Franklin Bunting was a supervisor in a mill who was locally convicted after being found in violation of an Oregon’s statute when he ordered an employee to work thirteen hours without paying the required overtime. Bunting appealed the case arguing violations to the fourteenth amendment. Bunting V. Oregon before the Supreme Court was a case decided in 1917, where the Supreme court ruled in a 5-3 decision against Mr. Bunting and in favor of an Oregon’s state law that stated that employees are to be paid one and a half times after 10 hours of work per day. This was a case, along with Lochner v. New York and Muller v. Oregon, that represent the beginning of a series of steps towards allowing government regulation of the workplace, and was one of the first cases that upheld wage regulations in addition to hours regulations.The Supreme Court concluded that the Oregon statute on labor was not unconstitutional and that it did not interfere with an employer from negotiating wages with employees. Thus, The Oregon state labor law did not exceed its constitutional limits, and did not violate the fourteenth amendment as the state of Oregon acted within its police powers.
During the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, many business owners had concerns of the growing interest that the government had developed on the issue of regulating work related subjects. Early on, courts agreed with the business owners that the government should have very limited impact on business owners and their workers relationship. Cases such as The Slaughterhouse Cases, 83 U.S. 36 (1873), Allgeyer v. Louisiana, 165 U.S. 578 (1897) and Lochner v. New York, 198 U.S. 45 (1905) all upheld the idea that it was unconstitutional for the government to interfere with work related issues. This cases of the Lochner era, as it is known as, marked the beginning of idea that “liberty of contract” was implicit in the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and the use of the Principle of Substantive Due Process.
1913- Oregon passed a state law regulating the amount of hours a person can work. The law states ““No person shall be employed in any mill, factory or manufacturing establishment in this state more than 10 hours in any one day……employees may work overtime not to exceed three hours in one day, conditioned that payment be made for said overtime at the rate of time and one-half the regular wage.”
1914- Franklin Bunting is found in violation of the state of Oregon’s law that states employees are to be paid time and a ½ after 10 hours of working. The case originated in Lake County, Oregon. He is found guilty and fined $50.
1915- Oregon Supreme Court upholds that the law is an appropriate exercise of its police power. Bunting appeals the case saying that is a violation of his 14th amendment.
1916- The case is heard by the U.S. Supreme court. Bunting is represented by the state’s top lawyers.
1917-The Supreme Court decided in favor of the State’s law in a 5-3 decision. The court agrees with the state that the law is within its police powers and in the greatest benefit of the employee’s health.
- Was the 1913 state law an appropriate exercise of Oregon’s police powers?
- Did the statute interfere with liberty of contract protected by the Fourteenth Amendment? (Could the state interfere with a citizen’s right to form a contract?)
Arguments by Petitioner (Bunting)
According to Bunting, the law is not a ten-hour law; it is a thirteen-hour law designed solely for the purpose of compelling the employer of labor in mills, factories, and manufacturing establishments to pay more for labor than the actual market value thereof. It is a ten-hour law for the purpose of taking the employer’s property from him and giving it to the employee; it is a thirteen-hour law for the purpose of protecting the health of the employee. Therefore “ the law is a wage law, not an hours of service law”
Moreover, the law discriminates against mills, factories, and manufacturing establishments in that it requires that a manufacturer, without reason other than the fiat of the legislature, shall pay for a commodity, meaning labor, one and one-half times the market value thereof while other people, purchasing labor in like manner in the open market, are not subjected to the same burden. Therefore the law is unconstitutional.
Arguments by Respondent (State of Oregon)
According to the respondent, It is an hours of service law, not a wage law. Furthermore, the supreme court of Oregon defended its law using this reasoning: “It is clear that the intent of the law is to make ten hours a regular day’s labor in the occupations to which reference is made. Apparently the provisions permitting labor for the overtime on express conditions were made in order to facilitate the enforcement of the law, and in the nature of a mild penalty for employing one not more than three hours overtime.”
The Supreme Court concluded that the Oregon statute on labor was not unconstitutional. The Oregon statute did not interfered with an employer from negotiating wages with employees (only limited the number of hours worked, thus it did not fixed wages). The Supreme court upheld the decision of the Oregon Supreme Court, stating that Oregon acted within its police powers and had the authority to regulate the health, the safety, and the welfare of workers.
Majority Opinion (McKenna)
Justice Mckenna wrote the majority opinion, which was joined by Justices Holmes, Day,Pitney and Clarke. The Justices agreed with the opinion of the state of Oregon supreme court. No employee within a mill, factory or manufacturing company should be permitted to work more than 10 hours per work day. There is an exception of watchmen and emergency repairmen. However, employees may work over time. Overtime should not exceed 3 hours per work day. Overtime is limited under the condition that the employee’s pay rate must increase to time and one half for the duration of the overtime hours.
“No person shall be employed in any mill, factory or [243 U.S. 426, 434] manufacturing establishment in this state more than ten hours in any one day, except watchmen and employees when engaged in making necessary repairs, or in case of emergency, where life or property is in imminent danger; provided, however, employees may work overtime not to exceed three hours in any one day, conditioned that payment be made for such overtime at the rate of time and one half of the regular wage.” [Laws 1913, chap. 102, p. 169.]
Any violation of this act will result in a misdemeanor. Bunting was found in violation to this particular law.
“A violation of the act is made a misdemeanor, and in pursuance of this provision the indictment was found. It charges a violation of the act by plaintiff in error, Bunting, by employing and causing to work in a flour mill belonging to the Lake View Flouring Mills, a corporation, one Hammersly for thirteen hours in one day, Hammersly not being within the excepted conditions, and not being paid the rate prescribed for overtime.”
Justices White, Van Devanter, and Reynolds dissented without any opinions. Justice Brandeis did not partake in this decision of the court. He recused himself due to his significant role in preparing the factual briefs of this case.
Full Text of Opinions
*No dissenting or concurring opinions were delivered
Significance / Impact
Bunting v. Oregon affirmed the state’s authority in enacting labor laws that regulated the number of hours a laborer in selected occupations could work in order to protect the health and well-being of the employee. The decision of the Supreme Court was another step toward allowing government regulation of the workplace. Additionally, this was the first case that upheld wage regulations in addition to hours regulations.
There are two other cases related to Bunting v. Oregon that have to be mentioned to exemplify the significance of this case. First, the decision delivered in Adkins v. Children’s Hospital, and the liberty of contract, proved troublesome for the Franklin D. Roosevelt (served 1933–1945) administration in the 1930s, when the Supreme Court struck down several of his New Deal initiatives attempting to create programs to stimulate the economy during the Great Depression. The issue of wage and hours regulation was finally decided in 1941 in U.S. v. Darby, when the Court upheld the Fair Labor Standards Act which had created both a federal minimum wage, and a maximum hours work week. Despite of this last mentioned case dealt directly with federal regulations in the labor market (contrary to state regulations), it is still closely tied to the impact of cases regarding state regulations in the workplace, as this can be viewed as the beginning of the validated and legitimated implementation of regulations in wages and working hours limits at both, state and federal level.
Scholarly Commentary and Debate
- The Police powers of the States (implied by the 10th amendment):“The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”
- First Section of the 14th amendment on Due Process Clause: “Amendment XIV Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
Government Law or Action Under Review
Oregon Statute: 1913 Oregon State Law
Statute of the State of Oregon, § 2 provides as follows:
“No person shall be employed in any mill, factory or manufacturing establishment in this State more than ten hours in any one day, except watchmen and employees when engaged in making necessary repairs, or in case of emergency, where life or property is in imminent danger; provided, however, employees may work overtime not to exceed three hours in any one day, conditioned that payment be made for said overtime at the rate of time and one-half of the regular wage.”
Important Subsequent Cases
- Adkins v. Children’s Hospital (1926)
- A.L.A Schechter Poultry Corp. v. United States (1935)
- West Coast Hotel v. Parrish (1937)
- United States v. Darby Lumber Co. (1941)
- Wikipedia. Bunting V. Oregon
- Bunting v. Oregon 243 U.S. 426 (1917), JUSTIA, U.S supreme court.
- JUSTIA: Full case
- Bunting V. Oregon. Oyez, U.S Supreme Court media.
- United States Supreme Court. BUNTING v. STATE OF OREGON, (1917) No. 38. FindLaw.
- Overview: Bunting v. Oregon. Oxford Reference
- CaseText: Bunting V. Oregon.
- Bunting Vs Oregon. Revolvy
- Bunting v. Oregon eText – Primary Source. Enotes.
- Buntin V. Oregon Significance.
- Bunting v. Oregon -Law.jrank.org
- Bunting v. Oregon 243 U.S. 426 (1917). Encyclopedia of the American Constitution.
Academic Books, Articles and Law Reviews
- Arnesen, Eric. Encyclopedia of U.S. Labor and Working-Class History: Volume 1 A-F. New York: Routledge, 2007.
- Brown, R. A. Due Process of Law, Police Power and the Supreme Court. Norwood, 1927.
- “Bunting v. State of Oregon.” Bunting V. State Of Oregon (January 9, 2009): 1.
- Butler, Amy E. Two Paths to Equality: Alice Paul and Ethel M. Smith in the ERA Debate, 1921-1929. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2002.
- Hill, Ann Corinne. Protection of Women Workers and the Courts: A Legal Case History. 2nd ed. Vol. 5. Feminist Studies, 1979.
- Lipschultz, Sybil. Social Feminism, Labor Politics, and the Law: Women, the Law, and the Workplace (Controversies in Constitutional Law). Routledge, 2003.
- MasterFILE Elite, EBSCOhost (accessed November 11, 2016).
- Skocpol, Theda. Social Policy in the United States: Future Possibilities in Historical Perspective. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1995.
- Tindall, George B. America: A Narrative History. New York: Norton, 2013.
- Wolf Biklé, Henry. “Judicial Determination of Questions of Fact Affecting the Constitutional Validity of Legislative Action.” Harvard Law Review 38, no. 1, 1924.
Theo A. Girardot, Lina M. Machado-Bejarano, Lisa J. Miniscloux, Breana R. Payne, Tamera Williams
Tasks for Future Contributors
- Complete the “Scholarly Commentary and Debate” section.
- Complete the “Decision Analysis” section.