October 26, 2015
By Bill Hohlfeld
On October 24, 1940 the 40-hour work week went into effect under the Fair Labor Standards Act. It had been signed by President Roosevelt two years earlier. The story actually began on Saturday, June 25, 1938, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed 121 bills. Sadly, it wasn’t until after two years of the U.S. Congress tampering with and watering down the bill that the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (FLSA) became the law of the land.
Unfortunately, the law applied to only select industries, and did not initially protect workers employed directly by households in domestic service, such as cooks, housekeepers, maids, and gardeners. It also excluded farm workers. Yet, it made a beginning and granted those it did cover the legal right to overtime pay for anything in excess of 40 hours a week. It also set a minimum wage of a whopping 25 cents an hour. Not unlike today, that did not sit well with the one percenters of the day. The main difference was the unequivocal defense of the law by President Roosevelt.
In one of his famous"fireside chats" the night before the signing, as American workers crowded around their radios, Roosevelt sent a strong message to both his supporters and his detractors: "Do not let any calamity-howling executive with an income of $1,000 a day, …tell you…that a wage of $11 a week is going to have a disastrous effect on all American industry.”
Once again, we are witnessing the struggle of workers on the lowest rung of the economic ladder to subsist on wages which can not sustain even the most basic needs. Ultra conservative forces claim that the current minimum wage has, when adjusted for inflation, kept appropriate pace. Yet, if we take a comparative look at the rise in the minimum wage and CEO compensation, we see a very different picture.