The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the midst of the Great Depression, requires employers to pay employees the minimum wage and imposes several child labor provisions.
The act faced judicial opposition at the time of its passing and has been controversial since. The act affected nearly one quarter of the American work force in 1938 and significantly increased the government’s oversight of US business.
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Below are five of the most noteworthy opinions of the Fair Labor Standards Act around the time it was enacted:
“Do not let any calamity-howling executive with an income of $1,000 a day… tell you… that a wage of $11 a week is going to have a disastrous effect on all American industry.” President Roosevelt expressed his staunch support for the bill in 1938 during one of his infamous fireside chats. At the time, the act imposed a federal minimum wage of $0.25.
“The most far-reaching, far-sighted program for the benefit of workers ever adopted in this or any other country.” President Roosevelt took pride in the passing of the Act upon signing it.
As indicated by his New Deal policies, Roosevelt was a supporter of government intervention in American business and industry.
“[The Fair Labor Standards Act] constitutes a step in the direction of communism, bolshevism, fascism, and Nazism.” The National Association of Manufactures (NAM) thought in 1938 that the Act jeopardized the democratic and capitalist nature of the US political and economic system.
Such accusations were increasingly impactful in the years leading to World War II. NAM has continued to oppose increases in the federal minimum wage, even in recent years.
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“ [The Fair Labor Standards Act] will destroy small industry ... [these ideas are] the product of those whose thinking is rooted in an alien philosophy and who are bent upon the destruction of our whole constitutional system and the setting up of a red-labor communistic despotism upon the ruins of our Christian civilization.” 1938 Rep. Edward Cox (D-GA) agreed with the National Association of Manufacturers, strongly opposing the bill that he deemed destructive to American ideals.
According to Rep. Cox, government intervention in business would be most harmful to small business that cannot afford an increase in the cost of labor.
“A solution of this problem which is utterly impractical and in operation would be much more destructive than constructive to the very purposes which it is designed to serve.” Another of the act’s many critics, Rep. Arthur Phillip Lamneck (D-OH) in 1937 acknowledged that the bill would have unintended consequences that would worsen the country’s economic situation. Lamneck’s criticism of the act is a common skepticism about the minimum wage today.
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