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This Month in Business History

Fair Labor Standards Act Signed

Harris & Ewing, photographer. Last signature necessary to bring wages-hours bill to floor of house. Rep. Joseph J. Mansfield, of Texas, affixing his signature. Standing left to right: Rep. Mary T. Norton, Chairman of House Labor Committee; Speaker Bankhead; and Rep. Pat Boland, House Whip. 12/2/37. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

The Fair Labor Standards Act (Pub.L. 75–718, ch. 676, 52 Stat. 1060) was signed in June 1938. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) includes provisions on several labor related provisions including the creation the right to a minimum wage, overtime pay for working more than forty hours a week, and provisions related to child labor.

Prior to the passage and signing of the FLSA, progress was being made improving the workplace. This includes passage of laws related to safety and child labor, as well as the gradual move to an 8-hour workday. While the more immediate history for this law began in 1933 with the National Industrial Recovery Act and the President's Reemployment Agreement, this law had less impact because in 1935 the Supreme Court essentially invalidated this law.

The wage-hour discussion was again boosted with Roosevelt’s reelection in 1936 and the Supreme Court decision in the case West Coast Hotel Company v. Parrish in 1937. Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins was directed to work on laws related to hours of work and to abolish abuses of child labor. One law was Public Contracts Act of 1936 (Walsh-Healey) which required most government contractors to adopt an 8-hour day and a 40-hour week but it was limited. It took a few more attempts to get a broader law, but in January 1938 the bill that became the FLSA was sent to Congress. After the bill was debated and voted on, it was signed by President Roosevelt and became effective on October 24, 1938.

To administer the wage and overtime components of the law, a Wage and Hour Division was created within the Department of Labor and included this finding and declaration of policy in the law itself:

SEC. 2. (a) The Congress hereby finds that the existence, in industries engaged in commerce or in the production of goods for commerce, of labor conditions detrimental to the maintenance of the minimum standard of living necessary for health, efficiency, and general wellbeing of workers (1) causes commerce and the channels and instrumentalities of commerce to be used to spread and perpetuate such labor conditions among the workers of the several States; (2) burdens commerce and the free flow of goods in commerce; (3) constitutes an unfair method of competition in commerce; (4) leads to labor disputes burdening and obstructing commerce and the free flow of goods in commerce; and (5) interferes with the orderly and fair marketing of goods in commerce 
(75th Congress, Chapter 676, 1938)

Since 1938, the FSLA has been amended a number of times and many states have enacted their own minimum wage laws.

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