Relief for the Nation

Labor Laws for a Modern World

Letter from the Brooklyn Merchant Bakers Association, August 13, 1937/tiles/non-collection/B/Brooklyn_Merchant_Bakers_Association_S2475_8-13-1937_HR75A-D21_box200_001.xml
Image courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration Letter from the Brooklyn Merchant Bakers Association, August 13, 1937
Edward Walter Curley, Letter from the Newspaper Guild of New York, May 14, 1938/tiles/non-collection/N/Newspaper_Guild_New_York_5-14-1938_S2475_HR75A-D21_box201_001.xml
Image courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration Edward Walter Curley, Letter from the Newspaper Guild of New York, May 14, 1938
Before the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 enshrined now widely accepted workplace protections, such as a minimum wage and the 40-hour week, providing for such provisions in federal law was not uniformly popular. After House Labor Committee Chairman William Connery passed away, Mary Norton became chair. Her efforts, including the use of a discharge petition to get the bill out of the Rules Committee and onto the House Floor for consideration, helped the landmark legislation across the finish line. These two letters argue for and against passage of the legislation from the point of view of two industries affected by the proposed bill. Otto Schimmel, president of the Brooklyn Merchant Bakers Association, expressed concerns about the effect of regulation on the retail baking industry, which did not operate uniformly across establishments or with a standard work day. The New York Times unit of the Newspaper Guild of New York, a union for newspaper professionals in the city, supported the bill, as well as New Deal recovery programs and a civil liberties investigation.

S. 2475, October 24, 1938/tiles/non-collection/S/S2475_Fair_Labor_5-21-1938.xml Image courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration
The recent ascent of women to influential political positions allowed some of the social welfare and relief initiatives of the New Deal to focus on the needs of women. Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins is widely considered an architect of the Fair Labor Standards Act, as well as other New Deal programs. Representative Mary Norton used her position in Congress to fight for improvements for the working class. As First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt used her considerable influence to advocate for causes and open doors for women. Roosevelt also served as the hub around which turned the wheel of politically active women in Washington. Although the effect of the New Deal on women was relatively modest, changes in the workplace, such as those brought about by the Fair Labor Standards Act, combined with more women working in influential positions, laid important groundwork for later achievements for working women.





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