Farm Workers and the Fair Labor Standards Act: Racial Discrimination in the New Deal

59 Pages Posted: 24 Jan 2013

See all articles by Marc Linder

Marc Linder

University of Iowa - College of Law

Date Written: 1986


This Article presents proof of the discriminatory purpose behind the exclusion of farm workers from the maximum hours and overtime provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act . Part II of this Article discusses the standards governing impermissible purpose review. Part III presents the evidence of the unconstitutional purpose. Subpart III(A) demonstrates the current disproportion-ate impact of the exclusion. Subpart III(B) describes the southern plantation system, which provided the historical and political context for New Deal legislation. A full understanding of the role of discrimination in excluding agricultural labor from the New Deal must begin with a knowledge of the roles played by, and the relationship between, agriculture and racial discrimination. In addition, as Part II demonstrates, the Supreme Court has established history as a fundamental source of evidence for a race-based equal protection claim. Subpart III(C) analyzes the political realities of the New Deal and the scope of racial discrimination in New Deal programs other than FLSA, particularly as these programs affected agriculture. The clear discriminatory pattern in all New Deal programs provides important circumstantial evidence that the same pattern existed in FLSA. Finally, subpart III(D) examines FLSA itself. Understandably, direct legislative history of a discriminatory purpose in excluding farm workers from FLSA is sparse. Nevertheless, the primary, if not only, beneficiaries of the exclusion were the large agricultural employers of the South (and of California) who depended upon a cheap supply of minority labor, much as they had depended upon slave labor before 1865. Blacks, Hispanics, and members of other "discrete and insular" racial minorities make up a majority of farm workers affected by the overtime exclusion. Even without direct evidence, this Article presents sufficient circumstantial evidence to prove that this disproportionate impact was no accident, but rather an intended and unconstitutional result.

Keywords: Fair Labor Standards Act, racial discrimination, farm workers, agriculture, New Deal, maximum hours, overtime, South, cotton belt, blacks, plantations,National Industrial Recovery Act, National Recovery Administration, Agricultural Adjustment Act, Social Security Act, Civilian Conservation Corps

Suggested Citation

Linder, Marc, Farm Workers and the Fair Labor Standards Act: Racial Discrimination in the New Deal (1986). 65 Texas L. Rev. pp. 1335-1393, 1986-87, U Iowa Legal Studies Research Paper, Available at SSRN:

Marc Linder (Contact Author)

University of Iowa - College of Law ( email )

Melrose and Byington
Iowa City, IA 52242
United States

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