This Day On The Street
Continue to site
ADVERTISEMENT
This account is pending registration confirmation. Please click on the link within the confirmation email previously sent you to complete registration.
Need a new registration confirmation email? Click here

Working Moms' Labor Struggles

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- In 1905, the labor activist Emma Gotcher was working in an Oregon laundry. It wasnt uncommon for such jobs to require shifts of 13 hours or more, for wages of $3.50 to $5 a week. But Oregon had recently passed several labor laws, guaranteeing workers the right to join unions; regulating child labor; and limiting women employed in factories, mechanical establishments and laundries to 10 hours of work per day.

Gotcher's employer, Grand Laundry owner Curt Muller, was not a believer in so-called protective labor legislation. So on Labor Day, Muller told his foreman to make Gotcher work longer than the statutory maximum. Muller was cited for this infraction, and fined $10, which didn't sit well with his free enterprise principles. The result was a consequential court battle, which not only decided between worker protection and laissez-faire but also split labor activists and equal-rights feminists, setting a precedent for laws based on sex differences -- pregnancy in particular.

Although several state courts had upheld limits on working hours in the previous decade, a powerful contrary precedent was set that same year: in Lochner v. New York, the Supreme Court voted 5-4 to strike down a ten-hour workday for bakers in the Empire State. Proponents presented the law as a necessary safeguard of worker health, but the majority deemed it "unreasonable, unnecessary and arbitrary interference with the right and liberty of the individual to contract."

In spite of this ruling, Muller lost the first two rounds of his legal challenge. So he and his attorney -- corporate lawyer William Fenton, who had previously represented Standard Oil, American Steel and Wire, and Southern Pacific Railroad -- appealed to the Supreme Court. Local laundrymen contributed funds to help to pay Muller's legal expenses, and thereby keep their cause alive.

Must Read: 3 Money Traps You Need to Watch Our For

Gotcher's cause (and Oregon's) was taken up by the National Consumers League, a citizens' lobby for workers' rights. Under the directorship of Florence Kelley, the NCL fought against sweatshops and in favor of the eight-hour workday. Although Kelley wanted all workers to benefit from new protections, she focused her efforts on women and children -- partially as a matter of principle, and partially out of pragmatism. The legal and intellectual atmosphere of the age was not sympathetic to labor -- social Darwinism was widely influential -- and Kelley's strategy was to use initial, limited recognition of rights as an "entering wedge," a beachhead from which to push for broader reforms.

1 of 4

Check Out Our Best Services for Investors

Action Alerts PLUS

Portfolio Manager Jim Cramer and Director of Research Jack Mohr reveal their investment tactics while giving advanced notice before every trade.

Product Features:
  • $2.5+ million portfolio
  • Large-cap and dividend focus
  • Intraday trade alerts from Cramer
Quant Ratings

Access the tool that DOMINATES the Russell 2000 and the S&P 500.

Product Features:
  • Buy, hold, or sell recommendations for over 4,300 stocks
  • Unlimited research reports on your favorite stocks
  • A custom stock screener
Stocks Under $10

David Peltier uncovers low dollar stocks with serious upside potential that are flying under Wall Street's radar.

Product Features:
  • Model portfolio
  • Stocks trading below $10
  • Intraday trade alerts
14-Days Free
Only $9.95
14-Days Free
Dividend Stock Advisor

David Peltier identifies the best of breed dividend stocks that will pay a reliable AND significant income stream.

Product Features:
  • Diversified model portfolio of dividend stocks
  • Updates with exact steps to take - BUY, HOLD, SELL
Trifecta Stocks

Every recommendation goes through 3 layers of intense scrutiny—quantitative, fundamental and technical analysis—to maximize profit potential and minimize risk.

Product Features:
  • Model Portfolio
  • Intra Day Trade alerts
  • Access to Quant Ratings
Options Profits

Our options trading pros provide over 100 monthly option trading ideas and strategies to help you become a well-seasoned trader.

Product Features:
  • Actionable options commentary and news
  • Real-time trading community
SYM TRADE IT LAST %CHG
AAPL $122.99 -0.32%
FB $96.99 1.78%
GOOG $631.93 0.63%
TSLA $263.82 -0.38%
YHOO $37.67 -0.13%

Markets

Chart of I:DJI
DOW 17,751.39 +121.12 0.69%
S&P 500 2,108.57 +15.32 0.73%
NASDAQ 5,111.7330 +22.5270 0.44%

Free Reports

Top Rated Stocks Top Rated Funds Top Rated ETFs