A Look at California’s Labor History as 4-Day Workweek Bill Stalls – Los Angeles

California has been a place where workers and employers have been at odds for decades over work hours, according to Fred Glass, an author and instructor in Labor and Community Studies, City College of San Francisco.

In his book, he says “From Mission to Microchip: The History of the California Labor Movement“Glass documents the state’s labor history back to before the turn century.

“The struggle between workers and employers is perpetual,”Glass: “The lessons of the past are certainly pertinent in the present.”

A bill to reduce the four-day work week has been stalled by a committee of the state legislature. NBCLA reports on some of the most contentious moments during California’s labor past as outlined through Glass:

Pre-1850

Jos Sances, an artist based in Berkeley, has created this etching showing native Americans’ work in the fields. Fred Glass Photography.

Native Californians did not have to work a set schedule and instead worked according the rhythms of the seasons (fishing, hunting, gathering, harvesting, picking fruit). Native Americans were coerced into labor once the Missions were established. They had to work according to a timetable set by the Mission bells. There were many kinds of incidents and resistance against the regime. Stories of escape and resistance were common. There was violence against soldiers and Padres. Sometimes, there was even murder.

1853

Three years after California became the 31st State, the first California law regulating the workday was passed. It established a 10-hour working day but had no enforcement mechanisms. Carpenters and other workers in the building trades were some of the first to establish work hours. One of the leaders was General Albert Maver Wynn who was a former general in the American-Mexican War. Alexander Kenady was a printer. He was the founder and current president of the Central Labor Council of California.

1860s

Workers are upset at the number of hours that are worked in many industries, sometimes 12 hours a day. They want to make 10 hours the minimum workday. Although it was successful in most unionized workplaces (with a six-day week), it was not successful elsewhere. There is no law.

1868

A Look at California’s Labor History as 4-Day Workweek Bill Stalls – Los Angeles

In San Francisco, a mural hangs in the lobby at the Rincon Annex Post Office. It celebrates the first eight-hour days of 1868.

California becomes the second state to have an eight-hour-day law after Illinois. The transcontinental railroad, which was completed from coast to coast in 1869, makes the law unenforceable.

1873

During an economic recession, workers flood the West to find work.

1911

Under pressure from organized labor and Women’s Suffrage, California’s eight-hour work day is made law.

1934

A Look at California’s Labor History as 4-Day Workweek Bill Stalls – Los Angeles

In 1934, Maritime workers marched in San Francisco during a strike.

The San Francisco General Strike sees dock workers working eight hours a day, with increased pay and union hiring opportunities. This was part of a rise in worker militancy throughout the country.

The 1930s, mid- to late

National Labor Relations Act 1935 is enacted after a wave of strikes in the country. It establishes rules for collective bargaining and workplace dispute resolution in private sectors. The Congress of Industrial Organizations (a breakaway union federation) calls for “30 for 40,”30 hours work for 40 hour pay

1938

Federal Fair Labor Standards Act establishes a national standard for 40-hour work week and five-day work weeks. It sets time and half for over 40 hours, and establishes minimum wage regulations and child labor regulations. States have the right to establish a daily time and a half standard after eight hours. California is one of half a dozen states that do so.

1997

The former-Gov. Pete Wilson appointed the Industrial Welfare Commission to eliminate daily overtime. He claimed that employers need more flexibility in setting their own hours, and that overtime was too costly to pay. This was opposed by labor organizations. A few years later, the initiative was restored by Democratic appointees. Gray Davis.

2022

AB 2932 proposes a 32-hour week for companies employing more than 500 people. It is stalled in a labor panel. It is not clear when or how the bill will be reintroduced.

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