Public Comment

The 1930s and The Thirty Hour Week

Harry Brill
Friday October 04, 2019 - 05:31:00 PM

If the federal government decided to make a 30 hour seek mandatory without reducing wages or cutting benefits it would created millions of jobs and improve the quality of lives of many workers and their families. Of course the current political climate is unfavorable to taking such a giant step.

So it may be surprising to many that once this country was close to adopting early during the 1930s depression a shorter work week of 30 hours that paid working people the same as they earned on their full time jobs. Quite a contrast with the current practice of cutting programs as the economy declines. b Shortly after Franklin D. Roosevelt's (FDR) first presidential election a bill was proposed in both houses of Congress to reduce full time jobs to 30 hours a week. Employees who work longer hours would be paid time-and-a-half. The purpose was to substantially reduce unemployment. The bill in the Senate, which was written by Hugo Black, who was among the most liberal U.S. Senators, passed by an overwhelming majority of 53 to 30. FDR's strong support of the bill was among the reasons why it succeeded.

It was assumed that the 30 work week would also sale through the House as well. Instead, it never even came to a vote. One of the key committees, the Rules Committee, would have to release the bill for a house vote. However, the committee decided withhold its release.

The main reason is that enormous business pressure persuaded FDR to change his mind. He responded by putting considerable pressure on the Committee to withhold the bill. So FDR with the cooperation of the Committee successfully killed the 30 hour week proposal.

Several years later the President and Congress established the Fair Labor Standard Act, which required many employers to pay time-and-a-half when work exceeded forty hours. This bill was certainly welcomed by many workers. But it is several light years away from the 30 hour week. Not only are the number of hours much longer. The law excluded many workers from receiving a legal minimum wage and overtime for working long hours. The millions of agricultural employees have been among those excluded from recognition.

But the problem is not just a substantive one. There is something very seriously wrong with the process as well. That it is perfectly legal for a US President to interfere with another branch of government to prevent a vote from being taken is not what a genuine democracy is about.