243 U.S. 332 (1917), 797, Wilson v. New

Docket Nº:No. 797
Citation:243 U.S. 332, 37 S.Ct. 298, 61 L.Ed. 755
Party Name:Wilson v. New
Case Date:March 19, 1917
Court:United States Supreme Court

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243 U.S. 332 (1917)

37 S.Ct. 298, 61 L.Ed. 755




No. 797

United States Supreme Court

March 19, 1917

Argued January 8, 9, 10, 1917




The effect of the Act of September 3, 5, 1916, entitled "An Act to establish an eight-hour day for employees of carriers engaged in interstate and foreign commerce, and for other purposes," c. 436, 39 Stat. 721, is not only to establish permanently an eight-hour standard for work and wages as between the carriers and employees affected, but also to fix a scale of minimum wages, to-wit, the rate of wages then existing, for the eight-hour day and proportionately for overtime, to be in force only during the limited period defined by the act.

Viewed as an act establishing an eight-hour day as the standard of service by employees, the statute is clearly within the power of Congress under the commerce clause.

The power to establish an eight-hour day does not beget the power to fix wages.

In an emergency arising from a nationwide dispute over wages between railroad companies and their train operatives, in which a general strike, commercial paralysis, and grave loss and suffering overhang the country because the disputants are unable to agree,

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Congress has power to prescribe a standard of minimum wages, not confiscatory in its effects but obligatory on both parties, to be in force for a reasonable time, in order that the calamity may be averted and that opportunity may be afforded the contending parties to agree upon and substitute a standard of their own.

Where a particular subject lies within the commerce power, the extent to which it may be regulated depends on its nature and the appropriateness of means.

The business of common carriers by rail is in one aspect a public business, because of the interest of society in its continued operation and rightful conduct, and this public interest gives rise to a public right of regulation to the full extent necessary to secure and protect it.

Although emergency may not create power ( Ex Parte Milligan, 4 Wall. 2), it may afford reason for exerting a power already enjoyed.

The act above cited, in substance and effect, amounts to an exertion of the power of Congress, existing under the circumstances, to arbitrate compulsorily the dispute between the parties -- a power susceptible of exercise by direct legislation as well as by enactment of other appropriate means for reaching the same result.

Viewed as an act fixing wages, the statute merely illustrates the character of regulation essential, and hence permissible, for the protection of the public right.

The act does not invade the private rights of carriers, since all their business and property must be deemed subject to the regulatory power to insure fit relief by appropriate means.

The act does not invade private rights of employees, since their rights to demand wages according to their desire and to leave the employment, individually or in concert if the demand is refused are not such as they might be if the employment were in private business, but are necessarily subject to limitation by Congress, the employment accepted being in a business charged with a public interest which Congress may regulate under the commerce power.

The act is not wanting in equality of protection either because it exempts certain short-line and electric railroads or because it deals with the wages of those employees only who are engaged in the movement of trains, they being the class concerned in the dispute which threatened interruption of commerce.

Whether the provision for penalties is unconstitutional will not be determined in a suit not concerning penalties.

The history of the dispute, the inquiries and circumstances which culminated in the legislation, the nature of the provisions made and a comparison of them with the issues which existed between the disputant,

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refute the claim that the act was passed without consideration, and in arbitrary disregard of the right of the carriers an the public.

After the paramount duty to enforce the Constitution, the very highest of judicial duties is to give effect to the legislative will, with judgment uninfluenced by those consideration which belong to the legislature alone.

The contention that the act is unworkable is without merit.

The case is stated in the opinion.

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WHITE, J., lead opinion

MR. CHIEF JUSTICE WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court.

Was there power in Congress, under the circumstances existing, to deal with the hours of work and wages of railroad employees engaged in interstate commerce, is the principal question here to be considered. Its solution, as well as that [37 S.Ct. 299] of other questions which also arise, will be clarified by a brief statement of the conditions out of which the controversy arose.

Two systems controlled in March, 1916, concerning wages of railroad employees -- one, an eight-hour standard of work and wages with additional pay for overtime, governing on about fifteen percent of the railroads; the other, a stated mileage task of 100 miles to be performed during ten hours, with extra pay for any excess, in force on about eighty-five percent of the roads. The organizations representing the employees of the railroads in that month made a formal demand on the employers that, as to all engaged in the movement of trains, except passenger trains, the 100-mile task be fixed for eight hours, provided that it was not so done as to lower wages, and provided that an extra allowance for overtime, calculated by the minute at one and one-half times the rate of the regular

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hours' service, be established. The demand made this standard obligatory on the railroads, but optional on the employees, as it left the right to the employees to retain their existing system on any particular road if they elected to do so. The terms of the demand were as follows, except the one which reserved the option, which is in the margin,1 and others making Article 1 applicable to yard and switching and hostling service.

Article 1(a) In all road service 100 miles or less, eight hours or less will constitute a day except in passenger service. Miles in excess of 100 will be paid for at the same rate per mile.

(b) On runs of 100 miles or less, overtime will begin at the expiration of eight hours.

(c) On runs of over 100 miles, overtime will begin when the time on duty exceeds the miles run divided by 12 1/2 miles per hour.

(d) All overtime to be computed on the minute basis and paid for at time and one-half times the pro rata rate.

(e) No one shall receive less for eight hours or 100 miles than they now receive for a minimum day or 100 miles for the class of engine used or for service performed.

(f) Time will be computed continuously from time required for duty until release from duty and responsibility at end of day or run.

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The employers refused the demand, and the employees, through their organizations, by concert of action, took the steps to call a general strike of all railroad employees throughout the whole country.

The President of the United States invited a conference between the parties. He proposed arbitration. The employers agreed to it, and the employees rejected it. The President then suggested the eight-hour standard of work and wages. The employers rejected this, and the employees accepted it. Before the disagreement was resolved, the representatives of the employees abruptly called a general strike throughout the whole country, fixed for an early day. The President, stating his efforts to relieve the situation, and pointing out that no resources at law were at his disposal for compulsory arbitration, to save the commercial disaster, the property injury and the personal suffering of all, not to say starvation, which would be brought to many among the vast body of the people if the strike was not prevented, asked Congress, first, that the eight-hour standard of work and wages be fixed by law, and second, that an official body be created to observe during a reasonable time the operation of the legislation, and that an explicit assurance be given that, if the result of such observation established such an increased cost to the employers as justified an increased rate, the power would be given to the Interstate Commerce Commission to authorize it. Congress responded by enacting the statute whose validity, as we have said, we are called upon to consider. Act of September 3, 5, 1916, 39 Stat. 721, c. 436. The duty to do so arises from the fact that the employers, unwilling to accept the act and challenging the constitutional power of Congress to enact it, began this typical suit against the officers of certain labor unions and the United States District Attorney to enjoin the enforcement of the statute. The law was made to take effect only on the first of January, 1917. To expedite the

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final decision before that date, the representatives of the labor unions were dropped out, agreements essential to hasten were made, and it was stipulated that, pending the final disposition of the cause, the carriers would keep accounts of the wages which would have been earned if the statute was enforced [37 S.Ct. 300] so as to enable their payment if the law was finally upheld. Stating its desire to cooperate with the parties in their purpose to expedite the cause, the court below, briefly announcing that it was of opinion that Congress had no constitutional power to enact the statute, enjoined its enforcement, and, as the result of the direct appeal which followed, we come, after elaborate oral and printed arguments, to dispose...

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