Page images
PDF
EPUB

different maximum hours and standards for each class in an occupation in different localities in the State when, in the judgment of the commission, the different conditions obtaining justify such action.

It was under the department of labor and industry that the industrial welfare orders were promulgated. In 1915, orders were issued for the regulation of hours, wages, and sanitary conditions for women and minors in manufacturing, laundry, mercantile, public housekeeping, and telephone industries.

In 1925 the Kansas Supreme Court declared the minimum wage law for women unconstitutional. In 1927 the orders were rewritten and readopted by the public service commission, eliminating the unconstutional features therefrom. We do not have an enforceable minimum-wage law in this State.

A question for discussion is: Is it more advantageous to have the standards established by the commission of labor and industry, which would make it easier to change the standards when changing conditions or new knowledge makes change desirable, permits of greater diversity between different industries and occupations to fit their different needs and problems, and makes possible the use in forming standards of advisory committees made up of interested parties, which sometimes results in more practicable standards and more willing compliance; or would the desired result be better obtained in a statute limiting working hours alike in all occupations?

In some Kansas factories where output is seasonal, the commission of labor and industry has granted permits for night work of women, which gave increased employment. This type of night shift began in the evening and terminated not later than 12 o'clock midnight. There can be no denying the fact that very few industries may expect to be always free from sudden demands for extra output, which cannot be met through normal working hours. When an occasional emergency has arisen, this permit has been granted.

Married Women

A question receiving considerable discussion in our State is: Shall married women work when husbands are employed? With a scarcity of jobs an attack has been made on the married woman and her right to work. In some cases married women have been dismissed, and it is now the rule in many large industries and utility companies to bar married women.

Large increases in the proportion of gainfully employed married women occurred between 1890 and 1930, according to information of the 1930 census of population made public by the Census Bureau. Of married women, only 4.6 percent were working in 1890, while 11.7 percent, or 3,071,302, were occupied at the time of the last census. Of all working women, the married ones constituted 28.9 percent in

[ocr errors]

1930, against 13.9 percent four decades before. More than half the single women and those whose marital status was not reported were gainfully employed in 1930, while about 34 percent of the widowed and divorced women were working. With 29.9 percent of its married women gainfully employed, the District of Columbia led all the States in this respect, and is followed by the southern States of South Carolina, Mississippi, and Florida. In the District of Columbia, however, married women formed only 36.8 percent of the total of all working women, and was outranked by several States. Nebraska, Arizona, Mississippi, and Florida all reported more than 40 percent of the gainfully employed women were married. Half the women of 25 or over who apply for work at labor exchanges in England are married.

Married women who are both wage earners and home makers are the most criticized and the least understood of all groups of workers. In a majority of cases husbands are receiving inadequate wages to maintain a decent standard of living for the family, and the wife's income is necessary to keep home and family together and to give children a better education, or perhaps to support elderly parents or relatives.

The married woman has always played an important part in feeding and clothing the family. If a married woman is working one may be quite sure that her husband is unemployed or his wages are too low properly to feed and clothe the family. The course of women's Wages fluctuates, rising in time of prosperity and falling in time of depression. Women's wages as a rule are far below those of men. A decent standard of living for a family costs no less when the family is supported by a woman than it does if a man is the breadwinner.

The purpose of the minimum-wage movement in the United States during the past 20 years has been to secure for woman workers by law a wage that will at least insure for them the essentials of living commensurate with the American standard. Standard of living has been described as, "The mode of activity and scale of comfort which a person has come to regard as indispensable to his happiness, and to secure and retain which he is willing to make any reasonable sacrifice.” The attitude of a laborer toward his wage or the use to which he puts his wage is an index of his standard of living. If wages are low, the wage earner's family must submit to the evils of overcrowded and insanitary dwellings, which play an important part in the continued existence of low standards of morals. If wages are so reduced that the family must accept alms or help from organized charity groups, the family is forced to enter the ranks of paupers, and thus society is compelled to become a party in lowering his standard of living. The desire to raise and maintain a higher standard of living has been the inspiration for States to make rules and regulations for the betterment of the worker.

What method should be pursued to combat this discrimination against married women, whose need for employment is as serious as that of any other group, and assure her more security in her job?

Uniformity of Federal and State Regulations

as

[merged small][ocr errors][merged small]

When sewing rooms and packing plants were established in Kansas

F under the N. R. A. the State labor department insisted that they, well as individual factories, comply with the Kansas State labor laws. At first there was some resentment in regard to this, but in time the supervisors agreed with our point of view that State labor laws should prevail. Another difficulty encountered was the long hours required of office girls in the Federal offices. As we do not have a personal service law, we had no jurisdiction over them. It would seem that we, as labor officials who are interested in shorter hours and minimum wage, should do all in our power to have these hours regulated. Just as the individual man has cooperated with his neighbor, so should the States cooperate in securing uniform rules and regulations for woman workers in like occupations.

Some needed legislation in Kansas as well as in other States should be passed in regard to collection of wages. Judicial power and a sufficient appropriation should be granted to the labor commissioner, making it possible to maintain a staff for the collecting of small sums for working women and minors without cost to the worker.

We do not feel that industrial leaders are devoid of an altruistic interest in the welfare of their fellow men. Industries become more impersonal as they gain in size, and are becoming greater only insofar as they recognize that the great masses of the employees are the most vital part of the organization. We believe the businessman is coming more and more to realize that long-continued hours and insanitary conditions are not conducive to productive efficiency, that improved health of his workers means more loyal and contented personnel, and that better results are obtained through cooperation rather than coercion.

Chairman POWERS. I will now call on Mrs. Louise I. Blodgett, of the Department of Labor of Rhode Island.

Mrs. BLODGETT. Rhode Island is the smallest State in the Union, but it has an unusually large proportion of employed women--in fact, larger than any other State in the Union save one. Women also went into industry earlier in Rhode Island than in any other State. The first cotton mill was established in Pawtucket, R. I. Samuel Slater brought the plans for cotton machinery over from England in his head. He went to Pawtucket and boarded in the Wilkinson House and behind locked doors put the plans on paper. He married Hannah Wilkinson, and the first cotton mill was actually functioning there in December 1790. The third week of its existence a woman was

employed the first woman to be employed in a factory in America, so far as I can find out. As other cotton mills and woolen and worsted mills were established women were employed.

In 1894 the first legislature of Rhode Island reported that they visited 207 cotton, woolen, and worsted mills, and in those mills 27,760 men and 21,067 women and 4,706 children under 16 were working. Less than 45 percent of the people employed in textile mills were men; the rest were women and children. That was probably because the wages of the head of the family were inadequate to support the family, and hence the employment of women and children. Also the working conditions were very bad. During my early school days, before the day of the factory cafeteria, we used to have quite a long noon recess, and when the first bell rang at 11:25 about a quarter of the class rushed out to go home and get the freshly packed dinner pails to carry to the members of the family working in the mill. These working conditions did show up in the general health and welfare of the people of Rhode Island. An unusually high death rate from tuberculosis was disclosed a few years later, and at the time of the World War a larger proportion of drafted men were rejected as physically unfit in Rhode Island than in any other State.

Gradually laws were passed which eliminated the scandalous employment of children in Rhode Island, but in all the 145 years that women were employed there were until this year only two laws passed for the protection of women--the hours law, which provided for 60 hours, and later for 54 hours, per week, and the law providing that seats should be provided for women. Neither of these laws were very well enforced. Up to this year the chamber of commerce in Pawtucket advocated that the laws were most favorable to the employer and the argument evidently had a widespread appeal because it boasted the most diversified industries of any city of its size in the country.

The year 1936 has been a momentous one for women in industry in Rhode Island. Seemingly insurmountable obstacles seemed to vanish as the legislature passed one law after another. From now on the women will share in the benefits of the Rhode Island laws and in the benefits of the amendment to the workmen's compensation law, with coverage of practically all industrial diseases, to many of which women are more susceptible than men. There were enacted this year three laws of primary importance to women--the minimum-wage law, a home-work law, and the 48-hour week law.

The Minimum Wage Act provides for the creation of a division of women and children to administer labor laws for women and children and to protect their general welfare. Under this minimum-wage law we have completed our first survey in the jewelry industry. The jewelry industry employs more women than any other industry except textiles in Rhode Island. When we got about two-thirds through we did a little summarizing, and our report might start off somewhat in the style of The Tale of Two Cities: The jewelry industry is the best and the worst of industries, the highest and the lowest paying industry. Pearls denote wealth, but pearls in Providence, R. I., denote poverty. The artificial-pearl industry pays less than any other industry. Sterling silver pays very high wages. Gold plate, rings, and metal findings pay fairly well. One thing that surprised us was that 10-cent-store jewelry, fır the chain stores, pays by no means the lowest wages. Possibly it is because the industry copies expensive novelties that have been successful and gets them before the public without any middleman, and so pays wages that are about medium. It pays higher wages than the men's jewelry industry. Summarizing the industry as a whole, 2% percent of the workers were earning less than 20 cents an hour. On the other hand, 6 percent were earning 75 cents or more an hour. Twenty-five percent were earning 27 cents or less an hour, which is rather interesting because under the N. R. A. 27 cents was the code minimum for learners and only 10 percent in any firm could be classified as learners. This shows that the N. R. A. standards are going into the discard. In other ways, too, we are finding that they are more or less a memory. Practically all firms are off the 40-hour week. The 48-hour law is putting our employers at great disadvantage with the New Jersey employers, who have a 54-hour law.

We are interested in getting the garment industries and the electrical plants under wage orders as soon as possible, because we have found an influx of firms in those two branches that we suspect are running away from wage orders in neighboring States. The first home-work law in Rhode Island provides for licensing employers and certification of employees. It provides that licenses should not be issued where wages will jeopardize factory workers, but it is difficult to administer. Some of the manufacturers do raise the home-work rates and some discontinue home work, and we have had them bring down factory rates. It provides that the home work should be delivered and collected at no expense to the employee. Some of them agree and do it; others agree to do it and do not. The employees sometimes pay two or three carfares each day to get their home work. The employer in one case got employees to sign a paper saying that they go downtown anyway and it does not put them to any extra expense. If you remove the employer's license for this, you feel that the home worker may be going hungry. So it is not a very satisfactory law to administer. A good many of the employers who want to send out home work just want to do it in peak seasons. There are a few who send out certain processes throughout the entire year and do not do this work in the factories at all; but most of them, as, for instance, the jewelers and paper-box manufacturers, want to do it in their peak seasons. Until television is perfected and all the homes are equipped with it, I do not

« PreviousContinue »