Page images
PDF
EPUB

considered as a commodity or article of commerce. The Federal Constitution merely is a grant of power by the State governments. There is no provision in the Federal Constitution which says that a State may not declare it against public policy to use human labor as a commodity. The indications of the child-labor case are precisely that--that a State may prohibit child labor and the Federal government may not. I have no doubt whatsoever that a State statute, which, instead of outlawing child labor, says that if you utilize the labor of children as a major basis in the cost of your product to compete on the open market, that may be held to be unfair competition within the State in the sale of that product, and therefore be barred. No doubt the Federal Government would hold that to be constitutional. The utilization of a wage differential within an industry for identical tasks is also unfair competition and may therefore be abolished. I cannot see, under the Federal Constitution, any distinction in principle between those two approaches.

Women in Industry

Status of Women in Industry, 1935–36 Report of Committee on Women in Industry, by Mary ANDERSON, Chairman

In our annual discussion of labor legislation for women we need to look both backward and forward, to find out where we stand at present and what our immediate objectives should be. It is necessary to formulate a clear-cut program of procedure to help the country emerge from its confused state concerning certain phases of labor legislation.

As we consider this year the question of special labor laws for women, we are disturbed at what seems to be an impasse, in at least one field, resulting from two of the recent United States Supreme Court decisions, the first in May 1935 declaring the N. R. A. codes unconstitutional, the second in June 1936 invalidating the New York minimum-wage law for adult women. As President Roosevelt pointed out, these decisions appear to create a no-man's land into which neither the Federal nor State Governments can venture with legislation intended to promote the welfare of workers in certain respects, particularly in regard to minimum wages. We realize that, unfortunately, stranded in this seemingly forbidden territory are hundreds of thousands of industrial women.

This brings up an important related question-why should there be special labor legislation for woman wage earners as apart from men? A controversy is made of this question by people who take their stand on abstract theories instead of facing facts. Practically all authorities agree that ideally labor legislation in general should apply alike to both sexes, but as realists we analyze the situation briefly as follows:

Women, because of their weaker economic status, are in even greater need of labor legislation than are men. Women more than men have been and still are much more definitely exploited by unscrupulous employers. Women, so largely concentrated in the unskilled, low-paid, and highly seasonal industries, have not been organized into trade-unions to anything like the same extent as have men, and therefore have not been able to combat injustice and build up better employment standards for themselves through collectivebargaining methods. Some decades ago it became evident that & method must be evolved to strengthen women's economic status to such an extent that it would be od 8. par with the best position achieved by men. This was necessary in the interests, not only of woman workers, but of men, with whom women had been forced to become unwilling competitors. Special labor laws to safeguard hours, wages, and other employment conditions appeared to be the best means of achieving the immediate steps toward equality. Experience has proved that such laws bave in many instances brought the benefits of better standards to both women and men, and that they have not caused discrimination against the employment of women. Today, perhaps even more than in the past, it is essential for the general welfare to safeguard the standards of woman workers through legislation, since technological changes leading to simplification of jobs in many industries have made it possible for women to be substituted for men in an increasing number of fields. Unless legal safeguards prevent employers from employing women under low standards, we are in grave danger of having general labor standards, and in fact our whole economic system, even more seriously undermined than in the past.

In this connection, it is necessary to point out that a great responsibility rests with the State departments of labor as well as with the Women's Bureau of the United States Department of Labor, in making public the real facts concerning women's industrial conditions and problems. Great confusion on this matter has been created by the activities of the National Women's Party in furthering their “ "equal rights amendment.Clarity can be brought to the situation only by responsible agencies making public the facts which show the urgent need of labor laws for women.

According to our present outlook, State labor legislation seems to be the most practical route to travel in order to arrive at the desired goal of better standards. Along this road, however, we encounter serious problems. One great difficulty is the lack of uniformity in the labor laws for women found in the various States. Because of industrial competition among the States having unequal legal standards, these differences in laws mean hardships both for the woman workers and for the employers who use woman labor. These inequalities lead to serious consequences, such as the tendency for employers to migrate from States with better laws to those with lower legal standards, and, as a result of such moves, for workers to be left stranded without possibility of finding jobs in their own industrial fields and too often without opportunity for any employment. Inequalities in laws mean in some instances that employers remaining in the States with the more progressive legislation may have their businesses undermined by competing employers operating under lower legal standards in other States. To overcome such difficulties there is needed much speeding up in the enactment of more uniform State laws.

[ocr errors]

Therefore we shall find it of real value to take stock of the situation at this time, to stress the needs of wage-earning women in certain respects, to summarize the legal steps taken in the past year to meet these needs, to analyze the present status and weaknesses of existing State labor legislation for women, and to consider essential items that should be included in an expanded and speeded-up program of State labor laws.

In this report I shall give detailed attention particularly to hours of labor, night work, and industrial home work from the viewpoint of women, merely touching upon the vital matter of minimum-wage legislation, which will be the subject of a special report at this conference.

Hours of Labor Though it is important, in our present mechanical age of specialization and speed, for all workers to have short hours of labor in the interests of their health and welfare, it is even more essential for women than for men. Most women in industry carry a heavy burden of home duties outside of their employed hours. Moreover, in many instances employers are able to work women longer hours than men because men are safeguarded more extensively by trade-union agreements. For women as for men, short hours in industry are necessary to take up the unemployment slack brought about by technological changes and depression retrenchments.

Legislation enacted since October 1, 1935.-As comparatively few State legislatures have held regular sessions during the past year, the progress in regard to special labor laws for women has been limited, and achievements in the field of hour legislation exceedingly few. However, a significant advance in regard to a law actually enacted and put into effect was made in Rhode Island, with the reduction in the working hours of women in manufacturing, mechanical, and mercantile establishments from 10 hours daily and 54 a week to a maximum of 9 hours a day and 48 a week. The law allows 93 hours a day if the 48 hours are worked in 5 days. This measure is of interest, since it is the first definite step taken by any State in the field of special hour legislation for women toward encouragement of the 5-day week. Though South Carolina passed a law limiting the hours of both men and women in textile mills to 8 a day and 40 a week, the law contains the provision that it shall remain inoperative until a similar bill is passed in Georgia and North Carolina. This law is at least a significant gesture in pointing the way, for though it is not at present effective, it could eventually lead to noteworthy progress in legal standards in the South. In South Carolina also a bill limiting the hours of women in mercantile establishments, laundries, and bakeries to a 10-hour day and a 50-hour 6-day week was passed by the house but not by the senate.

a

Other hour bills of interest were introduced into legislatures and passed by one house. For example, a bill limiting the hours of women in industry to 8 a day and 48 a week was passed by both houses in the Louisiana legislature but was vetoed by the Governor. In Virginia a bill reducing women's hours from 10 to 8 a day was passed by the house, but was killed in the senate committee. In New York the senate passed a bill reducing the hours of woman employees in restaurants from 9 daily and 54 weekly to 8 a day and 48 a week and extending such maximum hours to hotels. The bill was killed in the house.

Night work.-An important part of the whole subject of women's hours of labor is that of their employment at night. Though authorities concerned with the welfare of woman workers advocate the abolition of night work for women on the basis of securing for them and their families a healthful and decent kind of human existence, and though a large proportion of the industrial women in the country are not covered by legislation prohibiting night employment, the past year marks almost no legislation along these lines. In Massachusetts the night-work law was amended to add the phrases "girls under 21" and "mechanical establishments" to a previous act forbidding employment of women 21 years of age and over from 10 p. m. to 6 a. m. An act was passed by the Massachusetts Legislature continuing until April 1, 1937, the suspension of the ruling that prohibits women's employment in six branches of the textile industry after 6 p. m.

An unsuccessful attempt was made in Rhode Island to enact a night-work law for women, and in New Jersey to provide penalties for violation of the State legislation prohibiting women's employment at night in manufacturing, bakeries, and laundries, from 10 p. m. to 6 a. m.

Present status of State hour legislation.—The situation in regard to the State hour laws for women at present may be summarized as follows:

Only 4 States-Alabama, Florida, Iowa, and West Virginia-have Do law of any sort regulating the working hours of women. Indiana has but one limitation of hours—that prohibiting the employment of women at night in manufacturing.

All other States, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico have definitely forbidden the employment of women for more than a certain number of hours a day or week, or have penalized all employment beyond certain specified hours by providing that it must be paid for at an increased rate. In many States, however, the number of industries or occupations coming under the law is so small as to affect only a small proportion of all wage-earning women in the State. No State has regulated each industry or occupation by the passage of all types of hour laws. California has the most inclusive hour legislation.

« PreviousContinue »