The History of the Fair Labor Standards Act
Few people are aware of how much they owe the Fair Labor Standards Act. However, this 83-year-old piece of legislature is the bedrock for workers’ rights in America. Without it, employees would still be making pennies an hour, working gruelingly long shifts, and barely bringing home enough money to feed themselves or their families.
The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938
When the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) was first proposed, it was 1937, and the Great Depression was still raging across the country. The proposal was to enforce a new minimum wage for certain workers, and to establish a 30-hour work week that would allow workers ample free time for rest and relaxation. It was just one of President Franklin Roosevelt’s many pieces of legislature during his New Deal project, which was meant to help revitalize the country’s economy.
A year had passed since the act was proposed, and Congress had made many changes. Despite the constant re-writes, such as altering the 30-hour work week into a 44-hour work week, there was still a fear that it would not get the votes it needed to pass. In order to avoid this, President Roosevelt signed the bill into law himself. Thus, the minimum wage in America was born.
At the time, the minimum wage was set at 25 cents an hour, meaning that workers who worked a full 44-hour week would pull in just $11 a week. That may seem like a small amount now, but back then workers were often paid pennies for their labor, especially since employers could exploit the desperation caused by the Depression. Workers had little negotiating power since the unemployment rates had skyrocketed, and employees could easily and quickly be replaced if they asked for a raise.
This kind of instability led to many workers being exploited and forced to work long and brutal hours. It was not uncommon in that time period for people to work 12 hours or more in a day, and never be given a day off. Again, workers who complained or demanded better treatment could easily be let go in favor of someone who was more willing to do the work for less money. This exploitation of workers only made the problem worse, leaving even those able to work without enough money to support their families or buy goods or services from other businesses, which hurt the economy even more.
Eventually, with a great deal of work put in by FDR through his New Deal, as well as economic stimulation from World War II, America managed to pull itself out of the Great Depression. However, the FLSA is still incredibly influential today, and all American workers owe their rights to this piece of legislation.
The Impact of the FLSA
The FLSA has gone through many iterations since it was first passed in 1938. Obviously, the federal minimum wage is now higher than 25 cents, and the standard work week is 40 hours, instead of 44. However, there are other changes that have been made to the act. For example, in 1963, the Equal Pay Act was passed, which prohibited employers from paying women less money based solely on their gender. At the time, women would routinely be paid less then male counterparts based on gender alone, which was a serious hindrance to women who had only started to enter the workforce a decade or so earlier, and were struggling to live independently with so little pay.
The FLSA also now allows employees to file wage claims against their employers in the case of underpayment. This means that if an employer has shorted you by not paying for hours that you worked, or has paid you less than minimum wage, then you have a right to file a claim with the Wage-Hour Division (WHD) in order to reclaim that money. If you want to speak with an experienced wage claim attorney in Dallas who can help you weigh your options, call us, The Lenahan Law Firm, at (214) 295-1008 or contact us online. If we take you as a client, we can help you get the compensation you deserve for the wages that you were shorted.