Minimum Wage

Author:Jeffrey Lehman, Shirelle Phelps
 
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The minimum hourly rate of compensation for labor, as established by federal statute and required of employers engaged in businesses that affect interstate commerce. Most states also have similar statutes governing minimum wages.

Along with a requirement for overtime pay and restrictions on child labor, the minimum-wage law is one of the most significant, substantive obligations created more than 50 years ago by the FAIR LABOR STANDARDS ACT of 1938 (FLSA) (29 U.S.C.A. §§ 201 et seq.). The FLSA culminated a long struggle for state and federal protective legislation for workers that had begun during the nineteenth century.

The original campaign for minimum-wage legislation in the United States began at the state

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level and resulted from growing public concern about the prevalence of sweatshops?workhouses where recent immigrants, women, and young children were paid substandard wages. Proponents of minimum-wage legislation appealed to society's sense of obligation to act through its elected officials to ensure an adequate standard of living for all working citizens.

In 1912, Massachusetts, an industrial state, was the first state to enact minimum-wage legislation. The momentum continued, and by 1920 13 states, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia had enacted minimum-wage programs. The Great Depression moved even more states to enact protective minimum-wage legislation, and by 1938 25 states had some form of minimum-wage law. In creating minimum wage legislation, the states generally used three minimum wage models. The Massachusetts model established a wage commission that recommended voluntary minimum-wage rates based on what commission members determined was the best combination of a "living wage" for employees and the "financial condition" of the employer's business. The next model established a similar wage commission but disregarded the financial conditions of the employer, made the minimum wage compulsory, and established sanctions for non-compliance. The third law, the Utah model, established a flat rate of minimum compensation for all covered workers.

Despite the success of state legislatures in creating minimum-wage laws, state supreme courts and, ultimately, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected as unconstitutional any legislation that interfered with an employer's freedom to contract with employees over wages.

Under the leadership of President FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT, Congress passed the NATIONAL INDUSTRIAL RECOVERY ACT OF 1933 (NIRA) (June 16, 1933, ch. 90, 48 Stat. 195). NIRA granted the president authority to establish minimum-wage and maximum-hour standards for all private-industry workers. Its legal basis was the federal government's power to regulate interstate commerce. The U.S. Supreme Court, however, rejected the NIRA's legal basis as unconstitutional in ALA Schechter Poultry v. United States, 295 U.S. 495, 55 S. Ct. 837, 79 L. Ed. 1570 (1935). In fact, from 1923 in Adkins v. Children's Hospital, 261 U.S. 525, 43 S. Ct. 394, 67 L. Ed. 785, to 1937 in Morehead v. New York ex rel. Tipaldo, 298 U.S. 587, 56 S. Ct. 918, 80 L. Ed. 1347, the Court consistently ruled against the constitutionality of all minimum-wage legislation.

During his second administration, President Roosevelt worked with members of Congress to create a modified version of the labor provisions of the NIRA, and in 1937 the FLSA was introduced. Although national business lobbies...

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