Labor Day props for Frances Perkins. She’s a hero in my book.

Labor Day props for Frances Perkins. She’s a hero in my book.

Goodbye sunscreen. Hello pumpkin spice. Labor Day closes the book on summer.

But as we celebrate the American wage earner, let’s open the book on the woman who established the norms that they (we) enjoy without much thought.

Frances Perkins served as the U.S. Secretary of labor under FDR from 1933 until 1945, the longest tenure of anybody in that position. Her appointment also marked the first time a female ever sat on an American presidential cabinet. On top of THAT, she found even more consequential ways to leave her mark. Check out some of her greatest hits:

  1. The 40-hour work week. That’s a banger, eh? Sure, sometimes grinding through 8-5, M-F can seem cruel and unusual, but imagine life without the 40-hour standard. I can’t even …
  2. The minimum wage. Another game-changer from Frannie. (It’s her given name. Another name-related fun fact: when she married, she went to court to keep her maiden name – to protect her new husband’s career from all the political hell she was prone to raising. But I digress …) I’m sure she had higher aspirations for it than its current manifestation, but better too little than none at all, amiright?
  3. Overtime pay. A third blockbuster from the Fair Labor Standards Act is time-and-a-half. Sometimes it’s a necessary, evil. Sometimes it’s a windfall. Either way, the next time you get a little extra ka-ching for going above-and-beyond, thank ol’ Fannie Perks. 
  4. Unemployment Insurance. It’s like a bicycle helmet. It ain’t pretty, but it can soften a blow. Moving on…
  5. Social Security. Talk about swinging for the fences. This has helped generations of Americans avoid keeling over in the saddle. It’s some comfort to know that we can hang up the spurs and look forward to a small measure of sustenance after decades of getting’ ‘er done. 

The list goes on, but just these high points show that the legacy of Frances Perkins is a litany of privileges still enjoyed by the American wage earner. She clawed her way to an unprecedented position in a man’s world and once she arrived, she did NOT disappoint. 

Author

Steve Fischbach

Assistant whip-cracker