An introduction to Constitutional Law 100 Supreme Court cases everyone should know

Randy E. Barnett & Josh Blackman

In the late nineteenth century, most bakeries in New York City operated in tenement house basements. The rent in these homes were low, and the cellar floors were sturdy enough to support the weight of an oven. These cramped spaces, however, had serious sanitation issues. They were never designed for commercial uses. In 1895, New York enacted the Bakeshop Act to address these problems. The law established a detailed code of sanitation standards for bakeries. One provision was added at the behest of the bakeshop union: Employees could not work more than ten hours per day and sixty hours per week. (The owners of the bakeshops were not subject to this limit.)

At the time, small bakeshops were largely owned and operated by Jewish, German, and other immigrants, who served their own communities. The owners of these businesses fiercely resisted unionization and the maximum hour laws. Their operations required a few employees to operate the ovens over a 24-hour period. The workers could then sleep on the premises while the bread was rising or baking. In contrast, large commercial bakeries could employ shift workers to comply with the maximum-hours law. As a result, the Bakeshop Act had the effect of, and was possibly intended to privilege corporate-owned, unionized bakeries over their small immigrant competitors.

Joseph Lochner, a German immigrant, operated a bakery in Utica, New York.

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