Labor History in 2:00

March 29 West Coast Hotel v. Parrish Decided

March 29, 2017

On this day in labor history, the year was 1937.

That was the day the U.S. Supreme Court issued its ruling on the case, West Coast Hotel v. Parrish.

The ruling upheld a Progressive-era Washington state law that established minimum wages for women.

An example of protective legislation, it intended to guard the health, safety and morals of women workers.

Elsie Parrish had been a chambermaid at the Cascadian Hotel in Wenatchee, Washington until 1935.

She sued and won at the State level after she was paid far below the minimum wage.

The parent company, West Coast Hotel, appealed to the Supreme Court.

They argued the Progressive-era law violated the constitutional right of individuals to freely contract with one another.

This interpretation was common during the Court’s Lochner era.

The 1905 Lochner v. New York ruling against maximum hours for bakers ushered in a period of anti-labor Supreme Court rulings.

Parrish is considered the landmark case that brought an end to that era.

The Court argued that the Constitution does not speak of freedom of contract and added “the exploitation of a class of workers who are in an unequal position with respect to bargaining power… is not only detrimental to their health and wellbeing, but casts a direct burden for their support upon the community.

What these workers lose in wages, the taxpayers are called upon to pay.”

The case is also considered instrumental in “the switch in time that saved nine.”

It was a reference to Justice Owen Roberts’ surprising shift in favor of Parrish. This occurred just as President Roosevelt finalized plans to increase the number of Supreme Court justices to 15.

Though Parrish did not overturn Lochner, it did mark a period of pro-labor rulings.

 

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