1885 : Michigan Legislature Approves Ten Hour Work Day

June 5, 2018 all-day

Delivering lumber by horse drawn sleighs, Saginaw, Michigan, circa 1880s, courtesy of Seeking Michigan (Archives of Michigan)

Public Act 137 — calling for a ten-hour work day — was approved by the Michigan Legislature on June 5, 1885, although it did not take effect until September.

Saginaw Valley lumber industry workers tried to get a jump on the ten hour day by going on strike early. During the month of July, 1885, mills in Bay City and Saginaw shut down. The main demands of the workers were that ten hours constitutes a work day and that the pay remains the same as an eleven hour day. Mill owners rejected these demands. What workers didn’t realize was that it was in the mill’s best interest that work stop and lumber pile up. With lumber becoming scarce throughout the Midwest, prices were going up.

The Governor of Michigan during the 1885 Saginaw Valley strike was Russell Alger, a wealthy lumberman with many mills in northern Michigan. As violence and destruction increased in Bay City, he wasted no time in calling in State Troops from Flint, Port Huron, Detroit and Alpena to save the mills and return peace.

The strikes continued on through summer, dying down in August. In September, Public Act 137 went into effect, and ten-hours was, by law, a workday.

Source : Rachel Clark, “Ten-Hour Work Day”, Seeking Michigan, September 16, 2014.

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