FDR's first labor bill - a strange story
by skeptic06, Sun Apr 22, 2007 at 10:33:58 AM EDT
A coupla days ago, I recommended the Martens book on the history of labor law and US unions that took the story up to passage of the Norris-LaGuardia in 1932.
There's no doubt that the Depression and the consequent risk of serious civil unrest and worse had the Congress in an mood amenable to labor law reform.
Martens' section on Norris-LaGuardia (p158ff) shows Norris getting nowhere with the anti-injunction bill he introduced in 1928; by 1932, only 14 reps and 5 senators voted against the final version.
(And the act was passed in the March, a year or so before FDR took up the reins of presidential office.)
One issue both parties addressed in the 1932 prez campaign was working hours - a key demand of the AFL under William Green.
Both the Dem plaform -
We advocate the spread of employment by a substantial reduction in the hours of labor, the encouragement of the shorter week by applying that principle in government service;
- and the GOP platform -
We favor the principle of the shorter working week and shorter work day with its application to government as well as to private employment, as rapidly and as constructively as conditions will warrant.
supported a reduction of hours (in their own ways).
What happened after the prez election is related in a fascinating 1946 articleLabor and the Recovery Program, 1933 in the Quarterly Journal of Economics (it's a JSTOR link: I've not seen the story covered anywhere freely available online).
Action on an hours bill did not wait for FDR to be inaugurated. Hugo Black (ex-KKK) of AL introduced a Thirty Hour Bill (S 158) in December 1932.
Green, natch, was ecstatic about the bill; but had to curb his enthusiasm until it could be taken up again in the 73rd, with the WH under new management.
FDR, it turned out, was not so keen: he'd not formulated his plans for recovery, and evidently had no intention of being preempted by a bunch of grandstanding MCs!
However, while his plans were maturing, he decided to let the Black bill act as placeholder, and summoned Senate leaders to suggest they raise the maximum weekly hours permitted from 30 to 36.
But - lo and behold! - the Senate proved to be a bunch of bolshies, and voted down the WH amendment (on April 6) 41-48, before passing the bill 53-30 the same day. (Voteview has the breakdown.)
Within the admin, Labor Secretary Frances Perkins thought that, with amendment, the bill might be made acceptable, but others (like future NRA honcho Hugh Johnson) did not.
The Black Bill (in more or less identical form) was then introduced in the House by Labor Committee chairman William Connery.
Then amendments devised by Madame Perkins and colleagues (without AFL input - uh oh!) were proposed: one group increased the maximum hours permitted, with provision made for seasonal spikes; the other provided for minimum wages to be fixed in industries where they no longer provided a fair return or a living income to the workers.
(So far as I'm aware, this was the first proposal (first peacetime proposal?) from the Federal executive branch for any kind of legal minimum wage for men.)
But, in accordance with longstanding AFL policy, Green absolutely rejected the Perkins minimum wage amendment. (Minimum wage laws were fine for women and children - because they were deemed to be unorganizable, and therefore not potential members of AFL unions - but not for men.)
Some industrial unions within in the AFL (like the UMW and the ACW) supported a Federal minimum wage for all, because, in their industries, union power was often much less.
(Needless to say, this difference of view was to get well aired during the long legislative history of the FLSA in 1937-8.)
Labor reported out (unanimously!) an altogether different text from that of the Senate-passed bill: a Federal Trade Regulation Board (consisting of the Labor Secretary and a representative each of employers and labor) would license businesses to operate in interstate commerce! Only businesses that paid satisfactory wages and did not interfere with organization of their workers could be licensed.
Unfortunately, by that stage, Connery's Workers' Paradise had been overtaken by events, viz, FDR's decision to go with the NRA: he thought, not unreasonably, that attempting economic recovery without securing the cooperation of business (one might say, with poking business in the eye!) would be a tad foolhardy.
The Connery bill never made it out of Rules (hence, there was never a roll call vote on it, hence it's not on Voteview, hence I've no bill number for it!) Quite what the Senate would have done with such a radical text, we'll never know.
Tags: AFL, Black-Connery Thirty Hour Bill, FLSA, Frances Perkins, Hugo Black, Labor History, Labor Law, Minimum Wage Legislation (FDR), Norris-LaGuardia Act, NRA, S 158 (73rd), William Connery, William Green (all tags)