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40-Hour Work Week Day

The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (FLSA), which President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed into law on June 25, 1938, and which went into effect on October 24, 1938, is honored today with 40-Hour Work Week Day. The law established a minimum wage, setting it at 25 cents, established a 40-hour workweek, allowing the opportunity to work four more hours with time-and-a-half overtime pay, and addressed child labor, prohibiting children under 18 from doing certain dangerous jobs, as well as prohibiting children under 16 from working in mining or manufacturing or working during school hours. The law applied to employees engaged in interstate commerce or in producing goods for commerce, or to those employed by a company engaged in commerce or in producing goods for commerce, with employers sometimes being able to claim exemptions. The law affected about a fifth of the labor force and gave a raise to 700,000 workers.

The day has been celebrated by vodka purveyor 42BELOW Vodka. In 2010, they put out a press release saying: "42BELOW invites all the hard-working folks across the country to unplug, log off and kick back with a cocktail." In that spirit, they also made a cocktail for the day "to honor the hard working folks who would really like to screen calls, ignore e-mails and punch out early." Called the Burnt Out, it is made with vodka, burnt lemon and vanilla, Cointreau, vanilla syrup, and fresh lemon juice.

There was a long, arduous fight to secure the passage of the FLSA. During the 1910s and 1920s, the Supreme Court blocked a number of laws that addressed wages and child labor. The National Industrial Recovery Act, enacted in 1933, aimed to lessen competition and raise wages. As part of the law, President Roosevelt put forth the President's Reemployment Agreement. More than 2.3 million agreements following it were signed by employers, which covered 16.3 million employees. Those who signed agreed to a 35 to 40-hour workweek, a minimum wage of $12–$15 a week, and—with some exceptions—not to employ anyone under 16. Employers who participated displayed a blue eagle over a motto that read "We Do Our Part." To show their patriotism, consumers were urged to buy only from such businesses. But in 1935, the Supreme Court struck down this law too. It invalidated other state and federal labor laws shortly after this. One decision, Morehead v. New York ex. rel Tipaldo, had particularly devastating effects on labor.

But codes supportive of labor were developed by a number of industries around the same time too. The Cotton Textile Code set a 40-hour workweek, a $13 minimum wage in the North, a $12 minimum wage in the South, and also ended child labor. Legislation devoted to wages-per-hour became a prominent campaign issue in the 1936 election, and Roosevelt pledged to find a way to protect workers constitutionally. Roosevelt won the election in a landslide.

In an effort to save his programs, Roosevelt proposed to constrain the Supreme Court by adding justices to it, or "packing" it. Support for his plan subsided when the Court began making more rulings favorable to labor. For example, in West Coast Hotel Company v. Parrish, the Court upheld a Washington State minimum wage law. Justice Owen Roberts, long hostile to Roosevelt's labor laws, voted with the liberal four-person minority, which became known as the "Big Switch." It is considered a turning point in attitudes towards labor standards, and afterward, efforts were redoubled by labor advocates to create broader labor legislation addressing wages, hours, and child labor that the Supreme Court would uphold.

Labor Secretary Frances Perkins, the first woman to hold a post in a presidential cabinet, worked hard to secure legislation for underpaid workers and child laborers. She consulted legal experts along the way, having them look at a Fair Labor Standards Act she had tucked away in one of her desk drawers. Two of Roosevelt's closest legal advisors, Thomas Corcoran and Benjamin Cohen, looked it over and added provisions to protect it from the Supreme Court. The first version of the bill to be presented to Congress dealt with hours and wages, not child labor, but Roosevelt added a provision devoted to child labor, which he thought would help get the bill through Congress. He sent the bill to Congress on May 24, 1937, saying that America should give "all our able-bodied working men and women a fair day's pay for a fair day's work." He continued: "A self-supporting and self-respecting democracy can plead no justification for the existence of child labor, no economic reason for chiseling worker's wages or stretching workers' hours."

Senator Hugo Black [D-AL] sponsored the administration's bill in the Senate, while Representative William P. Connery [D-MA] introduced a corresponding bill in the House of Representatives. It had provisions for a 40 cents-per-hour minimum wage, 40-hour maximum workweek, and 16 as the minimum age for working except for some industries outside of mining and manufacturing. It also proposed a five-member labor standards board which could make further increases to hours and wages after reviews.

A weakened version of the bill was passed in the Senate on July 31, 1937, with a vote of 56 to 28. It did not get a vote in the House: it got stuck in the House Rules Committee, and the House adjourned at the end of the summer without taking it up. On October 12, 1937, President Roosevelt called for a special session of Congress to convene on November 15. An alliance of Republicans and Southern Democrats still wouldn't discharge the bill as it was out of committee. After the provision for a five-member labor standards board was removed—because those holding up the bill thought the board would be too powerful—a discharge petition was signed by 218 House members and the bill came out of committee to the House floor. But, shortly before Christmas, the House sent the bill back to the Labor Committee without it being passed.

But Roosevelt didn't give up. During his annual message to Congress, on January 3, 1938, he called for "legislation to end starvation wages and intolerable hours." The Department of Labor worked on a new bill. It was simplified from the previous bill, going from 40 pages down to 10. Later that month, Roosevelt approved the new version of the bill and sent it to Congress. A subcommittee was created to reconcile the differences between several proposals, and a compromise bill emerged, which retained the 40 cents-per-hour minimum wage and 40-hour maximum workweek. There was a proposal for a five-member board, but the proposed board was not as powerful as the one in the Black-Connery bill. The House Labor Committee voted down the compromise bill, but approved another, even more pared-down bill. The House Rules Committee again didn't allow discussion of the bill on the House floor.

On April 30, 1938, President Roosevelt once again communicated to Congress over wages and hours, this time through a letter. In it, he said, "The whole membership of the legislative body should be given full and free opportunity to discuss [exceptional measures] which are of undoubted national importance because they relate to major policies of Government and affect the lives of millions of people." He closed the letter by saying, "I still hope that the House as a whole can vote on a wage and hour bill. ...I hope that the democratic processes of legislation will continue."

On May 3, a staunch New Dealer won a Senate primary, the second to win a Congressional primary in the South that year, illustrating to other Southern legislators the popularity of New Deal programs in the South, particularly when it came to fair labor standards, an issue at the forefront of national discussions at the time. On May 6, a discharge petition was put forth and signed by 218 House members. Debate on the House floor focused on the labor standards of the South. The minimum wage was eventually decreased from 40 cents to 25 cents per hour for the first year. Additional concessions were granted to Southerners, such as that administrators had to consider the lower costs of living in the South, as well as the higher freight rates when considering recommending wages above the minimum. Overall, the bill reduced the administrative power of earlier bills.

On May 24, 1938, the bill passed the House with a vote of 314 to 97. The Senate and House conference committee made changes to reconcile the differences. On June 13, 1938, the House passed the conference committee bill with a vote of 291 to 89. The Senate also approved it. Congress sent the bill to President Roosevelt and he signed it into law on June 25, 1938. It went into effect on October 24, 1938, on what we now celebrate as 40-Hour Work Week Day!

How to Observe 40-Hour Work Week Day

Scorch lemon, vanilla pods, and sugar with a torch or lighter; muddle and add other ingredients, shake well with ice, and fine strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a scorched lemon wheel.

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