforce the laws of the land by the ordinary course of judicial proceedings, or when the execution of the laws is so hindered by reason of such events that any portion or class of the people are deprived thereby of their rights and privileges under the constitution and laws of the country. Under this general power the United States forces have been used for the protection of both employers and employés indirectly, the purpose being to protect mails and, as in the states, to see that the laws are carried out.

The power of the courts to interfere in Labor disputes is through the injunction and punishment thereunder for contempt of court. It is a principle of law that when there are interferences, actual or threatened, with property or with rights of a pecuniary nature, and the common or statute law offers no adequate and immediate remedy for the prevention of injury, a court of equity may interpose and issue its order or injunction as to what must or must not be done, a violation of which writ gives the court which issued it the power to punish for contempt. The doctrine is that something is necessary to be done to stop at once the destruction of property and the obstruction of business, and the injunction is immediate in its action. This writ has been resorted to frequently for the indirect protection of employés and of employers.

Labor Legislation from 1910

During the decade 1910-20 there was a remarkable development of Labor legislation in the United States. Within these years were enacted, by the Federal and state Governments, statutes dealing with workmen’s compensation, minimum wage, health and safety, hours of Labor, vocational education and employment service. Even more significant was the creation by several states of industrial commissions with power to issue rules and regulations having the force of law and thus relieving the Legislature of a mass of technical details. It was a period also of distinct forward movement in the field of judicial interpretation, particularly with regard to the police power in the application of the principles of “public benefit” and “equal protection of the laws” as first stated in the case of Holden v. Hardy (18 Sup. Ct. 383, 1898).

Individual Bargaining

Since the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment, abolishing slavery, there has been a steady development of laws designed to equalize bargaining power between employer and employee. Laws dealing with Labor as debtor and as creditor have included such subjects as contract Labor, the padrone system, wage exemptions, assignment of wages, time of payment, place of payment, basis of payment, medium of payment, deductions, mechanics’ liens and wage preference.


Until 1914 seamen were considered in a different class from other employees and with them enforced contracts were permitted. The Seamen’s Act of 1915, however, abolished arrest and imprisonment as a penalty for desertion and stipulated that it should be unlawful in any case to pay seamen wages in advance or to pay any person for the shipment of seamen when payment is deducted from seamen’s wages. It permits forfeiture of one month’s pay for quitting the vessel without leave after arrival at the port of delivery and before she is placed in security. The law also regulates the nature of the contract, the term of service, the payment and assignment of wages, advance payments and credits, the regulation of sailors’ lodging-houses, of shipping masters, quarters on board ship, rations and other details.

Service and Rent

Another important group of laws which fall under the classification of medium of payment are those dealing with company houses and Labor camps. Since it is legal for an employer to require his workmen to occupy company houses and to deduct the rent from wages, there is here an opportunity for abuse. Consequently, in 1913, New York granted to the Industrial Commission power of inspection. In three other states Labor camps for certain kinds of work have been brought under supervision. A new development in the regulation of deductions from wages for the purpose of furnishing certain benefits is found in the laws of Oregon and Minnesota. The former has legalized deductions for hospital benefits on approval of the Industrial Accident Commission. The Minnesota law requires employers who make deductions for benefit funds to secure a licence for the benefit plan from the State Insurance Commission. Statutes have recently been enacted by half the states, the Philippines and the Federal Government, providing that no contract of insurance or relief-benefit shall constitute a bar to action for damages in case of an employee’s injury or death, though sometimes the employer may offset against such claims benefits contributed.

Laws dealing with Labor as tenant and as competitor belong, also, under individual bargaining. There has been little agricultural Labor legislation except a law of Texas passed in 1915, which is the first American law designed to regulate the rents of share tenants by limiting the amount of rent which can be charged the “cropper.” Among the laws protecting the Laborer as competitor are the Immigration Bill of 1915 and a group of laws relating to convict Labor which can be divided into three general classes: (1) prohibition of convict work which competes with free Labor; (2) prohibition of convict Labor in certain forms of industry; and (3) distribution of convicts among diversified lines of industry. A few states have adopted different plans.

Legal Aid

Another method of protecting the individual in his bargaining relations is by legal aid and industrial courts. From New York private legal aid societies have spread throughout the larger cities of the United States. Kansas City, Mo., is the only city, however, possessing a free municipal legal aid bureau, established in 1910, while Los Angeles county, Cal., was the first to establish the office of public defender in 1913. Similar offices have been created in six other cities. California has an Act providing for the collection of wages, enforced by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Wilful refusal to pay Labor, with intent to secure a discount or to defraud, constitutes a misdemeanour. Under the N.Y. Commission Law the commission is given power to investigate claims made by employees against employers and to present the cases to the proper authorities for action. The only industrial court in the United States is in Cleveland, O., established in 1912.

Collective Bargaining

Though the right of workmen to combine was secured in the United States by common consent and favourable construction without legislation earlier than by law in Great Britain, the conspiracy law has remained without being clarified. When the Sherman Anti-Trust Law was enacted in 1890 it was almost immediately held applicable to Labor unions, and it was feared that it rendered all strikes, if not all Labor organizations, unlawful. The Clayton Act (1914), however, declared that the anti-trust laws should not be construed to forbid the existence of Labor organizations or to restrain their members from carrying out the “legitimate objects” thereof. This provision has probably eliminated the danger of the extension of the restraint-of-trade doctrine to a possible outlawing of all Labor organizations, though the decision by the Supreme Court in the Duplex case (The Duplex Printing Press Co. of Battle Creek, Mich., v. International Association of Machinists, 41 Sup. Ct., 172) has demonstrated that Labor organizations in their actual practices are still within the anti-trust laws.

Most of the cases of which Labor complains have been premised not on the anti-trust laws but on the common-law doctrine of conspiracy. While the legality of trade unions has not been questioned, except organizations advocating criminal syndicalism, various restrictions have been placed on efforts to make them effective. Generalizing from a large number of cases, it can be said that the strike is usually considered illegal when its purpose is primarily to injure the employer or the non-union workman and that, except where compulsory arbitration has been introduced, as in Kansas in 1920, strikes solely and directly involving the rate of pay or hours of Labor are in ordinary times everywhere considered legal. But strikes to gain a closed shop, sympathetic strikes, and against non-union material, have been condemned in many jurisdictions.

California is the only state which has a settled law that all strikes are legal. The only method of preventing them is the injunction. In some cases “conspiracy to quit work” has been enjoined, and in others the union officers have been prohibited from advising or ordering the workmen to strike, or from paying strike benefits. A famous injunction of this type was secured by the Federal Government during the bituminous-coal mine dispute of 1919. Though formerly the boycott was condemned as unlawful, an effort is being made to distinguish between the primary boycott and secondary boycott, which is the boycott of a third party. At present there is great lack of uniformity among the laws. The two famous boycott cases are the Danbury Hatters’ case (Loewe v. Lawlor, 35 Sup. Ct., 170, 1915), which was in the courts from 1903 to 1917, and the Duplex case (1921) already mentioned, in both of which the secondary boycott was declared illegal. Picketing laws, also, vary widely. California, which recognizes both the strike and boycott as legal, will not permit picketing. It has been condemned by the courts of six states and is held a misdemeanour in three others. Nine states hold that “peaceful” picketing is lawful. A further cause of illegality was laid down by the Supreme Court in the case of Hitchman Coal & Coke Co. v. Mitchell (1917), in which it was contended that where an employer has required all his employees to sign a contract that they will not join any Labor union it is illegal to make any effort to organize them. In the Clayton Act (1914), which many believed would remove the restrictions which hamper trade unions, the most tangible gain is in the provision for jury trial in contempt cases where the offence charged is also indictable as a crime. This Act further provides that injunctions issued by the Federal courts shall not prohibit the quitting of work, the refusal to patronize, peaceful picketing or peaceful persuasion. Nor are these acts to be considered “violations of any law of the United States,” whether they are done “singly or in concert.” Yet those in charge of the legislation pointed out that it did not modify the law of conspiracy with regard to the substantive rights of employers and employees. When workmen combine to injure an employer or non-unionists, their illegal purpose colours all their conduct. Furthermore, it does not affect the cases in the state courts, which far outnumber those in the Federal courts.

Laws restricting employers’ rights are few in number. Most of the states have laws prohibiting blacklisting, but they have been dead letters. Other statutes have been declared unconstitutional which attempted to prohibit employers from coercing workmen into surrendering their rights to belong to Labor unions (Adair v. United States, 28 Sup. Ct., 277, 1908, and Coppage v. Kansas, 35 Sup. Ct., 240, 1915). The Supreme Court furthermore has held that, while it is illegal to induce a workman to join a union where he has signed an agreement not to belong (the Hitchman coal case), it is not coercion for the employer to threaten to discharge a workman unless he will renounce his union membership, as in the Coppage case.

While there have been many damage suits in connexion with Labor disputes and many judgments against unions or their members, only two recent cases are important: the Danbury Hatters’ case (see above) and the Arkansas coal-miners’ case (Dowd v. United Mine Workers, 235 Fed., 1, 1916; Coronado Coal v. United Mine Workers, Circuit Court of Appeals, 1919). Both of these cases involved suits for triple damages under the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, and in both the cause of action antedated the passage of the Clayton Act. The decisions in these cases have established the principle that Labor unions and their individual members are responsible without limit for the unlawful actions of the union officers and agents which they have in any manner authorized or sanctioned. Such antecedent authorization or subsequent approval of unlawful acts does not require to be expressed, but may be inferred from all the facts in the situation.

Minimum Wage

The first minimum-wage law for women and children was passed by Massachusetts in 1912. By 1920, 13 states and Porto Rico had followed this example, and Congress had legislated for the District of Columbia. Constitutional amendments specifically allowing minimum-wage legislation were passed by California in 1914 for women and children, and by Ohio in 1912 for all classes of workers. In general the laws are very much restricted in scope and are regarded as a remedy for exceptional conditions, providing only a bare subsistence wage for those considered the most helpless class of sweated workers — women and children.

Since the purpose of minimum-wage legislation is to raise excessively low wages, the question of the standards of wage awards is the important issue. Nearly all the American laws define in general terms the principle to be followed in fixing wages, which is usually that of a living wage. For women the standard commonly used is the cost of living of the entirely self-supporting woman. Early orders were in the neighbourhood of $8 and $9 a week. In response to war-time increases, new rates were introduced which varied from $11.10 in the state of Oregon to $15.50 in the printing and engraving industry in Washington, D.C. Wisconsin set up the general rate of 22 cents an hour for experienced adults, increased to 25 cents in 1921; and Minnesota 23 cents an hour, limited to 54 hours weekly.
In connexion with fixing the minimum standard, the question of the “financial condition of the business” has arisen with regard to the continued existence of an industry, and exceptions have been made in some states for certain industries which could not stand the rate. California has best met the problem of adjusting piece rates by providing that piece rates must yield the minimum wage to two-thirds of the female employees. The employment of slow or infirm workers at lower rates is generally permitted by special licence. Practically all minimum-wage laws permit the fixing of rates for sub-standard workers. As a guide for adjusting these special rates, most Amercian statutes contain only a provision that rates for children and apprentices shall be suitable. To offset the tendency to substitute young girls and inexperienced workers for adults in trades requiring little skill, it has been found necessary to specify the length of apprenticeship and the proportion of apprentices allowed.

There are two methods of operation: the flat-rate law, which prescribes a legal minimum in the statute itself, and the more common type which provides for a board or commission to fix rates after proper investigation. The commissions are generally unsalaried. Their jurisdiction extends over persons covered by the law with full power of investigation. A subordinate board is usually provided for, which is representative of employers, employees and the public. It must make a report with recommendations to the commission, which the latter accepts or refers back. When the report has been accepted and a public hearing has been held, the recommendations are promulgated as orders. Provisions for a court review are customarily included. A new application of the police power is involved in the constitutionality of the minimum-wage legislation. The question was settled definitely by the Supreme Court decision in the famous Oregon case (1917) which held the law constitutional on the same ground on which laws restricting hours of Labor for women and children had been sustained.

Hours of Labor

Beginning with Illinois in 1903, the 8-hour standard for children under 16 has been established in 25 states and the District of Columbia, with certain exemptions in a few states. Other states have less favourable laws, especially some of the southern states, which still allow children to work legally 11 hours a day. To meet the arguments of employers who opposed restriction of hours of Labor of children on the ground that it put them at a disadvantage with their competitors in neighbouring states, Congress in 1916 enacted a measure which forbade the transportation in interstate commerce of the products of factories or mines on which children between 14 and 16 had worked more than eight hours a day or more than six days a week or at night. The law was declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court as an undue extension of the power to regulate interstate commerce. In 1919 Congress again enacted a law containing similar standards based on the taxing power, which levies a tax of 10% on the annual net profits of any concern which employs children in violation of the above standards.

By 1920 only six states, in most of which comparatively few women were employed industrially, had placed no restrictions on women’s hours of work; many had limited hours to eight or nine a day; and a large number had a weekly limit of less than 60 hours. The majority of statutes fix the same daily and weekly maximum hours for all occupations covered, and generally include the principal industrial occupations for women except those in homes and agriculture. In several states the law applies only to cities within a given classification. In only a few cases, however, do the laws define the time during which the work period must fall by naming the spread of the hours allowed, by fixing opening and closing hours or by forbidding night-work. In detail the statutes vary from a 12- to an 8-hour-day minimum in 10 jurisdictions and from a 60- to a 48-hour week. About one-third of the laws permit overtime. Recently a few states have adopted a more progressive method of regulating hours by replacing the flat-rate law with statutes containing the general principle that a woman is not to be employed for any period of time dangerous to her health, safety and welfare. A commission is given power to determine, after investigation, maximum periods for different industries and even for different localities.

Though the constitutionality of the 10-hour day was established in the Oregon case (Multer v. Oregon, 28 Sup. Ct., 324, 1908), the reasonableness of the 8-hour day was still in doubt until the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the California law on the same ground of public health. The laws have been attacked also on the ground of class legislation, but the courts have given little weight to this objection, asserting the freedom of the Legislature to use discretion in enlarging the scope of laws or to single out groups most in need of protection.
Statutes regarding the limitation of hours of men are more restricted in scope. In 1912 Congress required that an 8-hour clause be inserted in all contracts involving the employment of Laborers or mechanics when made by the Federal Government, its territories or the District of Columbia, and extended the provision to post-office employees. On declaration of the President, violation is excusable for certain emergencies and extraordinary events. During the World War Congress empowered the President to suspend the law in case of national emergency, with pay at the rate of time-and-a-half for all work in excess of eight hours. This privilege was frequently exercised. In 1915 Federal legislation with regard to the amount of work which might be exacted took a new turn in the appropriation bills forthe army and navy. Provisions were included against time studies, bonuses or cash rewards except for suggestions resulting in improvements in service. Over half of the states and many cities have 8-hour laws for employees on public works.

With regard to private employment, progress has been made mainly through collective bargaining, with a few important exceptions. In 1916 the Federal statute applying to railway employees on interstate lines and in the District of Columbia was supplemented by the Adamson law, which provides the basic 8-hour day for railway trainmen. About a dozen states regulate hours of street-railway employees to 10 or 12 a day, while Massachusetts has fixed a 9-hour day which must fall within 11 consecutive hours. A few cities, also, have regulated the hours of service on street railways. Regulation of hours in water transportation is found in the Federal Act of 1913, limiting hours of deck officers in port to 9 and at sea to 12 except in cases of emergency. The Federal Act of 1915, known as the “Seamen’s Act,” provides that when a vessel is in a safe harbour, 9 hours, inclusive of anchor watch, shall constitute a day’s work. By Jan. 1920 the 16 states in which the mining industry is important limited hours in the various classes of mine work to 8 in one day, with special provision in a few laws for additional hours at the time of changing shifts.
With regard to regulation of hours in factories and workshops, two states, Mississippi in 1912 and Oregon in 1913, adopted the 10-hour day, with certain exceptions, for all classes of employees in certain manufacturing industries.

The Oregon statute permits three hours’ overtime at time-and-a-half pay, and the Mississippi Act allows 20 minutes’ overtime on each of the first five days of the week and deducts this time from the 10 hours of the sixth day. In the Oregon case (Bunting v. Oregon, 37 Sup. Ct., 435, 1917) the constitutionality of the 10-hour daily limit for adult males was assured and the way was opened for much larger regulation of men’s work. A small number of states also regulate the hours of employment of adult males in a few specified employments.

In spite of the considerable development of maximum hour regulation in the United States, not much attention has been paid to the question of legal rest periods. Several states have laws requiring daily rest periods; 12 states forbid certain forms of night work by women, and a few others shorten the number of hours of night work; 40 states have prohibited night work for children under 16. While more than a dozen states have made Saturday afternoon a legal holiday, practically none has made effective provision for enforcement. By 1920 six states and the Federal Government had passed laws embodying the principle of one day’s rest in seven, only three of which are effective from the point of view of enforcement or number of industries included. Sunday laws have been upheld almost universally by the courts, formerly on religious grounds and in later years as a legitimate use of the police power. In the only test case of one-day’s-rest-in-seven laws, the N.Y. State Court of Appeals (People v. Klenck Packing Co., 214 N.Y., 121, 1915) sustained it as a police-power regulation. Classifications were likewise upheld as meeting modern industrial conditions.


Private employment agencies situated in industrial and railway centres have long been a means of connecting the man with the job. The abuses of these profit-making agencies have resulted in restrictive legislation designed to prevent fraud and extortion and to ensure moral surroundings. These laws usually require owners of private employment agencies to deposit a bond with the State Department of Labor or the city authorities and to secure a licence. Twelve states prohibit the location of such offices in saloons, and several others forbid association with lodging-houses, restaurants or gambling-places. Frequently the sending of minors and women to immoral resorts is forbidden. Fees are regulated as to maximum amount. Some laws specify that all advertisements or other information must be truthful. Several states require records, but, with the exception of New York, they are rarely comprehensive enough to be valuable. There was almost unanimous testimony of investigators and public officials up to 1921 that these laws had not been successful in eradicating abuses, and there arose a widespread movement to abolish them altogether. The state of Washington took the initiative by prohibiting the collection of fees from workers by an employment agent. The U.S. Supreme Court, however, held the law unconstitutional as “arbitrary” and “oppressive,” an undue restriction on the liberty of the appellants, and therefore a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. In 1919 the Wisconsin Legislature gave the State Industrial Commission discretionary power to refuse licences to private employment agencies if the public bureau in the district is sufficient to supply the needs.

At the time of the entrance of the United States into the World War there were between 80 and 90 public employment exchanges maintained by 23 states and more than a dozen cities. In 1920 44 states and the District of Columbia were coöperating with the U.S. Employment Service. The older laws which create only a state employment office and make no provision for local branches have been practically a dead letter. The more recent legislation, however, which can be exemplified by the N.Y. statute of 1014, has been successful. It establishes a bureau of employment in the State Department of Labor under the immediate charge of a director who must be under civil service rules. The industrial commission is given power to establish such free local offices as it deems necessary. The activities of the local bureaus are coordinated by a Labor market bulletin and the interchange of lists of vacancies. Partial recognition of the policy of joint control is given in the appointment by the Commissioner of Labor of a representative committee of employers and employees. Other clauses provide for registration, special regulations for children, and various details. The most controversial point in the administration of a bureau is the policy to be pursued in the case of a strike or lock-out. The first laws forbidding applications under those conditions were declared illegal. Since then the problem has been dealt with by some form of publicity clause requiring the exhibition at the exchanges of statements in regard to trade disputes. But state offices cannot organize the Labor market. The war-time demands of Labor emphasized the weaknesses of the state systems and led to the development of new administrative machinery, the U.S. Employment Service (see Labor supply and regulation).

In regard to the progressive measures dealing with the systematic distribution of public work, little of value has been accomplished, though a number of cities have inaugurated plans to meet temporary emergencies and have made definite arrangements for reserve work. Pennsylvania is the only state which has established a permanent fund to be used for public work during slack seasons. The question of the prevention of unemployment is only just beginning to be recognized. The Illinois and Pennsylvania laws of 1915 instruct the administration authorities to take steps toward the regularization of employment, but nothing has been accomplished. A more definite inducement to the regularization of employment is found in the laws under consideration by several legislatures which require the employers to take out insurance against the unemployment of their employees and to provide compensation to the workers during the unemployed periods.

Safety and Health

Legislative activities for the control of industrial accidents and occupational diseases have developed along four main lines: reporting, prohibition, regulation and compensation or insurance. Though the early laws did not bring satisfactory results, accident-reporting laws have proved useful as a guide for inspection, safeguarding and advanced legislation, and have continued to spread to new states and to new branches of industry. Laws relating to the reporting of occupational disease are of more recent origin. California in 1911 was the first state to pass such a law, and within five years 16 states had enacted similar measures. The latest tendency is to include within the laws “any ailment or disease contracted as a result of the nature of the patient’s employment” instead of limiting them to certain diseases.

The prohibitive method has been applied to the exclusion of certain classes from employment and to the outlawry of dangerous substances and instruments. As a result of continuous agitation, by 1920 the 14-year minimum-age limit had been established for general factory work in all except five states and by the Federal Government, while several states have raised the limit to 16 years and in some instances to 18 years and even 21 for certain more hazardous and morally dangerous occupations. The street-trade laws are still far from adequate. In 1920 only two states had the same age limit, 14 years, for street trades as for other employments, and only about half of the states had any regulations at all. In regard to physical requirements no standards have been fixed, but 12 states require a physical examination of all children granted permits. The New York law makes further provision also for a corps of medical examiners under the Department of Labor to examine any children in any industry and to recommend the withdrawal of the employment certificate. A number of states modify the age requirements by forbidding the employment of children who do not come up to certain standards of knowledge. These vary from a mere literacy requirement in any language to graduation from the eighth grade. The principal agencies for the enforcement of child Labor laws are the school authorities, the boards of health, and, in some states, special child-Labor inspectors. Probation officers and child-welfare agencies may sometimes aid. The issuance of certificates is usually in the hands of the local school authorities, though in New York it is in the control of the Board of Health and in Wisconsin of the State Industrial Commission.

The exclusion of women from certain occupations has not been extensively developed in America. Work in mines is forbidden in most of the mining states, and work in saloons (except by members of the family) in 15 states. In addition there are a few scattered provisions in regard to the cleaning of moving machinery, work requiring constant standing, operation of emery or other polishing wheels and coremaking in foundries. Child-birth protection did not receive consideration until 1911. Since then five states have passed laws forbidding employment of any women in manufacturing, mechanical or mercantile establishments within two weeks before and four weeks after child-birth. Legal requirements for the exclusion of men from dangerous occupations are limited to certain classes of individuals. Four states require certain physical qualifications for work in compressed air; the “lead laws” require monthly examinations; absence of contagious disease is required in bakeshops; and freedom from colour-blindness of railway employees is mentioned in a few states. Technical qualifications required for licensing men to carry on certain trades are far more numerous. In regard to the prohibition of substances and instruments, there are two laws. In 1912 Congress placed a prohibitory tax of 2 cents per 100 on matches containing white sulphur and prohibited their import or export. This was the first time that the power of internal revenue taxation had been exercised for the protection of the health of the workers. There is also a regulation in Massachusetts forbidding the use of certain shuttles.
The need of standards, drafted and enforced by public authority, has led to the development of codes dealing with factories and work-shops, mines and tunnels and transportation. The factory codes include regulations which deal with the construction and use of machinery, steam boilers and elevators, stationary equipment, etc., protection against fire, lighting, heating and ventilation, seats, toilets and dressing-rooms, protection from infectious disease, and tenement-house manufacture. In connexion with mines and tunnels the regulations treat mainly of accident dangers, though the health hazard has been given some consideration. Compressed-air illness (or caisson disease) is the industrial hazard which has been brought into prominence by the increasing construction of tunnels, subways, bridges and skyscrapers. Three states have attempted to control the disease by legislation, and several states have issued orders which include periodic physical examination, a sliding scale of working hours (decreasing as the pressure increases), and a period of gradual decompression. More than a 50-lb. pressure is forbidden.

In regard to navigation the Federal Seamen’s Act of 1915 provides for a substantial increase of the size of crews, for a certain percentage of able seamen, for certified life-boat men and for a given number of properly constructed life-boats. Laws dealing with railways and street cars can be divided into two groups: those designed to protect the employee and those designed to protect the public. In the case of the first group, continued progress has been made since 1910 by giving the Interstate Commerce Commission power to designate standards of equipment and to investigate accidents. The latest development of laws for the protection of travellers are the full-crew laws, applying to both passenger and freight service. These have been upheld by the courts on the ground of public safety. Their enforcement is usually entrusted to state railway and public utility commissions with delegated power to work out details.
Social Insurance.—The first accident compensation law of general application was passed by New York in 1910. This statute was declared unconstitutional, but an amendment to the state constitution made possible the enactment of a compulsory law in 1914. Other states followed, and by 1919 compensation laws had been passed by 42 states in addition to Alaska, Hawaii and Porto Rico. The Federal law of 1908 was repealed in favour of the Act of 1916, which covers all civilian employees of the Federal Government. Early laws had been declared unconstitutional on the ground that to require an employer to pay damages for an accident for which he was not to blame was taking property without due process of law; that both employer and employee were deprived of the right of trial by jury and that the employer was charged with liability without fault. In 1917, however, the constitutionality of the chief types of compensation was affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court in three far-reaching decisions (New York Central R.R. Co. v. White, 37 Sup. Ct., 247, 1917; Hawkins v. Bleakly, 37 Sup. Ct., 255, 1917; Mountain Timber Co. v. Washington, 37 Sup. Ct., 260, 1917). The Court ruled that the enactment of laws providing compensation for industrial accidents tended to promote the public welfare and were, therefore, within the scope of the police power. It upheld laws requiring compulsory insurance in state funds on the ground of a “fair and reasonable exercise of governmental power.” Because of the adverse decision of the first N.Y. law, most American compensation acts have been made elective according to the following device. The employer is given the choice of accepting the law or of operating under the liability laws with the old liability defences — fellow-servant’s fault, contributory negligence, and assumption of risk — abrogated or greatly modified.

The laws vary greatly in detail. Though a compensation system should apply to all employments and cover all industries, nine main groups are usually excluded (employees in non-hazardous occupations, agricultural Labor, domestic servants, employees in interstate commerce, workmen in establishments employing fewer than a given number of persons, public employees, casual Laborers, those not engaged in the regular course of the employer’s business and those in employments not conducted for gain). Laws of four states and the Federal statute have been amended to include occupational diseases. Medical attendance is usually provided for, though it varies in time limit from two weeks to 90 days and in amount from $50 to $600. An increasing number of states, however, are giving their administrative boards power to use their discretion to increase the period and the amount. The waiting period during which no compensation is paid varies from no waiting period at all to 14 days. The compensation rates range for total disability from 65% of the wage (within certain limits) to 50% with time limitations varying from 208 weeks to 550 weeks, and money limitations from $4,000 to $6,000. Compensation for partial disability is usually based on a fixed schedule of a certain number of weeks’ benefit for each specific dismemberment. In a few states it is reckoned as a proportion of the loss of earning power. Most states grant funeral benefits. Few are liberal in prescribing compensation to be paid dependents, which is either a specified monthly amount or a maximum amount ranging from $3,000 to $6,000. In recent years the question of rehabilitation has been given considerable attention, and by 1920 11 states had made provision for the aid of industrial cripples. In that year also, Congress passed a bill to grant Federal aid on the basis of dollar for dollar to states undertaking to rehabilitate industrial cripples.

Administration of the laws is usually by a central board with general powers of enforcing the law, though a few states still leave the questions to be settled by the courts. In order to protect both the employer and employee most states compel employers to insure their risks unless they can give satisfactory evidence that they are able to bear serious losses due to accident. Besides this so-called self-insurance, three methods have been developed: insurance in a state fund, which has been established in half of the states; insurance in a stock company and insurance in a mutual or inter-insurance company.

Other forms of social insurance have not received much attention in the United States. Several bills have been introduced in state legislatures on health insurance, unemployment compensation and old-age insurance, but as yet only a few have been enacted for special classes. In 1920 a law establishing compulsory contributory old-age and invalidity insurance for the Federal Government’s employees in the classified civil service was enacted. Pensions are provided by state and municipal governments for certain groups of employees, such as policemen, firemen and teachers, and by the Federal Government for soldiers and sailors.

Besides the system of life insurance administered by the savings banks under supervision in Massachusetts, the customary form of protection of widows and orphans is by means of mothers’ or widows’ pensions paid to certain classes of mothers with dependent children. In the years from 1911 to 1919 39 states, Alaska and Hawaii had enacted such laws. The legislation uniformly provides for straight pensions on condition that the mother is capable of providing a proper home for the child.

Vocational Education

The Federal Act for the promotion of vocational education in the fields of agriculture, trade, home economics and industry was passed in 1917, and since then there has been a rapid expansion of this form of Labor legislation. The law popularly known as the Smith-Hughes Act is based on four ideas, namely: that vocational education is essential to national welfare; that Federal funds are necessary in order to equalize the burden of carrying on the work among the states; that since the Federal Government is vitally interested in the success of vocational education it should, so to speak, purchase a degree of participation in that work; and that only by such Federal and state relationships can proper standards be set up. According to the statute, the Federal Government does not undertake the organization or immediate direction of vocational training in the several states, but agrees to make substantial yearly contributions to its support. The Federal grants are conditional and their acceptance imposes on the state specific obligations. By 1919 every state had accepted the Act.

The Federal law is administered by the Federal Board for Vocational Education, appointed by the President, which consists of the Secretary of Agriculture, the Secretary of Commerce, the Secretary of Labor and the Commissioner of Education, together with three citizens who represent the manufacturing, commercial, agricultural and Labor interests. A staff, composed of a director and four assistant directors, is chosen by the board. The state board, which must be created on acceptance of the Act, is the connecting link between the Federal board and the states. Each year Congress appropriates a given sum, according to a graduated scale increasing up to 1926, when the maximum, $7,367,000, will be reached, which will then become the annual appropriation. Money is granted to the states only on condition that it is matched by an equal amount appropriated for the same purpose (salaries and maintenance of teacher training) by the state, local community or both. In addition state grants must be made for buildings and equipment.

The law deals only with general standards and policies. Each state draws up its own plan of education to meet its own needs, which it submits to the Federal board for approval. The guiding principle laid down is that the education furnished must be under public supervision and control and must be designated to train persons for useful, common, wage-earning employments. It applies to boys and girls of 14 years and over who desire preparation as trained wage-earners, or who, having already taken up a wage-earning employment, seek greater efficiency; and to wage-earners, established in their trade or occupation, who wish to advance to positions of responsibility. No academic studies are to be supported out of the Act. In 1920 3,155 schools were aided.

Prior to the enactment of the Federal law two states had provided for compulsory part-time school attendance. Since then 16 other states have enacted similar measures, and several others have passed permissive mandatory statutes authorizing local districts to establish such schools. The laws vary in detail. The most common ages of required attendance are 14 to 18 years; hours required per week range from four to eight; the length of the school-year varies from 144 hours to the same as that of the common schools. Though the work in the United States is still new, these laws represent one of the most important developments in the Labor and educational fields.

Wisconsin has gone one step further in her apprenticeship law, passed in 1911 and revised in 1915. It provides that all minors who receive instruction in a trade as a part of their consideration of employment shall be indentured. All such indentures must be approved by the Industrial Commission and can be enforced against both employer and apprentice. During the first two years of apprenticeship the apprentice must attend a part-time school for five hours each week to receive instruction in the theory of the trade, to supplement shop training. The employer is required to pay for such instruction at the same rate per hour as for service. The Industrial Commission has broad powers to investigate, determine and fix classifications, issue rules and regulations and to enforce the same with penalties. It is the duty of all public-school officers and teachers to coöperate with the commission and employers to furnish the instruction designated. Since all trades must be standardized and different schedules of training outlined, trade committees of employers and journeymen are organized to fix the length of apprenticeship, wages and the various branches to be taught. There is, also, another advisory board composed of employers, employees and educators which is consulted on questions of changes in the general policy governing apprenticeship.

Administration of Labor Laws

The development of industrial commissions is the most significant fact in the recent history of the administration of Labor legislation. The growing complexity of conditions has made it practically impossible to embody sufficient details within laws or to make them flexible enough to provide for constant changes. To meet the varying needs and to set the different standards required, the legislatures at first established special commissions, such as the minimum-wage commissions. This policy, however, led to duplication of functions and conflict of authority, and in their place six states have created industrial commissions which have general administrative control over the branches of Labor legislation dealing with minimum wage, hours of Labor, public and private employment offices, workmen’s compensation and other related laws. Under these statutes the Legislature lays down the general state policy of reasonable standards and leaves to the commission the intricate details of investigation. It is given authority to make the findings necessary for the effective application of the standard to each case or class of cases. It can make classifications and issue different rules for different conditions and can change its rules when conditions change or when it discovers new and more effective remedies. These rulings of the commission are known as orders and are prima facie lawful.

This substitution of administrative rules for legislative details has made it possible to apply the principle of representation of interests. In Wisconsin, for example, joint committees representative of capital and Labor are appointed by the employers and workers to serve in an advisory capacity. Generally these committees actually draw up the rules, assisted by the staff of the industrial commission, after an exhaustive coöperative investigation. In some cases, as, for instance, in the determination of the minimum wage, consultation with joint committees is made mandatory. These committees form, in fact, an inferior industrial legislature, composed of leaders and representatives of both interests, who are continually in session under state supervision and working on those details of administration which, after all, are the actual substance of such legislation as is enforced.

Note: the below is extracted from Wikipedia

The practice of forcing employees (by threat of termination) to sign yellow-dog contracts that said they would not join a union was not outlawed until 1932.

History of Labor from 1929 to 1955

The Great Depression and organized labor

The stock market crashed in October 1929, and ushered in the Great Depression. By the winter of 1932–33, the economy was so perilous that the unemployment rate hit the 25 percent mark.[72] Unions lost members during this time because laborers could not afford to pay their dues and furthermore, numerous strikes against wage cuts left the unions impoverished: “… one might have expected a reincarnation of organizations seeking to overthrow the capitalistic system that was now performing so poorly. Some workers did indeed turn to such radical movements as Communism, but, in general, the nation seemed to have been shocked into inaction.”[73]

Though unions were not acting yet, cities across the nation witnessed local and spontaneous marches by frustrated relief applicants. In March 1930, hundreds of thousands of unemployed workers marched through New York City, Detroit, Washington, San Francisco and other cities in a mass protest organized by the Communist Party’s Unemployed Councils. In 1931, more than 400 relief protests erupted in Chicago and that number grew to 550 in 1932.

The leadership behind these organizations often came from radical groups like Communists and Socialists, who wanted to organize “unfocused neighborhood militancy into organized popular defense organizations”.[75] Workers turned to these radical groups until organized labor became more active in 1932, with the passage of the Norris-La Guardia Act.

The Norris-La Guardia Anti-Injunction Act of 1932

On March 23, 1932, President Herbert Hoover signed what became known as the Norris-La Guardia Act, marking the first of many pro-union bills that Washington would pass in the 1930s.[69] Also known as the Anti-Injunction Bill, it offered procedural and substantive protections against the easy issuance of court injunctions during labor disputes, which had limited union behavior in the 1920s. Although the act only applied to federal courts, numerous states would pass similar acts in the future. Additionally, the act outlawed yellow-dog contracts, which were documents some employers forced their employees to sign to ensure they would not join a union; employees who refused to sign were terminated from their jobs.

The passage of the Norris-La Guardia Act signified a victory for the American Federation of Labor, which had been lobbying Congress to pass it for slightly more than five years.[69] It also marked a large change in public policy. Up until the passage of this act, the collective bargaining rights of workers were severely hampered by judicial control.

FDR and the National Industrial Recovery Act

President Franklin D. Roosevelt took office on March 4, 1933, and immediately began implementing programs to alleviate the economic crisis. In June, he passed the National Industrial Recovery Act, which gave workers the right to organize into unions. Though it contained other provisions, like minimum wage and maximum hours, its most significant passage was, “Employees shall have the right to organize and bargain collectively through representative of their own choosing, and shall be free from the interference, restraint, or coercion of employers.”

This portion, which was known as Section 7(a), was symbolic to workers in the United States because it stripped employers of their rights to either coerce them or refuse to bargain with them.[77] While no power of enforcement was written into the law, it “recognized the rights of the industrial working class in the United States”.

Although the National Industrial Recovery Act was ultimately deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1935 and replaced by the Wagner Act two months after that, it fueled workers to join unions and strengthened those organizations.

In response to both the Norris-La Guardia Act and the NIRA, workers who were previously unorganized in a number of industries—such as rubber workers, oil and gas workers and service workers—began to look for organizations that would allow them to band together.[84] The NIRA strengthened workers’ resolve to unionize and instead of participating in unemployment or hunger marches, they started to participate in strikes for union recognition in various industries.” In 1933, the number of work stoppages jumped to 1,695, double its figure from 1932. In 1934, 1,865 strikes occurred, involving more than 1.4 million workers.

The elections of 1934 might have reflected the “radical upheaval sweeping the country”, as Roosevelt won the greatest majority either party ever held in the Senate and 322 Democrats won seats in the United States House of Representatives versus 103 Republicans. It is possible that “the great social movement from below thus strengthened the independence of the executive branch of government.”

Despite the impact of such changes on the United States’ political structure and on workers’ empowerment, some scholars have criticized the impacts of these policies from a classical economic perspective. Cole and Ohanian (2004) find that the New Deal’s pro-labor policies are an important factor in explaining the weak recovery from the Great Depression and the rise in real wages in some industrial sectors during this time.

The American Federation of Labor: craft unionism vs. industrial unionism

The AFL was growing rapidly, from 2.1 million members in 1933 to 3.4 million in 1936. But it was experiencing severe internal stresses regarding how to organize new members.[88] Traditionally, the AFL organized unions by craft rather than industry, where electricians or stationary engineers would form their own skill-oriented unions, rather than join a large automobile-making union. Most AFL leaders, including president William Green, were reluctant to shift from the organization’s longstanding craft unionism and started to clash with other leaders within the organization, such as John L. Lewis.

The issue came up at the annual AFL convention in San Francisco in 1934 and 1935, but the majority voted against a shift to industrial unionism both years. After the defeat at the 1935 convention, nine leaders from the industrial faction led by Lewis met and organized the Committee for Industrial Organization within the AFL to “encourage and promote organization of workers in the mass production industries” for “educational and advisory” functions.

The CIO, which later changed its name to the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), formed unions with the hope of bringing them into the AFL, but the AFL refused to extend full membership privileges to CIO unions. In 1938, the AFL expelled the CIO and its million members, and they formed a rival federation.[89] The two federations fought it out for membership; while both supported Roosevelt and the New Deal, the CIO was further to the left, while the AFL had close ties to the big city machines.

John L. Lewis and the CIO

John L. Lewis (1880–1969) was the president of the United Mine Workers of America (UMW) from 1920 to 1960, and the driving force behind the founding of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). Using UMW organizers the new CIO established the United Steel Workers of America (USWA) and organized millions of other industrial workers in the 1930s.[90]

Lewis threw his support behind Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) at the outset of the New Deal. After the passage of the Wagner Act in 1935, Lewis traded on the tremendous appeal that Roosevelt had with workers in those days, sending organizers into the coal fields to tell workers “The President wants you to join the Union.” His UMW was one of FDR’s main financial supporters in 1936, contributing over $500,000.

Lewis expanded his base by organizing the so-called “captive mines”, those held by the steel producers such as U.S. Steel. That required in turn organizing the steel industry, which had defeated union organizing drives in 1892 and 1919 and which had resisted all organizing efforts since then fiercely. The task of organizing steelworkers, on the other hand, put Lewis at odds with the AFL, which looked down on both industrial workers and the industrial unions that represented all workers in a particular industry, rather than just those in a particular skilled trade or craft.

Lewis was the first president of the Committee of Industrial Organizations. Lewis, in fact, was the CIO: his UMWA provided the great bulk of the financial resources that the CIO poured into organizing drives by the United Automobile Workers (UAW), the USWA, the Textile Workers Union and other newly formed or struggling unions. Lewis hired back many of the people he had exiled from the UMWA in the 1920s to lead the CIO and placed his protégé Philip Murray at the head of the Steel Workers Organizing Committee.

The most dramatic success was the 1936-7 sit-down strike that paralyzed General Motors. It enabled CIO unionization of GM and the main automobile firms (except Ford, which held out for a few years).[92] However it had negative ramifications, as the Gallup Poll reported, “More than anything else the use of the sit-down strike alienated the sympathies of the middle classes.”

The CIO’s actual membership (as opposed to publicity figures) was 2,850,000 for February 1942. This included 537,000 members of the auto workers (UAW), nearly 500,000 Steel Workers, almost 300,000 members of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers, about 180,000 Electrical Workers, and about 100,000 Rubber Workers. The CIO also included 550,000 members of the United Mine Workers, which did not formally withdraw from the CIO until later in the year. The remaining membership of 700,000 was scattered among thirty-odd smaller unions.

Historians of the union movement in the 1930s have tried to explain its remarkable success in terms of the rank and file—what motivated them to suddenly rally around leaders (such as John L. Lewis) who had been around for decades with little success. Why was the militancy of the mid-1930s so short lived?

Upsurge in World War II

The war mobilization dramatically expanded union membership, from 8.7 million in 1940 to over 14.3 million in 1945, about 36% of the work force. For the first time large numbers of women factory workers were enrolled. Both the AFL and CIO supported Roosevelt in 1940 and 1944, with 75% or more of their votes, millions of dollars, and tens of thousands of precinct workers.

However, Lewis opposed Roosevelt on foreign policy grounds in 1940. He took the Mine Workers out of the CIO and rejoined the AFL. All labor unions strongly supported the war effort after June 1941 (when Germany invaded the Soviet Union). Left-wing activists crushed wildcat strikes. Nonetheless, Lewis realized that he had enormous leverage. In 1943, the middle of the war, when the rest of labor was observing a policy against strikes, Lewis led the miners out on a twelve-day strike for higher wages. The bipartisan Conservative coalition in Congress passed anti-union legislation over liberal opposition, most notably the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947.

A statistical analysis of the AFL and CIO national and local leaders in 1945 shows that opportunity for advancement in the labor movement was wide open. In contrast with other elites, the labor leaders did not come from established WASP families with rich, well-educated backgrounds. Indeed they closely resembled the overall national population of adult men, with fewer from the South and from farm backgrounds. The union leaders were heavily Democratic The newer CIO had a younger leadership, and one more involved with third parties, and less involved with local civic activities. Otherwise the AFL and CIO leaders were quite similar in background.

Walter Reuther and UAW

The Flint Sit-Down Strike of 1936–37 was the decisive event in the formation of the United Auto Workers Union (UAW). During the war Walter Reuther took control of the UAW, and soon led major strikes in 1946. He ousted the Communists from the positions of power, especially at the Ford local.

He was one of the most articulate and energetic leaders of the CIO, and of the merged AFL-CIO. Using brilliant negotiating tactics he leveraged high profits for the Big Three automakers into higher wages and superior benefits for UAW members.

PAC and politics of 1940s

New enemies appeared for the labor unions after 1935. Newspaper columnist Westbrook Pegler was especially outraged by the New Deal’s support for powerful labor unions that he considered morally and politically corrupt. Pegler saw himself a populist and muckraker whose mission was to warn the nation that dangerous leaders were in power. In 1941 Pegler became the first columnist ever to win a Pulitzer Prize for reporting, for his work in exposing racketeering in Hollywood labor unions, focusing on the criminal career of William Morris Bioff. Pegler’s popularity reflected a loss of support for unions and liberalism generally, especially as shown by the dramatic Republican gains in the 1946 elections, often using an anti-union theme.

With the end of the war in August 1945 came a wave of major strikes, mostly led by the CIO. In November, the UAW sent their 180,000 GM workers to the picket lines; they were joined in January 1946 by a half-million steelworkers, as well as over 200,000 electrical workers and 150,000 packinghouse workers. Combined with many smaller strikes a new record of strike activity was set.

The results were mixed, with the unions making some gains, but the economy was disordered by the rapid termination of war contracts, the complex reconversion to peactime production, the return to the labor force of 12 million servicemen, and the return home of millions of women workers. The conservative control of Congress blocked liberal legislation, and “Operation Dixie”, the CIO’s efforts to expand massively into the South, failed.[103]

Taft-Hartley Act

See more about Taft-Hartley Act

The Taft-Hartley Act in 1947 revised the Wagner Act to include restrictions on unions as well as management. It was a response to public demands for action after the wartime coal strikes and the postwar strikes in steel, autos and other industries that were perceived to have damaged the economy, as well as a threatened 1946 railroad strike that was called off at the last minute before it shut down the national economy. The Act was bitterly fought by unions, vetoed by President Harry S. Truman, and passed over his veto. Repeated union efforts to repeal or modify it always failed, and it remains in effect today.

The Act, officially known as the Labor-Management Relations Act, was sponsored by Senator Robert Taft and Representative Fred Hartley, both Republicans. Congress overrode the veto on June 23, 1947, establishing the act as a law. Truman described the act as a “slave-labor bill” in his veto, but he did invoke it.

The Taft-Hartley Act amended the Wagner Act, officially known as the National Labor Relations Act, of 1935. The amendments added to the NLRA a list of prohibited actions, or “unfair labor practices”, on the part of unions. The NLRA had previously prohibited only unfair labor practices committed by employers. It prohibited jurisdictional strikes, in which a union strikes in order to pressure an employer to assign particular work to the employees that union represents, and secondary boycotts and “common situs” picketing, in which unions picket, strike, or refuse to handle the goods of a business with which they have no primary dispute but which is associated with a targeted business. A later statute, the Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act, passed in 1959, tightened these restrictions on secondary boycotts still further.

The Act outlawed closed shops, which were contractual agreements that required an employer to hire only union members. Union shops, in which new recruits must join the union within a certain amount of time, are permitted, but only as part of a collective bargaining agreement and only if the contract allows the worker at least thirty days after the date of hire or the effective date of the contract to join the union. The National Labor Relations Board and the courts have added other restrictions on the power of unions to enforce union security clauses and have required them to make extensive financial disclosures to all members as part of their duty of fair representation. On the other hand, a few years after the passage of the Act Congress repealed the provisions requiring a vote by workers to authorize a union shop, when it became apparent that workers were approving them in virtually every case.

The amendments also authorized individual states to outlaw union security clauses entirely in their jurisdictions by passing “right-to-work” laws. Currently all of the states in the Deep South and a number of traditionally Republican states in the Midwest, Plains and Rocky Mountains regions have right-to-work laws.

The amendments required unions and employers to give sixty days’ notice before they may undertake strikes or other forms of economic action in pursuit of a new collective bargaining agreement; it did not, on the other hand, impose any “cooling-off period” after a contract expired. Although the Act also authorized the President to intervene in strikes or potential strikes that create a national emergency, the President has used that power less and less frequently in each succeeding decade.
Fighting Communism worldwide

The AFL had always opposed Communists inside the labor movement. After 1945 they took their crusade worldwide. The CIO had major Communist elements who played a key role in organizational work in the late 1930s and war years. By 1949 they were purged. The AFL and CIO strongly supported the Cold War policies of the Truman administration, including the Truman Doctrine, the Marshall Plan and NATO. Left wing elements in the CIO protested and were forced out of the main unions. Thus Walter Reuther of the United Automobile Workers purged the UAW of all Communist elements. He was active in the CIO umbrella as well, taking the lead in expelling eleven Communist-dominated unions from the CIO in 1949.[104]

As a leader of the anti-Communist center-left, Reuther was a founder of the liberal umbrella group Americans for Democratic Action in 1947. In 1949 he led the CIO delegation to the London conference that set up the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions in opposition to the communist-dominated World Federation of Trade Unions. He had left the Socialist Party in 1939, and throughout the 1950s and 1960s was a leading spokesman for liberal interests in the CIO and in the Democratic Party.[105] James B. Carey also helped influence the CIO’s pullout from the WFTU and the formation of the ICFTU dedicated to promoting free trade and democratic unionism worldwide. Carey in 1949 had formed the IUE, a new CIO union for electrical workers, because the old one, the UE, was tightly controlled by the left.

Labor history since 1955

Since the middle of the 20th century, the American labor movement has been in steady decline. In the early 1950s, around a third of the United States’ total labor force was unionized; by 2012, the proportion was 10%, falling to 5% for the private sector. Over the last few decades, unions’ influence has waned and workers’ collective voice in the political process has weakened. Partly as a result, wages have stagnated and income inequality has increased.”
AFL and CIO merger 1955

The friendly merger of the AFL and CIO marked an end not only to the acrimony and jurisdictional conflicts between the coalitions, it also signaled the end of the era of experimentation and expansion that began in the mid 1930s. Merger became politically possible because of the deaths of Green of the AFL and Murray of the CIO in late 1952, replaced by George Meany and Reuther. The CIO was no longer the radical dynamo, and was no longer a threat in terms of membership for the AFL had twice as many members.

Furthermore, the AFL was doing a better job of expanding into the fast-growing white collar sector, with its organizations of clerks, public employees, teachers, and service workers. Although the AFL building trades maintained all-white policies, the AFL had more black members in all as the CIO. The problem of union corruption was growing in public awareness, and CIO’s industrial unions were less vulnerable to penetration by criminal elements than were the AFL’s trucking, longshoring, building, and entertainment unions. But Meany had a strong record in fighting corruption in New York unions, and was highly critical of the notoriously corrupt Teamsters.

Unification would help the central organization fight corruption, yet would not contaminate the CIO unions. The defeat of the New Deal in the 1952 election further emphasized the need for unity to maximize political effectiveness. From the CIO side the merger was promoted by David McDonald of the Steelworkers and his top aide Arthur J. Goldberg. To achieve the successful merger they jettisoned the more liberal policies of the CIO regarding civil rights and membership rights for blacks, jurisdictional disputes, and industrial unionism. Reuther went along with the compromises did not contest the selection of Meany to head the AFL-CIO.

Teamsters and corruption

The Teamsters union was expelled from the AFL for its notorious corruption under president Dave Beck. Its troubles gained national attention from highly visible Senate hearings led by Robert Kennedy in the late 1950s. The target was Jimmy Hoffa, (1913–1975), who replaced Beck and held total power until he was imprisoned in 1964.

For Republicans in the 1950s the campaign against labor racketeering offered a chance to peel the working-class vote away from the Democratic Party by politically dividing union members from their leadership. The culmination of this trend came in the late 1950s during the McClellan Committee hearings, which was the largest congressional investigation up to that time. Those hearings transformed Teamsters president Hoffa into a potent symbol of the danger posed by labor racketeering. The committee’s revelations and the publicity they received undercut the labor movement. Polls showed growing public skepticism toward unions, and especially union leaders. Such attitudes helped conservatives win a new round of legislative restrictions on organized labor in the form of the Landrum-Griffin Act (1959).

Civil Rights Movement

The UAW under Reuther played a major role in funding and supporting the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and 1960s.

United Farm Workers

Hispanics comprise a large fraction of the farm labor force, but there was little successful unionization before the arrival in the 1960s of Cesar Chavez (1927–1993), who mobilized California workers into the United Farm Workers organization.

Successes of the UFW include: (1.) securing a three-year contract with grape growers; (2.) securing another 3-year contract with Minute Maid for 55,000 workers; (3.) securing, with political allies, as the result of continuing strikes, an Agricultural Relations Board, after much conflict and union-busting by the Teamsters in the mid-1970s; and (4.) maintaining the ability to invoke consumer boycotts.[116] Chavez had a significant political impact; as Jenkins points out, “state and national elites no longer automatically sided with the growers.” Thus, the political insurgency of the UFW was successful because of effective strategizing in the right kind of political environment.

Nationwide unions have been seeking opportunities to enroll Hispanic members. Much of their limited success has been in the hotel industry.

Reagan mandate and the Unions

Most unions were strongly opposed to Reagan in the 1980 presidential election. On August 3, 1981, the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO) union—which had supported Reagan—rejected the government’s pay raise offer and sent its 16,000 members out on strike to shut down the nation’s commercial airlines. They demanded a reduction in the workweek to 32 from 40 hours, doubling of wages, a $10,000 bonus and early retirement.

Federal law forbade such a strike, and the Transportation department implemented a backup plan (of supervisors and military air controllers) to keep the system running. The strikers were given 48 hours to return to work, else they would be fired and banned from ever again working in a Federal capacity. A fourth of the strikers came back to work, but 13,000 did not. The strike collapsed, PATCO vanished, and the union movement as a whole suffered a major reversal, which accelerated the decline of membership across the board in the private sector.

Unions suffered a continual decline of power during the Reagan administration, with a concomitant effect on wages. The average first-year raise (for 1000-plus–worker contracts) fell from 9.8% to 1.2%; in manufacturing, raises fell from 7.2% to negative 1.2%. Salaries of unionized workers also fell relative to non-union workers. Women and blacks suffered more from these trends.

By 2011 fewer than 7% of employees in the private sector belonged to unions. The UAW’s numbers of automobile union members are representative of the manufacturing sector: 1,619,000 active members in 1970, 1,446,000 in 1980, 952,000 in 1990, 623,000 in 2004, and 377,000 in 2010 (with far more retired than active members).

Rise of public sector unions

The first strikes by government employees took place in the 1830s, but the unions generally bypassed government employees because they were controlled mostly by the patronage system before the arrival of civil service. After the fiasco of the Boston Police Strike in 1919, which was suppressed by Governor Calvin Coolidge, and the opposition of President Franklin D. Roosevelt to government labor unions, unionization remained uncommon among government employees. The Wagner Act of 1935, and subsequent legislation, applied only to employees in the private sector, since the federal government could not interfere in state government. The major exception was the emergence starting in the 1920s of unions of public school teachers in the largest cities; they formed the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). In suburbs and small cities, the National Education Association (NEA) became active, but it insisted it was not a labor union but a professional organization.

Change came in the 1950s. In 1958 New York mayor Robert Wagner, Jr. issued an executive order, called “the little Wagner Act”, giving city employees certain bargaining rights, and gave their unions with exclusive representation (that is, the unions alone were legally authorized to speak for all city workers, regardless of whether or some workers were members.) Wisconsin, New York, and other states saw the emergence of public-sector unions, including teachers, clerks, firemen, prison guards and others. At the federal level President John Kennedy, a Democrat, in 1962 issued Executive Order 10988, upgrading the status of unions of federal workers.

After 1960 public sector unions grew rapidly and secured good wages and high pensions for their members. While manufacturing and farming steadily declined, state- and local-government employment quadrupled from 4 million workers in 1950 to 12 million in 1976 and 16.6 million in 2009. Adding in the 3.7 million federal civilian employees, in 2010 8.4 million government workers were represented by unions, including 31% of federal workers, 35% of state workers and 46% of local workers.[128] As Daniel Disalvo notes, “In today’s public sector, good pay, generous benefits, and job security make possible a stable middle-class existence for nearly everyone from janitors to jailors.”

In 2011 as states faced a growing fiscal crisis and the Republicans made major gains in the 2010 elections, public sector unions came under heavy attack in Wisconsin, Indiana, New Jersey and Ohio from conservative Republican legislatures.

NAFTA and threat of international trade

The situation for the automotive industry and UAW members worsened dramatically in 1973. Gasoline prices shot up and, worse, Volkswagen and Honda started flooding the American market. For the first time major American industries had foreign competition for the domestic market. This started years of layoffs and plant closings. Entire industries, such as textiles, shoes, and consumer electronics shriveled up as imports soared, especially from Japan and China.

In autos, the UAW to keep jobs had to give up some benefits it had won over the decades. By 2005 the total labor costs per employee had reached $65 per hour at GM, so in November 2005 it announced it would shut down more plants, costing 40,000 unionized jobs. The crisis was prefigured by the near-bankruptcy of Chrysler in 1979—it was rescued by government loans—and the actual bankruptcy of Delphi (formerly part of GM) in 2005. The bankruptcies of GM and Chrysler in 2009 indicated a much smaller and leaner industry, as the government took effective ownership of the two. The UAW was able to salvage much of the retirement benefits for retired members, as the active membership continued to shrink and received lower pay and benefits.

History of Labor Legislation in other Countries

For more information about the history of labour laws in other countries, see History of Labor Legislation and, in the United Kingdom, see History of Labor Legislation in the United Kingdom.

For an overview of labour legislation worldwide in general, see Labor Legislation.

See Also

  • U.S. Labor law and movement history 2
  • U.S. Labor law and movement history
  • Labor law
  • US State Child Labor Laws Resources

Further Reading

    • John R. Commons and John B. Andrews, Principles of Labor Legislation (1920);
    • American Association for Labor Legislation, American Labor Legislation Review;
    • U.S. Dept. of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Monthly Labor Review, and Bulletins;
    • Federal Board for Vocational Education, Annual Reports and Vocational Summary. (J. R. Co.)
    • Twenty-Second Annual Report of the Commissioner of Labor (1907) giving all labour laws in force in the United States in 1907, with annotations of decisions of courts;
    • Bimonthly Bulletins of the U.S. Bureau of Labor, containing laws passed since those published in the foregoing, and decisions of courts relating to employers and employés;
    • Bulletins on “Employer and Employé under the Common Law” (No. 1), “Protection of Workmen in their Employment” (No. 26), “Government Industrial Arbitration” (No. 60), “Laws relating to the Employment of Women and Children, and to Factory Inspection and the Health and Safety of Employés” (No. 74), “Wages and Hours of Labor in Manufacturing Industries, 1890 to 1907” (No. 77), “Review of Labor Legislation of 1908 and 1909” (No. 85);
    • “Report of the Industrial Commission on Labor Legislation” (vol. v., U.S. Commission’s Report);
    • C. D. Wright, Industrial Evolution in the United States (1887);
    • Stimson, Handbook to the Labor Laws of the United States, and Labor in its Relation to Law;
    • Adams and Sumner, Labor Problems;
    • Labatt, Commentaries on the Law of Master and Servant.

History of Labor Legislation: Open and Free Legal Research of US Law

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