Skip to main content

New Floors and Ceilings in the Minimum Wage: 1939

New Floors and Ceilings


By Beulah Amidon, An Article in Survey Graphic, December, 1939

The administrative tangle of the wage and hour law has been headline news. But what about the men and women in industry who, on October 24, came under the law’s new standards—a 30-cent minimum wage, a 42 hour maximum week?

THE FIRST YEAR OF OUR FIRST FEDERAL WAGE AND HOUR act ended on October 24. It was unfortunate that the year closed with a shake up in personnel, which crowded out of the news the story of the twelve months’ progress in this effort to set a bottom level for wages and a ceiling for hours in interstate industry, and to outlaw child labor. And at the same time, the inevitable cross-fire of charges and counter-charges has obscured the orderly new change to the new and higher levels set by the act for its second year.

Though a regrettable news leak from an outside source, the press had for some weeks discussed the forthcoming resignation of Elmer F. Andrews, the act’s first administrator, and his replacement by Lt. Col. Philip Fleming of the Army Engineering Corps. On October 17, the change was formally announced. It then developed that under army regulations, a special act of Congress would be necessary to name Colonel Fleming head of the division. Therefore, while he sits at the administrator’s desk and discharges his duties, he is in fact only an assistant to a “phantom boss,” the head of the information branch who is also the titular “acting administrator.”

Colonel Fleming, a quiet, grizzled, completely unmilitary individual, has previously served with conspicuous success as a straightener-out of administrative tangles in PWA, Rural Resettlement, and at the Passamaquoddy project. It is taken for granted in informed Washington circles that his connection with the Wage and Hour Division is temporary—an assignment of a year, or even less. He is brought in, not as a liberal spokesman, or an expert in labor legislation, but as an ace administrator, relied on to unsnarl a situation which the New Deal can ill afford, particularly on the verge of a campaign year, and to turn over to a new wage and hour administrator a smoothly running public agency.

MR. ANDREWS, FOR SOME YEARS DEPUTY INDUSTRIAL COMMISSIONER in New York, became commissioner when his chief, Frances Perkins, was named Secretary of Labor in 1933. When four years later he was appointed first wage and hour administrator on the Secretary’s recommendation, he chose as his deputy, Paul Sifton, his assistant in the State Labor Department. The two New Yorkers, when they went to Washington, left behind a bad log-jam in the administration of the state’s new unemployment insurance system. Granted that much of this difficulty was caused by defects in the law, as it then stood, and more directly by cumbersome methods of benefit payments imposed on the Labor Department by other agencies, state and federal, the echoes of that situation were not helpful in the pioneering job that confronted the wage and hour administrator and his deputy in Washington.

There were other factors which complicated the difficult task of organizing a new agency and putting into effect a new law in a field in which the United States had lagged far behind other industrial nations. It was a field in which a few states, New York among them, had pioneered and Mr. Andrews was the leading public official in this country who had had experience in the actual administration of a state minimum wage law.

On the one hand, organized labor was openly disappointed in the provisions of the wage and hour law as it was finally enacted, after a long-drawn-out congressional siege. On the other hand, many employers and employer groups were skeptical of its value, or openly hostile to this “interference” by government in the conduct of business and industry. It is significant that, at the end of the law’s first year, organized labor is increasingly impatient with the law and its enforcement while there is some lessening in criticism from manufacturers and trade associations.

The Wage and Hour Division began its work with funds insufficient for anything like an adequate nationwide program. The original appropriation was only $400,000, of which $50,000 was earmarked for the enforcement of child labor provisions by the U.S. Children’s Bureau. Then Congress used the division’s need as an opportunity to embarrass the Secretary of Labor by making a deficiency appropriation of $850,000 direct to the wage and hour administrator instead of to the Department of Labor. In the current fiscal year, beginning July 1, the division has had something approaching adequate support—$2,546,200 in the original Department of Labor appropriation, plus $570,570 earmarked for the division, to cover costs of printing, transportation, and so on. This was supplemented by $1,200,000 in the third deficiency bill. In addition, the current appropriation for child labor administration is $394,190—$312,720 for staff and for reimbursement to states, and $81,470 for printing, travel and so on.

The People Concerned

THE LAW ITSELF IS COMPLEX BOTH IN ITS PROVISION AND IN its limitations. Under the Constitution, a federal wage-hour measure can cover only interstate commerce—or as the present law sets its metes and bounds, “industries engaged in commerce or in the production of goods for commerce.” For such enterprises, the law fixes progressive standards for minimum wages and maximum hours of work.

For the first year, the wage rate was 25 cents an hour for the maximum 44-hour week. Over these next six years, (beginning October 24, 1939) minimum wages are set at 30 cents; after 1945, at 40 cents.

The shift to a 40-hour week is more precipitate. Here the initial standard was 44 hours, now cut to 42. Beginning October 24, 1940, the goal of a 40-hour week will be reached. The employee must be paid time-and-a-half for any time worked beyond these fixed maxima.

When the law went into effect, it was estimated that some 300,000 men and women in business and industry had their pay raised by the 25-cent minimum wage, and about four times that number either worked shorter hours or received overtime pay under the 44-hour provision.

Last April, Isador Lubin, U.S. Commissioner of Labor Statistics, reported that about 690,000 workers were receiving less than 30 cents an hour, the new minimum; 2,382,500 were working more than 42 hours a week, the new maximum. The greatest concentration of low-wage employees, he found, was in the South. The only other areas where more than 25,000 workers earned less than the new minimum were Puerto Rico and the two great industrial states: New York (29,400); and Pennsylvania (36,000). The industries most affected by a national law fixing a floor for wages, a ceiling for hours for interstate enterprises are sawmills, millwork, cotton textiles, silk and rayon, knit goods, men’s and women’s clothing, shirts and collars, boots and shoes, cottonseed oil, and fertilizers. Together these industries employ more than 75 percent of the workers covered by the act who, prior to October 24, were earning less than 30 cents an hour. While more than 12,000,000 workers are subject to the federal wage-hour law, the major concern of the division in this second stage is with the 3,072,500 earning less than 30 cents an hour, or working more than 42 hours a week when the new standards went into effect. However, if and when industrial activity rises and the normal work week drops to 40 hours, the act may pinch all through industry. Then there will almost certainly be sniping at the overtime provisions and a heavy adverse drive in certain industrial areas, intensifying the problems of the Wage and Hour Division and greatly increasing not only the need for the measure, but also the burden of enforcing it adequately. The wage and hour administration therefore cannot afford to overlook the potential magnitude of its task.

The Industry Committees

IN ADDITION TO THE ENFORCEMENT OF THESE STANDARDS, THE responsibility of the Wage and Hour Division includes the setting up of industry committees provided for in the act, the research necessary to their functioning, the handling of their recommendations. In the effort to make a law providing at the start only a 25-cent minimum wage and a 44-hour week palatable to organized labor, Congress included a scheme for special committees to speed up the “escalator plan,” each of which could set for its industry “the highest minimum wage rates . . . which it determines . . . will not substantially curtail employment in the industry,” taking into account competitive transportation rates, living and production costs, and the wage rates prevailing in the industry. It may recommend classifications within the industry, but it may not base these classifications on age, sex or solely on geography. What progress has been made in this field in the past few months?

Even before the law went into effect, organized labor clamored for the appointment of industry committees. The first set-up, that for textiles, met two weeks before the effective date of the measure. But the committee’s work suffered many and vexatious delays. The problem of drawing up a definition of the industry presented many difficulties. The legal branch insisted that under the law a long and detailed report was necessary. Preparation of the administrator’s report took much time. The minimum wage of 32 1/2 cents recommended by the committee did not go into effect till October 1939. The recommendations of the Hosiery Committee—32 1/2 cents for seamless, 40 cents for full-fashioned hosiery—have also been made the minima for that industry. Hearings on the recommendation of the Millinery Committee have been held, but no wage order has been made. As this issue goes to the press, the administrator is holding hearings on the four wage levels (32 1/2, 35, 37 1/2 and 40 cents) recommended for the apparel industry. In five other industries—hats, knitted outerwear, knitted underwear, wool, and shoes—the committees have voted on their recommendations, but the administrator’s hearings to consider them have not been held.

The work of the industry committees is rapidly being “streamlined,” following plans worked out some time ago. Instead of spending months, as did the Textile Committee, in pondering voluminous data on the industry and preparing an equally voluminous report, the Knitted Outerwear Committee, which met for the first time on October 23, had its report on the administrator’s desk within forty-eight hours. This is due chiefly to the ruling of the legal branch that a summary report is legal, thus permitting the committee to present recommendations without rehearsing in detail all the considerations on which its decision was based. Last spring the Millinery Committee reached its conclusions just as promptly, but the long report on which the lawyers then insisted held up its work for many weeks.

Industry committees are now planned in some twenty other industrial areas. As for the former Baltimore manufacturer who heads this section points out, it would be useless to set up committees for such high wage industries as autos or steel where one would be hard put to it to find a worker earning less than the 40-cent wage beyond which the committees cannot go in their recommendations. Nor would it serve any useful purpose to set up a committee for one of the lowest wage fields, where the 30-cent minimum fixed by law means a substantial increase in labor costs. These committees are most needed “in the middle ground,” where the industry has not voluntarily established but can afford to establish a minimum wage higher than that set by law.

Learners and Exemptions

TWO OTHER HEAVY ADMINISTRATIVE TASKS ARE IMPOSED BY the provisions for exemptions, and for learners, apprentices, and handicapped workers. Ten categories of workers (executive, administrative, and professional workers, retailers, seamen, fishermen, and so on) are specifically excluded from provisions of the act. The real battle in the exemptions section, however, is over the clause declaring that the law does not apply “to any individual employed within the area of production (as defined by the administrator) engaged in handling, packing, storing, ginning, compressing, pasteurizing, drying, preparing in their raw or natural state, or canning” farm produce, including cheese and butter. The chief difficulties arise in that phrase “within the area of production.” Two definitions have been used, neither of them satisfactory to the administration, the employer or the workers in the vast and chaotic field covered by this exemption. There has been constant pressure on the administrator from the great “factories in the fields” to make and enforce a very broad definition. The workers engaged in the processing which comes within this provision are largely unorganized, their work is highly seasonal, many of them are migrants who follow the vegetable and fruit packing, canning and drying from crop to crop. The clause creates endless friction and misunderstanding and offers loopholes for large scale evasion of the purpose, if not the letter, of the act.

Almost as prickly are the questions of what “learner” exemptions are “necessary in order to prevent curtailment of the opportunity for employment”; what length of time is required for a new worker to acquire skill in one of the subdivided tasks of machine production; what measure of “substandard performance on the part of the worker,” and what extra costs for teaching and supervision, make it “impossible” for an employer profitably to pay even a beginner the low minimum wage fixed by law. The issue has been raised in many occupations—pecan shelling in Texas, cotton textiles, the apparel industry, for example.

At public hearings, representatives of all shades of opinion within the industry have opportunity to submit evidence and to express views. On the basis of the presiding officer’s findings and recommendations, the administrator issues regulations, denying or permitting learners to be paid at a rate less than the minimum fixed by law and, if “learners’ rates” are permitted, setting forth the terms on which the lower wage may be paid. The policy of the hearings and exemptions section has been to get all the facts, and to lean backward in protecting wage standards and the status of the worker. Thus in shirt and pajama plants, an employer may secure a 12-week learners’ certificate, enabling him to employ “learners” at the “same piece rates paid workers already employed on similar work in the establishment,” and to pay them less than the minimum fixed by law. However, even a learner in this industry “shall receive at least 75 percent of the applicable minimum rate.” This permission is further hedged around with the rules that no one who has worked an aggregate of eight weeks on sewing machines in the apparel industry during the preceding three years may be classed as a learner, and that no individual learner may be paid less than the minimum wage for more than eight weeks of employment. “New learners may be added or subtracted within the 12-week period, but the certificate becomes null and void 12 weeks after issue.” A new certificate will be issued only when the employer is adding workers because of plant expansion. The number of learners, specified in the certificate, will depend on the extent of the expansion, the number of new jobs created, the availability of experienced workers. Certificates permitting the employment of “learners” at less than the minimum wage cover groups of workers. Exemptions for handicapped workers apply to individual workers, and each case has to be considered individually.

Clearly such regulation of employment, if it is to accomplish its purpose, depends not only on decisions made in a Washington office but on the effectiveness of inspection and supervision out in the field. And it is here that to date the administration of the new program seems to have been least successful.

The First Year Reviewed

THERE IS LITTLE DOUBT THAT THE FIRST EXUBERANT PUBLICITY of the division aroused false hopes of what would and could be done under the wage and hour act. In its honeymoon days, the Washington office dwelt too expansively on the twelve million workers engaged in interstate industry and hence subject to the act, too little on the 300,000 workers who might expect an increased wage under the modest standards established for the first year. Nor did the new agency seem fully to realize how little could be accomplished immediately under the handicap of its meager funds. At first, the Wage an Hour Division could hope to do little more than assemble a headquarters staff, lay out its job, attend to the complaints that began to roll in weeks before the law went into effect. From the beginning, the enforcement branch was slowed up by the inexperience of the head—a former industrial commissioner of a southern state who has found it difficult to think and to act in nation-wide terms. With a man of another outlook in this key position, it seems unreasonable to believe that the enforcement could have been started much earlier than it was—as soon as funds were available—and stepped up much faster, in size of staff and in quality of work.

To September 30, 1939, the division had received 21,756 complaints. Many of these charged that substandard wages were paid or long hours imposed in restaurants, retail stores, domestic service and other occupations or enterprises not covered by the law. But the complaints probably included better than 13,000 bona fide violations of the act in some 10,000 plants. Of these, fewer than 1000 have been handled. The record shows 321 cases settled by adjustment, many of these instances in which the employer did not realize that he was subject to the act. No violation was found in 267 of the complaints investigated. Ninety-one cases were taken to court, 44 civil cases, applying for an injunction to restrain the employer from further infringement, 47 cases on indictment or information charging falsification of records. In the civil cases, 38 injunctions have been granted; the balance are pending. Of the employers held criminally liable, 28 have pleaded guilty, paying $81,350 in fines; and fines probably totaling three times that amount have been remitted because of wage restitutions.

But a case in court is an activity remote from the concern of Bill Brown whose pay envelope for last April contained $8.80 instead of $11 at the end of a 44-hour week in a paper-box factory. It is remote, too, from the problems of Minnie Smith who stitched pockets 60 hours a week, getting out a rush order—16 hours beyond the legal limit of the wage and hour act, without overtime compensation. To Bill and Minnie, and thousands of others who have “written to Washington” the small grist of courts cases is unimportant compared with the question of a “gyp” wage, or failure to pay the required time-and-a-half for overtime work. From the point of view of Bill and Minnie, and of the real purpose of the law, the restitution of wages due under the act far outweighs the importance of court action. Such restitutions probably total only $200,000.

Problems of Environment

IN ONE FALL MONTH, THE DIVISION SUPERVISED THE PAYMENT of wages due in thirteen plants, averaging $4000 per plant. Frequently such restitution has been made by employers who violated the act because they did not realize they were subject to it. In one such case, for example, an employer with a force of 160 workers was informed by a wage and hour inspector that a complaint from one of his workers was apparently well founded. “Good heavens, I didn’t know I came under that law!” the man exclaimed. He insisted that the inspector go with him to the bank, and there he put $10,000 in escrow, to be paid out to his employees at the order of the inspector. When the payroll analysis was completed, $6600 of the $10,000 was drawn and distributed as wages due his employees.

But in many instances, the wage and hour inspectors have had no such employer cooperation as this. As the other extreme, in one textile mill the employer put $1, $2 or $3 in his pay envelopes, divided this meager wage by the minimum hourly rate of 25 cents, and informed his workers, “This week you worked four (or eight or twelve) hours.” The inspector directed the workers to bring their pay envelopes to him, and then stood outside the plant for days, checking the time the workers went in and the time they emerged. Even while evidence thus obtained was being presented to the grand jury, the employer continued his customary practice. In this case a criminal action for falsification of records is pending. Where the employer is found guilty on such a charge, for a first offense, he is punishable by a fine of not more than $10,000, and for a second offense, by a fine of $10,000 or imprisonment not to exceed six months, or both. In addition, employees may sue and recover twice the amount of wages due under the act “as liquidated damages.”

Salutary as have been the relatively few cases pressed under the wage and hour act and the restoration of wages, one of the chief sources of impatience with the law’s administration is the mounting number of complaints on which no action has been taken. One member of the administrative staff said frankly: “We have been doing about a 15 percent job—and we have been falling further behind month by month. Sometimes there’s been so much sand in the bearings, it seemed as if the thing would stall completely.” The division has been plagued by lack of adequate organization and planning, a top heavy headquarters force and a hopelessly weak field staff, a mountain of “paper work” and increasing criticism of accomplishment under the act. As one critic who has been close to the effort from its beginning puts it: “Good intentions, a liberal outlook, and a fine group of specialists aren’t enough to keep a huge thing like this out of the ditch. You’ve got to have a good road map and a firm hand at the wheel.”

The administrative situation has brought down on the Wage and Hour Division the harsh criticism of both wings of organized labor. It has also irritated manufacturers. Many employers claim that they observe the wage and hour provisions only to find themselves undersold by less law-abiding competitors. And when they appeal to Washington, “nothing happens.”

Part of the unsatisfactory enforcement is undoubtedly due also to emphasis on the legal aspects of the cases handled. “Too much red tape” is a frequent criticism of procedure under the act. The legal branch has shown a tendency to handle each complaint as though that particular issue were to be fought out before the Supreme Court, and therefore to require “water-tight” preparation. This has helped swell the backlog of unfinished business in the division. It has also complicated and delayed the whole process of administration, which involves not only court action but the education of employers, putting pressure on those inclined to evade, getting Minnie Smith the $2.40 due her for overtime week before last, bringing Bill Brown’s wage rate up to the legal minimum. Even with a limited inspection force, much of the time of inspectors has been taken up with such legal details as tracing the actual pair of stockings shipped in interstate commerce and sold in New York City, back to the hands of the worker in the Pennsylvania hosiery mill who complains that she is not being paid time-and-a-half for overtime work. How far the legal complexities can be simplified remains to be seen. It is reasonable to suppose that a shift in administrative emphasis from legally perfected “cases” to investigation and active pressure to secure compliance with the law will tend to cut through red tape and to speed up administration.

But in addition to budgetary, personnel and legalistic complication, it seems fair to say that part of the weakness in enforcement has been due to a deliberate policy of “appeasement” toward trade association and other employer groups. Such dependence on “voluntary compliance,” many critics insist, could carry out the purpose of the law only if it were backed by inspection effective enough to be respected, and a prompt and vigorous “crack down” where violation is suspected or known.

Plans for decentralized administration—plans which were worked out before the recent shake-up in personnel—are expected to expedite the handling of complaints and the enforcement of the law. The country is tentatively divided into “wage and hour regions,” with regional and branch offices; regional inspection, clerical and legal staffs; and only supervisory and service activities carried on from Washington headquarters. Starting with a skeleton staff a year ago, the division had only 117 inspectors in the field by July 1, to swing the nation-wide job of education, investigation, and enforcement. The present plan calls for 456 inspectors by June 30, 1940, with a larger and more flexible legal staff, supplemented by a corps of trained payroll analysts.

Child Labor

LET US TURN NOW TO CHILD LABOR ENFORCEMENT—A FIELD where federal action has been stymied hitherto by Supreme Court decisions. The wage and hour act makes the U.S. Children’s Bureau responsible for the administration of the child labor provisions. This task has gone forward quietly, without fanfare or publicity, and a sound foundation seems to have been laid for what is essentially a long, slow job, with emphasis on education as well as enforcement. At the end of the first year, procedures for certifying the age of child workers are well established in all but two states (Texas and Louisiana), affording protection to young workers and to their employers. Violations of the child labor provisions have been uncovered most frequently in canneries, small seasonal or “marginal” enterprises, many of which are run on a sweatshop basis. Several cases against employers of child labor, in violation of the wage and hour act, are pending in the courts. Final action has been taken in three cases, in each of which permanent injunctions were issued. The Children’s Bureau has encountered relatively little willful violation of the child labor provisions, and in many instances the employer had dismissed the child workers as soon as violation was brought to his attention.

The chief of the Children’s Bureau is required by the law to define “hazardous” occupations from which the act bars all young workers under eighteen years of age. One such order has been issued, covering the manufacture of explosives; a second order, soon to be handed down, will bar workers under eighteen from operating trucks or motor cars, or acting as “helpers” to adult drivers. The next study of hazardous occupations will cover coal mining, where union agreements for the most part fix seventeen as a minimum age; after that will probably come lumber and woodworking, industries in which many children are employed, particularly in the South.

When the wage and hour law was enacted, it was hoped that the states would pass measures gearing into the federal law, and covering industries and occupations which Congress does not have the power to regulate—local factories doing purely interstate business, restaurants and hotels, local retail stores, and so on. Last winter, when the great majority of the legislatures were in session, not a single state passed such legislation, though many state wage and hour bills were introduced.

Under Section 11 (b) of the act, one state—North Carolina—has entered into an agreement with the Wage and Hour Division and the Children’s Bureau to take over responsibility for enforcement of the wage and hour and child labor standards, the state to be reimbursed from federal funds for what it spends for this purpose. The agreement is a complete working plan covering every conceivable administrative item, including staff training and tenure. Similar agreements are under discussion in other states.

Perhaps the most complicated feature in the confused first year of the federal wage and hour act was Administrator Andrews’ effort to secure amendments to the law, correcting some of the weaknesses revealed even in the first months of its administration. This move was made against the advice of many friends of the act, including key members of his staff.

The changes sought by the administrator were embodied in a bill introduced by Representative Mary Norton of New Jersey, chairman of the House Labor Committee. These amendments would have exempted from the 44-hour week all white collar workers paid $200 or more a month; exempted all telephone operators in exchanges having 300 or fewer subscribers; authorized industry committees to study the situation in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, and to fix the wage minima for workers in these territories; substitute a rule of “seasonability and perishability” for the troublesome “area of production” rule for agricultural workers; permit suits to be brought to restrain violations of the act in any judicial district where the defendant “is found or is habited, or transacts business”; change the “hot goods” penalties to protect innocent buyers. This well-intentioned move was a costly tactical blunder. It almost destroyed the wage and hour law. For once the act was laid open to amendment, pressure groups leaped in to mangle or destroy the measure. Led by the Agricultural Producers Labor Committee, a legislative front for the Associated Farmers [see “Who Are the Associated Farmers?” by Richard L. Neuberger in Survey Graphic, September 1939], the lobbyists drew up amendments which would have exempted about 1,000,000 workers, now covered, from the minimum wage provisions, about 1,500,000 from the maximum work week. This effort was only one phase of the drive of the powerful lobby of self-styled “farm groups” to secure exemption from the Social Security, Wage and Hour, and National Labor Relations Acts for all food producing, processing, and handling “from field to table.” These amendments were introduced by Representative Barden of North Carolina, and there followed a long, bitter and devious struggle to substitute the Barden for the Norton amendments. The results of expert pressure were seen in the manhandling to which the Norton proposals were subjected in committee. One loophole after another was opened up. For example, lumbering and pulp operations were to be exempted from both wage and hour provisions, and given a peak season of fourteen weeks with no limit on hours; cotton ginning was to be exempted from the wage and hour regulations; so was industrial homework.

After months of maneuvering, Congress adjourned without voting on either bill. Seeing that they could not drive through their own program, the opponents of the wage and hour act took the position that the fewer the perfecting amendments, the greater the resentment toward the measure and hence the better the chance for outright repeal, emasculation, or nullification. The congressional struggle weakened the prestige of the Wage and Hour Division and its administrator, discouraged the staff, confused the friends of the measure, and consolidated its opponents. A shift in leadership, a reconsideration of plans and procedures were perhaps the inevitable outcome of the amendment battle.

Second Year—in Second Gear

WHAT THE RESULTS WILL BE IT IS, OR COURSE, TOO EARLY TO attempt to forecast. The first year’s experience has shown that most employers intend to conform to this, as to other laws. It has indicated that flagrant violation will be encountered, for the most part, among small employers in marginal industries, many of them with sweatshop standards. At the end of the first year, the Wage and Hour Division knows that its major responsibility today is with the 690,000 workers who have been earning less than thirty cents an hour, the 2,300,000 who have been working more than 42 hours a week. It knows that at least a third of those who should have gone on a shorter work week, or received overtime pay on October 24, were in New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, or Illinois; it knows that most of those who on that date should have been lifted to a higher wage rate were in the South. It also know the scope of its task includes every one of the 12 million wage earners in interstate industry who are covered by the provisions of the act, and it knows, too, that its field is not compact, that every industry includes “soft spots” and that substandard plants are not identifiable except by inspection. This knowledge serves as guide for enforcement activities, which must be at once intensive and extensive if the measure is to fulfil its purpose. Under the Reorganization Act, the Secretary of Labor now has authority over the personnel of the Wage and Hour Division, and there is reason to think that present plans for the division call for closer integration with other activities of the Labor Department.

The first year has brought home lessons in the importance of decentralized administration, of an adequate force of trained inspectors, of swift and decisive action in cases of violation, of well-knit, coordinated headquarters organization. Great progress has been made in evolving orderly and effective procedures for industry committees, and for action on application for exemptions. The division has had opportunity to discover the hampering results of unnecessary red tape. It has also had a chance to learn the distinction between “making a case” and securing general compliance. How thoroughly the first year’s lessons have been learned, how they will be put into effect will be the test of the months ahead.

And the Wage and Hour Division also confronts two unanswered questions, basic not only to its own task but to the successful functioning of democratic government: Is it possible to find and to enlist enough administrative talent to carry forward the public services required for the forward progress of our national life today? How can new and experimental legislation be strengthened and corrected without opening the way for the wrecking operations of selfish interests? For there is every reason to believe that the forces which beleaguered the act in the last session of Congress have changed neither their goal nor their methods, and await only the chance for a fresh assault on the wage and hour law.

Source: Amidon, Beulah, “New Floors and Ceilings,” Survey Graphic, Vol. 28, No. 12, p. 728 (December, 1939), New Deal Network, (April 7, 2014).

0 Replies to “New Floors and Ceilings in the Minimum Wage: 1939”

Comments for this site have been disabled. Please use our contact form for any research questions.