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Ford factory workers get 40-hour week

Ford factory workers get 40-hour week



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On May 1, 1926, Ford Motor Company becomes one of the first companies in America to adopt a five-day, 40-hour week for workers in its automotive factories. The policy would be extended to Ford’s office workers the following August.

Henry Ford’s Detroit-based automobile company had broken ground in its labor policies before. In early 1914, against a backdrop of widespread unemployment and increasing labor unrest, Ford announced that it would pay its male factory workers a minimum wage of $5 per eight-hour day, upped from a previous rate of $2.34 for nine hours (the policy was adopted for female workers in 1916). The news shocked many in the industry—at the time, $5 per day was nearly double what the average auto worker made—but turned out to be a stroke of brilliance, immediately boosting productivity along the assembly line and building a sense of company loyalty and pride among Ford’s workers.

READ MORE: The Labor Movement

The decision to reduce the workweek from six to five days had originally been made in 1922. According to an article published in The New York Times that March, Edsel Ford, Henry’s son and the company’s president, explained that “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.”

Henry Ford said of the decision: “It is high time to rid ourselves of the notion that leisure for workmen is either ‘lost time’ or a class privilege.” At Ford’s own admission, however, the five-day workweek was also instituted in order to increase productivity: Though workers’ time on the job had decreased, they were expected to expend more effort while they were there. Manufacturers all over the country, and the world, soon followed Ford’s lead, and the Monday-to-Friday workweek became standard practice.

READ MORE: The Cars That Made America


Eight-hour day

The eight-hour day movement or 40-hour week movement, also known as the short-time movement, was a social movement to regulate the length of a working day, preventing excesses and abuses.

An eight hour work day has it origins in the 16th century, [1] but the modern movement dates back to the Industrial Revolution in Britain, where industrial production in large factories transformed working life. At that time, the working day could range from 10 to 16 hours, the work week was typically six days a week and the use of child labour was common. [2] [3] The first country that introduced the 8-hour work day by law for all professions was the Soviet Union in 1917. [4]


Ford factory workers get 40-hour week - HISTORY

On September 25, 1926, the Ford Motor Company instituted a five-day, 40-hour work week for its factory employees. While Ford wasn’t the first to do this, they were arguably one of the most influential.

This action, at least initially, did not win Ford many friends among his fellow business owners, some of whom believed giving the working man any time off just encouraged them to indulge in drink even more than they already did. (To be fair, that was a real problem around this era. It was not from nothing that excessive drink was blamed for many of society’s woes at the time, ultimately inspiring Prohibition, which even a very large percentage of said drinkers supported in the beginning. But, of course, if you had to work 14-16 hour days, 6 days per week from your very early teen years on- for reference in 1890 the average work week in the United States for a blue-collar factory worker was 90-100 hours- you might be driven to drink excessively too. -))

Beyond this, many competing employers were still miffed at Ford for raising his (male) workers’ salaries up to five dollars per day (about $116 today) back in 1914, double the former going rate, and around the same time cutting the typical work week down to 48 hours at his factories. (Women had to wait until 1916 to command the same wage.) But since Ford was one the world’s largest manufacturers, most in the industry were compelled for various reasons to follow their example, like it or not.

Ford stated in his company’s newsletter,

Just as the eight-hour day opened our way to prosperity in America, so the five-day work week will open our way to still greater prosperity … It is high time to rid ourselves of the notion that leisure for workmen is either lost time or a class privilege.

Of course, Ford wasn’t just doing this out of the goodness of his heart. He understood that a five-day work week with “eight hours labour, eight hours recreation, eight hours rest” would encourage working people to vacation on weekends, shop on Saturdays, and have ample free time to fill during their daily 8 hour recreation time. (See: Why a Typical Work Day is Eight Hours Long) People with more leisure time required more clothing, ate a greater variety of food and, of course, were far more likely to be in the market to buy an automobile to travel around in. Workers who were paid more also were more likely to be able to afford such an automobile.

Beyond benefiting sales as other companies followed suit, he had also observed that happy workers (both in their home and work life) meant better and more efficient workers.

Now, Ford expected his workers to produce in those shorter working hours, but with the higher pay and weekends off, there were very few complaints from any of his employees. They were happy to put the pedal to the metal Monday through Friday for their excellent salary and five-day, 40 hour work week.

As Ford had thought, after instituting these changes, productivity skyrocketed, meaning he was getting more results from significantly fewer work hours and company loyalty and pride among Ford employees was equally boosted. Beyond low-skilled laborers banging down the doors to get work at Ford, he also now had the luxury of having the top talent in each of the high-skilled fields he needed workers for applying in droves. Needless to say, manufacturers all over the world would soon follow Ford’s example, which played right into his hands.

Edsel Ford, Henry’s son and then company president, was quoted in March of 1922 in the New York Times as saying of all this, “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.”

Ford himself laid it all out in black and white:

The harder we crowd business for time, the more efficient it becomes. The more well-paid leisure workmen get, the greater become their wants. These wants soon become needs. Well-managed business pays high wages and sells at low prices. Its workmen have the leisure to enjoy life and the wherewithal with which to finance that enjoyment.

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Where Did the 40-Hour Workweek Come From?

The realization of the 40-hour workweek that has become standard across many American industries was hard fought. It took deadly accidents, employees banding together and a White House willing to listen to make it happen.

“It’s not just one incident, but it was a culmination of many events and many struggles that allowed this to become law,” said Angelica Santomauro, executive director of the American Labor Museum in Haledon, New Jersey.

Eight-hour days became rallying cries in the latter half of the 19th century, as workers in the building trades and similar industries marched together for better conditions. The Ford Motor Company advanced the idea in 1914, when it scaled back from a 48-hour to a 40-hour workweek after founder Henry Ford believed that too many hours were bad for workers’ productivity.

The formation of unions helped to strengthen the idea of working five days a week as well. In 1937, auto plant workers staged a sit-down strike in Flint, Michigan, to protest bleak conditions at General Motors that included no bathroom breaks, no benefits or sick pay and no safety standards.

The negotiations between GM and the United Auto Workers ultimately improved working conditions. The federal government would show its support when Congress passed the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1938, a key part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal.

Many historians credit Roosevelt’s labor secretary, Frances Perkins, for championing the cause. Perkins was in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village in 1911 on the day of the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. Almost 150 garment workers, mostly women and immigrants, were trapped and killed when the building caught fire. The exits had been blocked — a common practice at the time.

“She saw the young girls jumping out of the window,” Santomauro said. “This, I’m sure, opened her heart about the plight of the workers. That really stayed with her.”

Aside from the 40-hour workweek, the Fair Labor Standards Act also included several reforms in place that Americans can appreciate to this day — establishing a minimum wage, overtime pay and putting an end to “oppressive” forms of child labor.


The 8-Hour Workday Is a Counterproductive Lie

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The eight-hour workday started its life as a socialist dream. The Welsh textile mill owner and social reformer Robert Owen is credited as the first person to articulate it, by calling for “eight hours labor, eight hours recreation, and eight hours rest” for workers in the early 19th century. This was much better than the 12- or 14-hour days factory workers, including children, were expected to put in at the time. Over the next 100 years or so, labor unions in the US pushed for and won adoption of the eight-hour standard in various industries. Henry Ford brought the idea further into the mainstream in 1926 by mandating a five-day, 40-hour workweek in his company’s factories. In 1940, Congress officially set the American workweek at 40 hours.

There’s just one problem in 2019: It’s all but impossible to actually work for eight hours a day in the jobs so many of us now have. Like most people writing hot takes and think pieces about productivity, I’m focusing on knowledge workers here—those of us who work at desks, mostly in front of computers, in offices or from home. Especially those of us who spend those hours making things, like writers, coders, and graphic designers. (Honestly, I think eight hours a day is too long to work in a factory, a restaurant, a call center, or a store too, and we should rethink and relegislate this standard in all industries.)

I’m a full-time freelance writer who works from home, so I’m responsible for setting my own schedule. This is great, and also terrible. Like many knowledge workers, I reach the end of many workdays thinking, Where did all those hours go? What did I actually do today? And unlike people who go to an office, I can’t say Oh, I went to the office! I don’t have an external measure of productivity to judge myself against, aside from the culturally ingrained idea that if I’m a “full-time” writer, I should be working for eight hours a day, five days a week.

To figure out where my hours were going, and if I was meeting this arbitrary metric designed for criminally exploited 19th-century factory workers, I installed RescueTime. This is essentially spyware I use on myself. It tracks everything I do on my computer and shows me how long I spend working each day, and what I actually do during that time. It’s creepy, and I love it.

I recently had an exceptionally busy and stressful week of work, as I was finishing a long magazine feature and writing a quick-turnaround science news story about a technical topic. Trying to do both those things at the same time was definitely too much work. I know this because I felt awful—depressed, anxious, eating poorly, and not exercising enough—during this push, and because I got sick immediately after it was over.

When I looked at my RescueTime stats from those days (a Wednesday to a Monday freelance schedules are weird), it turned out I had worked a total of 35 hours and 17 minutes. I didn’t take much of a weekend, working two hours on Saturday and over seven hours on Sunday. My productivity was high at an average of 84 percent, but not particularly unusual according to my RescueTime weekly reports. (I’m delighted to brag that I usually spend less than 30 minutes a day on Twitter, something I never would have guessed before installing RescueTime and that continues to shock me. I thought it was eating my days. But no, that’s email—another post for another time.)


The history of the 40-hour workweek

August 20, 1866: A newly formed organization named the National Labor Union asked Congress to pass a law mandating the eight-hour workday. Though their efforts failed, they inspired Americans across the country to support labor reform over the next few decades.

May 1, 1867: The Illinois legislature passed a law mandating an eight-hour workday. Many employers refused to cooperate, and a massive strike erupted in Chicago. That day became known as "May Day."

May 19, 1869: President Ulysses S. Grant issued a proclamation that guaranteed a stable wage and an eight-hour workday — but only for government workers. Grant's decision encouraged private-sector workers to push for the same rights.

1870s and 1880s: While the National Labor Union had dissolved, other organizations including the Knights of Labor and the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions continued to demand an eight-hour workday. Every year on May Day, strikes and demonstrations were organized to bring awareness to the issue.

May 1, 1886: Labor organizations called for a national strike in support of a shorter workday. More than 300,000 workers turned out across the country. In Chicago, demonstrators fought with police over the next few days. Many on both sides were wounded or killed in an event that's now known as the "Haymarket Affair."

1890: The US government began tracking workers' hours. The average workweek for full-time manufacturing employees was a whopping 100 hours.

1906: The eight-hour workday was instituted at two major firms in the printing industry.

September 3, 1916: Congress passed the Adamson Act, a federal law that established an eight-hour workday for interstate railroad workers. The Supreme Court constitutionalized the act in 1917.

September 25, 1926:Ford Motor Companies adopted a five-day, 40-hour workweek.

June 25, 1938: Congress passed the Fair Labor Standards Act, which limited the workweek to 44 hours.

June 26, 1940: Congress amended the Fair Labor Standards Act, limiting the workweek to 40 hours.

October 24, 1940: The Fair Labor Standards Act went into effect.


A brief history of the 8-hour workday, which changed how Americans work

The eight-hour workday, or the 40-hour workweek, didn't become the modern labor standard by accident.

Back when the government first tracked workers' hours in 1890, full-time manufacturing employees worked a backbreaking 100 hours each week. Years of pressure from laborer organizers, along with changes from companies like Ford Motor, reformed working conditions in the U.S. and protected workers from schedules that endangered their health and safety.

Recent data indicates that the typical American worker is no longer adhering to an eight-hour workday. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American works 44 hours per week, or 8.8 hours per day. A 2014 national Gallup poll put the average number at 47 hours per week, or 9.4 hours per day, with many saying they work 50 hours per week.

In demanding, competitive industries like tech and finance, professionals work in excess of 60 hours a week as a rule, and are available constantly by smartphone. A recent Bloomberg Businessweek story highlighted American factories where employees work upwards of 12 hours a day, six or seven days a week.

In a time when Americans are working more than ever before and taking less time off, it's helpful to see how the U.S. arrived at its "standard" workday.

Early 1800s: "For nearly 200 years workers, organized or not, sought to limit the workday," says Nelson Lichtenstein, history professor at the University of California at Santa Barbara.

"In the 19th century, even enslaved persons 'negotiated' with masters for time off," he adds.

1817: Welsh manufacturer and labor rights activist Robert Owen coins the phrase "Eight hours labor, eight hours recreation, eight hours rest," dividing the day into three equal eight-hour parts.

The idea did not take hold in Europe, but it made its way to the U.S. over the next few decades. According to Lichtenstein, American workers adopted a similar slogan in the years following the Civil War.

1866: The now-defunct National Labor Union asks Congress to pass a law mandating the eight-hour workday. Their efforts ultimately fails, but helps put labor reform on the political map.


The Story of Henry Ford's $5 a Day Wages: It's Not What You Think

There's an argument you see around sometimes about Henry Ford's decision to pay his workers those famed $5 a day wages. It was that he realised that he should pay his workers sufficiently large sums to that they could afford the products they were making. In this manner he could expand the market for his products.

It should be obvious that this story doesn't work: Boeing would most certainly be in trouble if they had to pay their workers sufficient to afford a new jetliner. It's also obviously true that you want every other employer to be paying their workers sufficient that they can afford your products: but that's very much not the same as claiming that Ford should pay his workers so that they can afford Fords.

So, if creating that blue collar middle class that could afford the cars wasn't why Ford brought in his $5 a day wages, what was the reason?

Actually, it was the turnover of his staff.

At the time, workers could count on about $2.25 per day, for which they worked nine-hour shifts. It was pretty good money in those days, but the toll was too much for many to bear. Ford's turnover rate was very high. In 1913, Ford hired more than 52,000 men to keep a workforce of only 14,000. New workers required a costly break-in period, making matters worse for the company. Also, some men simply walked away from the line to quit and look for a job elsewhere. Then the line stopped and production of cars halted. The increased cost and delayed production kept Ford from selling his cars at the low price he wanted. Drastic measures were necessary if he was to keep up this production.

That level of turnover is hugely expensive: not just the downtime of the production line but obviously also the training costs: even the search costs to find them. It can indeed be cheaper to pay workers more but to reduce the turnover of them and those associated training costs. Which is exactly what Ford did. As Paul Krugman points out, the effects are obvious:

But in any case there is a fundamental flaw in the argument: Surely the benefits of low turnover and high morale in your work force come not from paying a high wage, but from paying a high wage "compared with other companies" -- and that is precisely what mandating an increase in the minimum wage for all companies cannot accomplish.

While that's talking about the living wage argument it applies here as well. The point is not so as to be paying a "decent wage" or anything of that sort: it is to be paying a higher wage than other employers. That gets your workforce thinking they've got a good deal (for the clear reason that they have got a good deal) and if the workers think they've got a good deal then they're more likely to turn up on time, sober, and work diligently. They're more likely to turn up at all which was one of the problems Ford was trying to solve.

It's also not true that the offer was of $5 a day in wages. It was all rather more complicated than that:

The $5-a-day rate was about half pay and half bonus. The bonus came with character requirements and was enforced by the Socialization Organization. This was a committee that would visit the employees' homes to ensure that they were doing things the "American way." They were supposed to avoid social ills such as gambling and drinking. They were to learn English, and many (primarily the recent immigrants) had to attend classes to become "Americanized." Women were not eligible for the bonus unless they were single and supporting the family. Also, men were not eligible if their wives worked outside the home.

Outside of the military it's difficult to think of an American workforce that would be willing to accept such paternalism even if wages were doubled today.

So it wasn't $5 a day and it was done actually to reduce total labour costs by reducing labour turnover. And as a final nail in the coffin of the argument that it was done so that the workers could afford the cars, there's this.

Car production in the year before the pay rise was 170,000, in the year of it 202,000. As we can see above the total labour establishment was only 14,000 anyway. Even if all of his workers bought a car every year it wasn't going to make any but a marginal difference to the sales of the firm.

We can go further too. As we've seen the rise in the daily wage was from $2.25 to $5 (including the bonuses etc). Say 240 working days in the year and 14,000 workers and we get a rise in the pay bill of $9 1/4 million over the year. A Model T cost between $550 and $450 (depends on which year we're talking about). 14,000 cars sold at that price gives us $7 3/4 million to $6 1/4 million in income to the company.

It should be obvious that paying the workforce an extra $9 million so that they can then buy $7 million's worth of company production just isn't a way to increase your profits. It's a great way to increase your losses though.

The reason for the pay rise was not as some of our contemporaries seem to think it was. It was nothing at all to do with creating a workforce that could afford to buy the products. It was to cut the turnover and training time of the labour force: for, yes, in certain circumstances, raising wages can reduce total labour costs.


1968 & 1969 UAW wages for non-skilled trades hovered in the $3.25 range per hour, give or take 15-20 cents depending on one's classification.

The big jumps came in the 1970 & 1973 contracts, which was after I left and swore I'd never work in another factory.

The reason I am in Detroit today started in those years when I learned from college classmates that Ford would hire students to fill vacationing worker gaps. I worked in the Dearborn Engine plant summers of 66,67,68 making a whopping [[for me back then anyway) 3.20 an hour which was about 3x minimum wage which is all I got paid with ZERO benefits in my small Wisconsin town). It increased a little more each year.

That was starting assembly line pay. It went up depending on things like skilled work and seniority. Time and a half for over time and double time for weekends helped me get through university debt free. Thank you UAW!

I have been solidly pro union ever since. I saw people who could work hard and join the middle class, get health care, send their kids to college, save up a pension and not get dumped because the boss decided to give your job to his nephew.

I'm sorry college kids today don't have the opportunity to work the lines with real working people and earn a decent wage while learning about working people and their struggles.


Ford factory workers get 40-hour week - HISTORY

To be part of the Ford company back in the 1920’s meant meeting many requirements because Ford had his own “Social Department,” which checked up on workers. Ford did not approve of poor life choices such as alcoholism, gambling addiction and things of that sort therefore he kept his employees in line. In reward of living what Ford considered a well-conducted life employees reaped many benefits.

On September 25 th 1926, Henry Ford announced the 8-hour, 5-day work week. This was a shock for many because other factories had their workers work 6 days a week for extensive hours a day. Ford was very considerate of his workers and believed that they needed time for their family. He realized that maybe he should not be so involved in their personal life so he dropped the “Social Department” aspect of his company.

His wages were also high for the times, and he saw his high pay rate as an investment. Ford also instilled profit-sharing where employees would be able to purchase an automobile from Ford through their hard work in the company business.