Touted by President Franklin Roosevelt as the most important piece of New Deal legislation since the Social Security Act, 1938’s Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) dramatically changed the landscape for both labor and management. The bill’s sponsor, Senator Hugo Black (who Roosevelt later appointed to the Supreme Court), originally drafted a far more radical bill which failed to win much support, even in the progressive New Deal Congress of the mid-1930s. Nonetheless, the law implemented some sweeping changes which we take for granted today.
What the FLSA Does
- Minimum Wage-In 1935 average per capita income in the United States was $474 per year; by 1945, per capita income tripled to $1,223 per year. Other factors, most notably World War II, undoubtedly contributed to this increase, which has been unequaled in any ten-year period since then. But the minimum wage law clearly had at least some impact.
The explanation is simple: when workers at the bottom are paid more money, all the workers above them are paid more as well. Companies which offer unpaid and underpaid internships as an alternative to entry-level employment are trying to reverse this effect, and bring wages down for everyone.
- Overtime-Any hours worked in excess of forty a week are compensated with time-and-a-half (Technically, the employer is entitled to 44 hours at regular time, until the worker’s second year of employment.). The same rule applies to holidays.
The overtime rule obviously assumes that the employee is receiving wages in the first place, and not an unpaid intern or an underpaid intern who receives a “stipend” or a “nominal fee.” Again, employers try to make a loophole by reclassifying “workers” as “interns” whom they claim are exempt from federal wage and overtime laws.
- Other Provisions-The FLSA outlawed child labor in certain dangerous jobs, and mandated that school-age children could not work during school hours. The FLSA applies to any business engaged in interstate commerce, which, under Gibbons v. Ogden and its progeny, is pretty much everyone. The FLSA also comes to bear in certain labor/management time disputes; employers must provide break periods, lunch periods and even a place that a mother can nurse her child.
Interns and the FLSA
The moneyed interests have accepted the FLSA, at least in theory. No one wants to be Simon Legree. But we all know the true purpose of any company’s “compliance department”: skirt as much of the law as possible if the law cuts into profitability. Until recently, unpaid and underpaid internships have provided the perfect tool. Re-label entry level employees as interns. They will work for free and, as a bonus, work without any legal protections. No more signing paychecks, no more clock-watching, and no more meetings about the size of the nursing area or a “hostile environment” in the cubicles.
For years, the federal government has turned the other way while the moneyed interests ignore wage and hour laws through legal shenanigans. More and more interns, in New York and elsewhere, are beginning to stand up for their rights. To add your name to this list, and take a stand against worker exploitation, contact us for your free consultation.