United States v. Martin,
94 U.S. 400 (1876)

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U.S. Supreme Court

United States v. Martin, 94 U.S. 400 (1876)

United States v. Martin

94 U.S. 400


1. The Act of Congress of June 25, 1868, 16 Stat. 77, declaring that eight hours shall constitute a day's work for all laborers, workmen, and mechanics employed by or on behalf of the government of the United States, is in the nature of a direction by the government to its agents.

2. It is not a contract between the government and its laborers that eight hours shall constitute a day's work. It neither prevents the government from making agreements with them by which their labor may be more or less than eight hours a day nor does it prescribe the amount of compensation for that or any other number of hours' labor.

3. Where, therefore, a laborer, in the habit of working for the government twelve hours a day, for $2.50 a day, is informed by the proper authority that if he remains in the service at that compensation, he must continue to work twelve hours a day, and he does so continue, and is paid accordingly, he cannot afterwards recover for the additional time over eight hours as a day's labor.

4. An allowance by the government, upon the application of the laborer, of a sum for the excess of time over eight hours per day is, when accepted by him in full of the account, a bar to any further claim.

This was a petition filed by Martin against the United States. The court below found the following facts:

1. In the year 1866 or 1867, the claimant was employed by the foreman of the steam heating and gas works at the Naval Academy at Annapolis to work for the defendants at $2.50 a day, with the understanding that during the season of steaming, which was from the 1st of October to the 1st of June, his time

Page 94 U. S. 401

of labor was to be twelve hours a day. During the seasons of steam heating he was fireman at the steam boilers, and at other times he was employed in assisting in repairing pipes, digging, and shoveling or in ordinary labor and work.

2. In July, 1868, upon the passage of the act constituting eight hours as a day's work for all laborers employed on behalf of the government, called the "Eight Hour Law," 15 Stat. 77, the claimant and other laborers at said academy spoke about that law to the foreman, who put on an additional man in the gas works (where the claimant was not employed) and reduced the time of labor of the men in said gas works to eight hours a day. Soon afterward, the men told him they would rather have half a dollar a day additional than to have the eight hours' work. Admiral Porter, then superintendent of the academy, was informed of what the men said, and he told the foreman that he would not give more pay, and that if anyone would not work the full hours, he would put someone in his place. The claimant was present and heard this conversation. Nothing more was said or done in the matter, and the claimant went on with his work, laboring the number of hours per day as before according to the original understanding.

3. From the 25th of June, 1868, when the eight hour law passed, to the 19th of May, 1869, when the President's proclamation in relation to said act was issued, 16 Stat. 1127, the claimant worked two hundred and thirty-one calendar days, twelve hours each day, and ninety-seven calendar days, eight hours each day. From said 19th of May, 1869, to the time of his final discharge, Oct. 15, 1872, he worked seven hundred and fifty-two and a half calendar days, twelve hours each day, and four hundred and thirty-nine and a half calendar days, eight hours each day.

4. For all of said labor, the claimant was paid at the rate of $2.50 per calendar day, except that, for reasons which do not appear in evidence, he was paid at the rate of $2.25 per day for seventy-four days of twelve hours each in March, April, and May, 1870, and for twenty-six days of eight hours each in June, 1870. Payments at said rates were made to him at the end of each month during his time of service, and were received by him without protest or objection.

Page 94 U. S. 402

5. While the claimant was so employed, the pay of ordinary laborers at the academy was $1.75 a day, and the firemen were paid $2.50 a day, because the time was longer and the work harder. The wages of firemen in the works of the gas company, a private corporation, at Annapolis has since the war been $2 a day of twelve hours' labor, and they had more work to do than the claimant had while similarly employed by the defendants.

6. In the year 1873, the claimant made a formal application, in writing, to the Fourth Auditor of the Treasury for arrears of pay, claimed as due him under the second section of the Act of May 18, 1872, 17 Stat. 134, between the 25th of June, 1868, and the 19th of May, 1869, on account of his said employment. The auditor thereupon stated the account, and allowed the claimant $205.63, which was admitted by the Second Comptroller; and that amount was paid to the claimant, who receipted for the same, in writing, in full of the account.

The court below dismissed the petition, but, on a subsequent day of the term, made an order vacating the judgment, and directing, for the purpose of an appeal, a pro forma judgment to be entered in favor of the claimant in the sum of $1,019.49.

The United States thereupon appealed.

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