Friday, June 12, 2015

The start of the 40-hour work week

Almost 90 years ago, the Ford Motor Co. became the first high-profile company to offer its assembly workers a five-day, 40-hour workweek in May 1926. A few months later, the unprecedented work schedule was extended to Ford’s white collar workers.

Henry Ford previously had shocked his big business peers by nearly doubling his assembly workers’ pay to $5 for an eight-hour day in 1914.

Before 1926, a six-day work week had been common throughout America. In the middle of the 19th century, American manufacturing workers put in about 65 hours a week, and the average work week had dropped a bit to 60 hours by the end of that century. The number of hours on the clock dropped significantly in the first several decades of the 20th century.

The five-day workweek didn’t become standard until 1940, when provisions of the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act were implemented.

Let’s note for the record that cellphones did not exist in the early 20th century, so those workers more or less actually did have two weekend days off from their labors.

Edsel Ford, the son of Henry Ford and president of Ford Motor Co. in the 1920s, explained the rationale for the five-day workweek: “Every man needs more than one day a week for rest and recreation….The Ford Company always has sought to promote [an] ideal home life for its employees. We believe that in order to live properly every man should have more time to spend with his family.”

Amen to that.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

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