Francis Wilson v. Alexander New, 797

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Citation37 S.Ct. 298,61 L.Ed. 755,243 U.S. 332
Docket NumberNo. 797,797
PartiesFRANCIS M. WILSON, United States Attorney for the Western District of Missouri, Appt., v. ALEXANDER NEW and Henry C. Ferris, as Receivers of the Missouri, Oklahoma, & Gulf Railway Company
Decision Date19 March 1917

243 U.S. 332
37 S.Ct. 298
61 L.Ed. 755
FRANCIS M. WILSON, United States Attorney for the Western District of Missouri, Appt.,


ALEXANDER NEW and Henry C. Ferris, as Receivers of the Missouri, Oklahoma, & Gulf Railway Company.

No. 797.
Argued January 8, 9, and 10, 1917.
Decided March 19, 1917.

[Syllabus from pages 332-334 intentionally omitted]

Page 334

Solicitor General Davis, Messrs. Frank Hagerman, E. Marvin Underwood, and Attorney General Gregory for appellant.

[Argument of Counsel from pages 334-336 intentionally omitted]

Page 336

Messrs. Walker D. Hines, John G. Johnson, and Arthur Miller for appellees.

[Argument of Counsel from pages 336-340 intentionally omitted]

Page 340

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 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 15 per cent 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 85 per cent 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.'

Page 342

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. at L. 721, chap. 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 1st of January, 1917. To expedite the

Page 343

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 so as to enable their payment if the law was finally upheld. Stating its desire to co-operate 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 of the controversy.

All the propositions relied upon and arguments advanced ultimately come to two questions: first, the entire want of constitutional power to deal with the subjects embraced by the statute, and second, such abuse of the power, if possessed, as rendered its exercise unconstitutional. We will consider these subjects under distinct propositions separately.

1. The entire want of constitutional power to deal with the subjects embraced by the statute.

To dispose of the contentions under this heading calls at once for a consideration of the statute, and we reproduce its title and text so far as is material.

An Act to Establish an Eight-hour Day for Employees of Carriers Engaged in Interstate and Foreign Commerce, and for Other Purposes.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That beginning January first, nineteen hundred and seventeen, eight hours shall, in contracts for labor and service, be deemed a day's work and the measure or standard of a day's work for the purpose of reckoning the compensation for services of all employees who are now or may hereafter be employed by any common carrier by railroad, except

Page 344

railroads independently owned and operated not exceeding one hundred miles in length, electric street railroads, and electric interurban railroads, which is subject to the provisions of the Act of February fourth, eighteen hundred and eighty-seven, entitled 'An Act to Regulate Commerce,' as amended, and who are now or may hereafter be actually engaged in any capacity in the operation of trains used for the transportation of persons or property on railroads, except railroads independently owned and operated not exceeding one hundred miles in length, electric street railroads, and electric interurban railroads, . . .

Sec. 2. That the President shall appoint a commission of three, which shall observe the operation and effects of the institution of the eight-hour standard workday as above defined and the facts and conditions affecting the relations between such common carriers and employees during a period of not less than six months nor more than nine months, in the discretion of the commission, and within thirty days thereafter such commission shall report its findings to the President and Congress; . . .

Sec. 3. That pending the report of the commission herein provided for and for a period of thirty days thereafter the compensation of railway employees subject to this act for a standard eight hour workday shall not be reduced below the present standard day's wage, and for all necessary time in excess of eight hours such employees shall be paid at a rate not less than the pro rata rate for such standard eight-hour workday.

Sec. 4. That any person violating any provision of this act shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and upon conviction shall be fined not less than $100 and not more than $1,000, or imprisoned not to exceed one year, or both.

There must be knowledge of the power exerted before determining whether, as exercised, it was constitutional, and we must hence settle a dispute on that question before going further. Only an eight-hour standard for work

Page 345

and wages was provided, is the contention on the one side, and, in substance, only a scale of wages was provided, is the argument on the other. We are of the opinion that both are right and in a sense both wrong in so far as it is assumed that the one excludes the other. The provision of § 1 that 'eight hours shall . . . be deemed a day's work and the measure or standard of a day's work' leaves no doubt about the first proposition. As to the second, this is equally true because of the provision of § 3, forbidding any lowering of wages as a result of applying the eight-hour standard established by § 1 during the limited period prescribed in § 2. Both provisions are equally mandatory. If it be said that the second, the depriving of all power to change the wages during...

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