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Amdt14.S1.6.2.3 Laws Regulating Working Conditions and Wages

Fourteenth Amendment, Section 1:

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

Even when the Lochner-era Supreme Court recognized “liberty of contract” as a substantive right protected by the Due Process Clause, the Court still construed the Clause as permitting certain labor regulations, including maximum hours laws applicable to women workers,1 other workers in specified lines of employment,2 and those working on public projects.3 The Court likewise upheld regulation of how wages were to be paid, including the form of payment,4 its frequency,5 and how such payment was to be calculated.6 In addition, the Court upheld a state law that prohibited the employment of persons under 16 years of age in dangerous occupations and required employers to ascertain whether their employees were in fact below that age.7

During that era, the Court also recognized the states had the power to regulate mines. Acknowledging that such health and safety regulation was clearly within a state’s police power, the Court upheld various mining regulations, including state laws that required the inspection of coal mines (paid for by mine owners),8 required the employment of licensed mine managers and mine examiners, and imposed liability upon mine owners for failing to furnish a reasonably safe place for workmen.9 Other similar regulations that the Court sustained included laws requiring that underground passageways meet or exceed a minimum width,10 that boundary pillars be installed between adjoining coal properties as a protection against flood in case of abandonment,11 and that wash houses be provided for employees.12

Until 1937, however, the Court interpreted economic substantive due process to generally preclude states from regulating how much wages employers were to pay employees.13 According to the Court, such “price-fixing” laws did not bear a reasonable connection to the states’ health and safety objectives and unlawfully interfered with the freedom to contract.14 In 1937, however, the Court in West Coast Hotel v. Parrish15 expressly overruled these precedents and allowed states to set minimum wages for employees. This decision reflected a larger shift in the Court’s approach to economic regulations as it increasingly deferred to state legislation. As the Court explained in Day-Brite Lighting, Inc. v. Missouri,16 its decisions since West Coast Hotel “make plain that we do not sit as a super-legislature to weigh the wisdom of legislation nor to decide whether the policy which it expresses offends the public welfare.” While the legislative power has limits, the Court emphasized that “state legislatures have constitutional authority to experiment with new techniques” and “may within extremely broad limits control practices in the business-labor field, so long as specific constitutional prohibitions are not violated and so long as conflicts with valid and controlling federal laws.” 17 Debatable issues of “business, economic, and social affairs,” the Court states, are generally subject to legislative decisions.18

See, e.g., Miller v. Wilson, 236 U.S. 373 (1915) (statute limiting work to eight hours per day, 48 hours/week); Bosley v. McLaughlin, 236 U.S. 385 (1915) (same restrictions for women working as pharmacists or student nurses). See also Muller v. Oregon, 208 U.S. 412 (1908) (ten hours per day as applied to work in laundries); Riley v. Massachusetts, 232 U.S. 671 (1914) (violation of lunch hour required to be posted). back
See, e.g., Holden v. Hardy, 169 U.S. 366 (1898) (statute limiting work in mines and smelters to eight hours per day); Bunting v. Oregon, 243 U.S. 426 (1917) (statute limiting to ten hours per day, with the possibility of three hours per day of overtime at time-and-a-half pay, work in any mill, factory, or manufacturing establishment). back
See Atkin v. Kansas, 191 U.S. 207 (1903). back
Statute requiring redemption in cash of store orders or other evidences of indebtedness issued by employers in payment of wages did not violate liberty of contract. See Knoxville Iron Co. v. Harbison, 183 U.S. 13 (1901); Dayton Coal and Iron Co. v. Barton, 183 U.S. 23 (1901); Keokee Coke Co. v. Taylor, 234 U.S. 224 (1914). back
Laws that required railroads to pay their employees semimonthly, Erie R.R. v. Williams, 233 U.S. 685 (1914), or to pay them on the day of discharge, without abatement or reduction, any funds due them, St. Louis, I. Mt. & S.P. Ry. v. Paul, 173 U.S. 404 (1899), did not violate due process. back
Rail Coal Co. v. Ohio Industrial Comm’n, 236 U.S. 338 (1915) (upholding requirement that miners, whose compensation was fixed on the basis of weight, be paid according to coal in the mine car rather than at a certain price per ton for coal screened after it has been brought to the surface, and conditioned such payment on the presence of no greater percentage of dirt or impurities than that ascertained as unavoidable by the State Industrial Commission). See also McLean v. Arkansas, 211 U.S. 539 (1909). back
Sturges & Burn v. Beauchamp, 231 U.S. 320 (1913). back
St. Louis Consol. Coal Co. v. Illinois, 185 U.S. 203 (1902). back
Wilmington Mining Co. v. Fulton, 205 U.S. 60 (1907). back
Barrett v. Indiana, 229 U.S. 26 (1913). back
Plymouth Coal Co. v. Pennsylvania, 232 U.S. 531 (1914). back
Booth v. Indiana, 237 U.S. 391 (1915). back
See, e.g., Adkins v. Children’s Hospital, 261 U.S. 525 (1923); Stettler v. O’Hara, 243 U.S. 629 (1917); Morehead v. New York ex rel. Tipaldo, 298 U.S. 587 (1936). back
See, e.g., Adkins, 261 U.S. at 554–59. back
West Coast Hotel Co. v. Parrish, 300 U.S. 379 (1937) (overruling Adkins v. Children’s Hospital, 261 U.S. 525 (1923) and Morehead v. New York ex rel. Tipaldo, 298 U.S. 587 (1936)). back
342 U.S. 421, 423 (1952). back
Id. back
Id. at 424–25. See also Dean v. Gadsden Times Pub. Co., 412 U.S. 543 (1973) (sustaining state statute providing that employee excused for jury duty should be entitled to full compensation from employer, less jury service fee). back