Wilson v. New
Annotate this Case
243 U.S. 332 (1917)
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U.S. Supreme Court
Wilson v. New, 243 U.S. 332 (1917)
Wilson v. New
Argued January 8, 9, 10, 1917
Decided March 19, 1917
243 U.S. 332
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,
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,
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.