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Why Is It An Eight Hour Workday?

(photo by much ado about nothing@Flickr)

Back in the mid 1800’s it was pretty routine for people to work 10 to 12 hour days. It was just the way it was. But a growing national call for a shorter work day led to the formation of the National Labor Union that called on Congress to officially trim the workday.

Federal employees were the first to enjoy shorter days when Congress passed legislation in 1863, but it wasn’t until decades later that it became common in most American workplaces.

The issue really hit the national stage when workers at the McCormick Reaper Manufacturing Company in Chicago went on strike over work hours. When the company hired replacement workers who tried to cross the picket lines, police and workers clashed leaving seven policemen and four workers dead in what became known as the Haymarket Riots.

For more than 30 years after that, workers who called for shorter work days were labeled radicals, but finally in 1923, the big breakthrough came when the Carnegie Steel Corporation granted shorter work hours to its employees. Eventually, President Franklin Roosevelt made the eight-hour workday an official part of his New Deal legislation. The eight-hour work day became law on this date in history.

Why is the typical workday eight hours?  The theory is that a workday should be divided into thirds with an equal amount of time for sleep and pleasure as for work.



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