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The mountain just got taller
In 1938 President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed into law one of the most important pieces of legislation concerning American labor, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). This act established the minimum wage, overtime pay, barred children under 18 from doing dangerous work and barred children under 16 from working during school hours. Interestingly enough when the bill was first proposed in 1932 by Senator Hugo Black of Alabama, it contained language that would have provided for a 30-hour week instead of a 40-hour week.

American labor made a great deal of progress during the first 36 years of the FLSA. Then, during the Reagan administration workers started to lose rights (The list of major changes, with links, to the FLSA is below the fold). The last 28 years have not been kind to the American worker, starting in 1985 when state and local governments were allowed to offer comp time instead of overtime to public servants. In 1986 if you worked for a defense contractor you likely lost the right to overtime pay. In 1989 if you were below 20 years of age your labor was deemed as not worth as much as someone over 20, at least for your first 90 days on the job. In 1996 tipped employees were tied to a wage of $2.13 an hour, a minimum that has not increased in 17 years. In 2004 many supervisory positions were reclassified as exempt, taking away overtime pay for thousands.

During this time the only real gains for labor were minor adjustments to the minimum wage and nursing mothers were guaranteed break time to express milk.

Today the very foundation to FLSA is under attack with the introduction of H.R. 1406 – Working Families Flexibility Act of 2013. Many of you may know that this bill would amend the FLSA and would effectively eliminate overtime pay for all non-exempt employees. At first glance this bill may not sound so bad, especially with the family friendly name of, “Working Families Flexibility Act.” What it does though is undermine the ability of an employee to earn overtime pay. If you work 44 hours you should be paid your standard wage for 40 hours and time and a half for four hours. Receiving one and a half hours of compensatory time off for every hour of time worked over 40 does not put food on the table. While this idea sounds good on paper I cannot see it working out well for the worker. The employer can pick and choose, based on the needs of the business, when the worker can take compensatory time. Did you work a couple of extra hours last week so you could go to one of your child’s school functions? Sorry, business needs come first.

While this act stands little chance of being signed into law by President Obama it does show, and quite clearly, how beholden the Republican Party is to business interests. Instead of weakening the FLSA, we should be demanding that it be strengthened. Raise the minimum wage, get rid of the archaic separate tipped minimum wage, strengthen overtime rules, create a maximum wage based on the average employee salary, expand the list of non-exempt employees, and maybe if you really want to help families take a serious look at the 30-hour week as Sen. Black originally wanted in 1932.

The detailed list of changes to the FLSA is below the fold.

Over the years the FLSA was amended several times:

1949 – Changed overtime compensation, defined a "regular rate," redefined the term "produced," raised the minimum wage from 40 cents to 75 cents per hour and extended child labor coverage. It also included a few new exemptions for special worker classes.

1955 – Increased minimum wage, to a $1.00 per hour.

1961 – Added another method of determining a type of coverage called enterprise coverage and specified that coverage is automatic for schools, hospitals, nursing homes, or other residential care facilities. Coverage is also automatic for all governmental entities at whatever level of government, no matter how big or small. Coverage does not apply to certain entities that are not organized for a business purpose, such as churches and charitable institutions. The minimum wage wasincreased to $1.25 per hour. What could be considered a wage was specifically defined, and entitlement to sue for back wages was granted.

1963 - Equal Pay Act of 1963 was passed to amend the FLSA and make it illegal to pay workers lower wages strictly on the basis on their sex.

1966 – Expanded coverage to some farm workers and increased the minimum wage to $1.60 per hour in stages and gave state and local government employees coverage for the first time.

1967 – Age Discrimination in Employment Act prohibited employment discrimination against persons forty years of age or older.

1974 – Coverage was expanded to include domestic workers, and other state and local government employees that were not previously covered. Minimum wage was also increased to $2.30 per hour in stages.

1977 – Increased the minimum wage in yearly increments through 1981 to $3.35 an hour. Changes were made involving tipped employees and the tip credit. Partial overtime exemption was repealed in stages for certain hotel, motel, and restaurant employees.

1983 – The The Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act provided migrant and seasonal farm workers with protections concerning pay, working conditions, and work-related conditions, to require farm labor contractors to register with the U.S. Department of Labor, and to assure necessary protections for farm workers, agricultural associations, and agricultural employers.

1985 – Permitted state and local government employers to compensate their employees' overtime hours with paid time away from work (compensatory time or “comp time”) in lieu of overtime pay. It also included modifications to ensure that true volunteer activities were not impeded or discouraged.

1986 – The Department of Defense Authorization Act of 1986 repealed the eight-hour daily overtime requirements on all federal contracts.

1989 – Increased the minimum wage to $4.25 per hour in stages. The distinction between retail and non-retail was eliminated. Construction, laundry and dry cleaning were no longer named as enterprises. Changes were made to the tip credit system. A “training wage” was established at 85% of minimum wage for workers less than 20 years of age and could be paid for up to 90 days under certain conditions.

1996 – Increased the minimum wage to $5.15 an hour; however, the Small Business Job Protection Act of 1996 which provided the minimum-wage increase, also detached tipped employees from future minimum-wage increases. Prior to 1996, tipped employees received 50% of the prevailing minimum wage. The tipped employee minimum wage was set at $2.13 per hour.

2004 – Changes to overtime regulations went into effect, making substantial modifications to the definition of an exempt employee. Low-level working supervisors throughout American industries were reclassified as executives and lost overtime rights.

2007 – Increased the federal minimum wage by an incremental plan, culminating in a minimum wage of $7.25 per hour by July 24, 2009.

2010 - Section 4207 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act amends Section 7 of the FLSA to add that employers shall provide break time for nursing mothers to express milk and that "a place, other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public" should be available for employees to express milk.

Originally posted to Daily Kos Labor on Sun May 05, 2013 at 05:59 PM PDT.

Also republished by Daily Kos.

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