75 Years of 40 Hour Weeks

Today is the 75th Anniversary of the Public Contracts Act of 1936. In the history of America, this is a major event, and one that even today, remains an anathema to conservatives nationwide. That is because the Public Contracts Act of 1936 established the 40-hour work-week in the United States, set minimum ages for workers and even took on a minimum wage.

The Roosevelt-Perkins remedial initiative resulted in the Public Contracts Act of 1936 (Walsh-Healey). The act required most government contractors to adopt an 8-hour day and a 40-hour week, to employ only those over 16 years of age if they were boys or 18 years of age if they were girls, and to pay a “prevailing minimum wage” to be determined by the Secretary of Labor. – U.S. Department of Labor

The Public Contracts act remains the law of the land today.

The significance of June 30th’s bill was the use of the Federal Government’s purchasing power to establish labor standards. It wasn’t about imposing rules on the market by fiat, but rather by using the government’s own purchasing decisions and criteria to lead the market by example. We may recognize this approach in a thousand small things (and big things) done by governments nationwide, today, but it was the Public Contracts Act that began this work as a matter of law.

Today is a keynote anniversary in the history of American progress, and worth noting in some small way.