A look at California labor history as 4-day workweek bill stagnates – NBC Los Angeles

Disputes over work hours have long pitted employees against employers in California, says Fred Glass, author and instructor in labor and community studies at City College of San Francisco.

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

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

As a bill proposing a shortened four-day workweek stalls before a state legislature committee, NBCLA chronicles some of the most controversial moments in California labor history, such as Glass pointed out:

Before 1850

An engraving by Jos Sances, a Berkeley-based artist, shows work in the fields by Native Americans. Photos courtesy of Fred Glass

California natives, unbound by a work schedule, had worked with the seasons – fishing, hunting, gathering, fruit picking. Once the missions were established, Native Americans were forced into forced labor and had to do it on a schedule until the mission bells. There were many types of incidents and resistance to the regime. There were stories of escape, individual acts of resistance, violence against soldiers and Padres, sometimes murder and organized revolt.


Three years after California became the 31st state, California’s first law regulated the workday, setting a 10-hour day, but it had no enforcement mechanism. Some of the earliest hours of work laws were led by carpenters and other construction workers. Among the leaders were General Albert Maver Wynn, a former general in the Mexican-American War, and Alexander Kenady, a printer. He was the founder of the first Central Labor Council in California that exists to this day.


Workers are protesting the hours worked, often 12 or more a day, in many industries. They are pushing to make 10 hours the standard working day. He succeeded in most union workplaces, but only with a six-day work week. No law results from it.


A mural in the lobby of the Rincon Sub-Post Office in San Francisco celebrates the first eight-hour day in 1868.

The eight-hour day becomes law in California, making it the second state in the country with an eight-hour day law behind Illinois. But the law became unenforceable after the completion of the coast-to-coast transcontinental railroad in 1869.


Workers flood the West during an economic depression, taking any available work.


An eight-hour day for women in California becomes law under pressure from unions and the women’s suffrage movement.


Maritime workers march during a 1934 strike in San Francisco.

The San Francisco general strike leads to an eight-hour day for dockworkers along with wage increases and a union hiring hall. This was part of an upsurge in labor militancy in the country.

Mid to late 1930s

A wave of strikes across the country resulted in the National Labor Relations Act in 1935, establishing rules for the settlement of private sector labor disputes and collective bargaining. The Congress of Industrial Organizations, a dissident federation of trade unions, is calling for “30 for 40”, 30 hours of work for 40 hours of pay.


The federal Fair Labor Standards Act establishes a national standard of 40 hours per week over five days. It also sets the hour and a half wage for over 40 hours and sets a minimum wage and child labor regulations. States are allowed to set a daily time-and-a-half standard after eight hours. California is one of half a dozen states that do.


A governor at the time. The Industrial Welfare Commission appointed by Pete Wilson eliminates daily overtime. He claimed employers needed more flexibility to set their own hours and that it was too expensive to pay overtime. The labor movement fought the initiative. Overtime was reinstated a few years later by Democratic appointees under the government of the day. Gray Davis.


AB 2932 offers a 32-hour work week for companies with more than 500 employees. He stalls in a labor committee. It is unclear how or if the bill will return.

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