Henry reminds us that labor laws in this country were originally written to exclude many essential workers, especially those who are women and those who aren’t white. Take the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 (NLRA). It’s considered one of the landmark labor laws in U.S. history, protecting the right to form unions and collectively bargain — but it explicitly excluded agricultural and domestic workers. Henry says this was a “racist compromise” to get the vote needed to pass the bill. Excluding these industries cut a huge number of women and, in particular, Black workers out of NLRA protection. According to law scholar Juan F. Perea, “southern congressmen wanted to exclude black employees from the New Deal to preserve the quasi-plantation style agriculture that pervaded the still-segregated Jim Crow South.” This sly (but not really) exemption was repeated in other historic legislation of this era, like the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, which set minimum wage among other things, and the Social Security Act of 1935.
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