Labor History in 2:00

March 19 President Wilson Pushing for Labor Peace

March 19, 2017

On this day in labor history, the year was 1917

That was the day the United States Supreme Court upheld the Adamson Act. 

The Act had initially been passed and signed into law the previous September to avoid a nationwide railway strike. 

It established the eight-hour day and overtime pay for interstate railroad workers. 

The four railroad brotherhoods--the Engineers, Fireman, Brakemen and Conductors had been pushing for these terms since at least 1915. 

When the railroads refused to budge, the unions prepared to strike.

 It was the first federal law that sought to determine minimum wages and maximum hours for private industry. 

The railroads were furious with President Woodrow Wilson for demanding quick passage of the law. 

They filed the case, Wilson v. New, which challenged the constitutionality of the Act. 

The railroads refused to abide by the new law while they waited for their case to be heard, ultimately by the Supreme Court. 

The four railroad brotherhoods grew tired of waiting and organized for another strike. 

The Court rejected the railroad’s claims and upheld the Act. 

President Wilson had hoped to ensure labor peace, as the United States was on the cusp of entering World War I. 

Seen as a powerful victory for the unions, other railway employees pressed for similar demands. 

When the industry looked as though it was headed for yet another strike, President Wilson exercised the Army Appropriations Act and issued an executive order at the end of 1917 that placed the railroads under federal control.

This nationalized the railroad industry into three divisions under the newly established United States Railroad Administration between the years 1917 and 1920.

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