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#TBT: Lochner v. NY

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In 1923, labor laws did not apply to employers of bakery shops due to the crucial hours needed that help make their businesses run successfuly. 

Nowadays, as long as the employer is giving their employees at least 24 hours of rest, they are able to schedule their employees with as many hours as they can. 

Let's look back at a landmark case that gives employers the freedom of setting their own maximum hours per work an employee can work...


In 1897, New York passed the Bakshop Act, aka the “labor law” that forbids anyone who works in a bakeshop cannot work more than 60 hours a week.

Joseph Lochner, owner of Lochner’s Home Bakery in Utica, was fined $50 for allowing an employee to work more than 60 hours a week. Until he had paid his dues, Lochner was incarcerated, if he didn’t pay his fine at all, he would go to jail for 50 days.

Lochner attempted to appeal his conviction to the New York Court of Appeals, but they kept his conviction. Instead, Lochner went to the U.S. Supreme Court to deem that the maximum amount of labor hours was unconstitutional.

In a 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the labor law was unconstitutional and reversed his sentence. The Fourteenth Amendment grants liberty to all citizens, including the freedom to contract. The amendment protects individuals from selling or buying labor through contract.

The agreement to allow the employee of Lochner’s Home Bakery to work more than 60 hours a week was not an “unhealthy trade” and it did not “an unreasonable, unnecessary, and arbitrary interference with the right of the individual to his personal liberty.” The state, however, interfered with the Fourteenth Amendment rights by placing labor laws because Lochner as an employer has the right to contract as long as it wasn’t “unhealthy.”

Lochner argued that in order to run a successful business, he needs employees to help prepare and bake that take many hours. With the labor law, Lochner would have employees working less, leading to less preparation and baking time, which can hurt his business.

Nowadays, there are rules that regulating labor laws and still follow the Fourteenth Amendment rights, as long as that the rules are procedural and rational.





McBride, Alex. "Landmark Cases: Lochner v. New York (1905)." PBS. PBS, Dec. 2006. Web. 23 July 2014.




Joseph M. Ghabour
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