Thursday, April 17, 2014

Today in Labor History

April 172014.04.14history-bakery
The Supreme Court holds that a maximum-hours law for New York bakery workers is unconstitutional under the due process clause of the 14th amendment - 1905
In 1897, the state of New York passed the Bakeshop Act -- a so-called "labor law" -- one section of which provided that "no employee shall be ... permitted to work in a biscuit, bread, or cake bakery or confectionery establishment more than sixty hours in any one week." Joseph Lochner, who owned Lochner's Home Bakery in Utica, was fined $50 for allowing an employee to work more than 60 hours in a week. Lochner was sentenced to incarceration in a county jail until he paid the fine or, if he didn't pay, for 50 days. Lochner appealed his conviction up to the New York Court of Appeals (New York State's highest court), which affirmed his sentence. Claiming the labor law was unconstitutional, Lochner appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

In Lochner v. New York (1905), the Supreme Court ruled that a New York law setting maximum working hours for bakers was unconstitutional. The Court held that the Constitution prohibits states from interfering with most employment contracts because the right to buy and sell labor is a fundamental freedom protected by the Fourteenth Amendment. The decision, and the resulting "Lochner era" it ushered in, led to the abrogation of many progressive era and Great Depression laws regulating working conditions. In 1937, the Supreme Court overturned Lochner in West Coast Hotel v. Parrish.

PHOTO-Joseph Lochner, standing, right, was fined $50 for allowing an employee to work more than 60 hours in a week in his bakery. Lochner in the yard behind his bakery with his wife, a neighborhood child, his son and three bakery employees.

Photo Credit: Mrs. John J. Brady

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