As California's 4-Day Workweek Bill Stalls, a Look at History of Labor Hours

These are pivotal moments in California's labor history.

Disputes over working hours have long pitted employees against employers in California, says Fred Glass, author and instructor in Labor and Community Studies at City College of San Francisco.

In his book, "From Mission to Microchip: A History of the California Labor Movement," Glass documents the state's labor history going back before the turn of the century.

"The struggle between workers and employers is perpetual," Glass says. "The lessons of the past are certainly pertinent in the present."

As a bill proposing a shortened four-day workweek has stalled in a committee in the state legislature, NBCLA chronicles some of the most contentious moments in California's labor history as outlined by Glass:

Pre 1850

An etching by Jos Sances, a Berkeley-based artist, shows work in the fields by native Americans. Photos courtesy of Fred Glass

Native Californians, unbound by a work schedule, had worked based on the rhythm of the seasons - fishing, hunting, gathering, picking fruit. Once the Missions were established, native Americans were forced into coerced labor and had to do it on a schedule to the mission bells. There were numerous types of incidents, and resistance to the regime. There were stories of escape, individual acts of resistance, violence against soldiers and the Padres, occasionally murder, and organized revolt.


Three years after California becomes the 31st state, the first California law regulates the workday, setting a 10-hour day, but it had no enforcement mechanisms. Some of the earliest laws for work hours were led by carpenters and other building trade workers. Among the leaders was Gen. Albert Maver Wynn, a former general during the American-Mexican War and Alexander Kenady, a printer. He was the founder of the first Central Labor Council in California that exists to this day.


Workers protest the hours worked, often 12 or more a day, in many industries. They push for making 10 hours the workday standard. It was successful in most unionized workplaces, but only with a six-day work week. No law results.


A mural in the lobby of the Rincon Annex Post Office in San Francisco celebrates the first eight-hour day in 1868.

The eight-hour day becomes law in California, making it the second state in the country with an eight-hour day law behind Illinois. But the law becomes unenforceable after the transcontinental railroad was finished from coast to coast in 1869.


Workers flood the West during an economic depression, taking any available work.


An eight-hour day for women in California becomes law under pressure by organized labor and the Women's Suffrage movement.


Maritime workers march during a strike in 1934 in San Francisco.

The San Francisco General Strike results in an eight-hour day for dock workers along with increases in pay and a union hiring hall. This was part of an upsurge in worker militancy in the country.

Mid to late 1930s

A wave of strikes across the country results in National Labor Relations Act in 1935, putting in place rules for private sector workplace dispute resolution and collective bargaining. The Congress of Industrial Organizations, a breakaway federation of unions, calls for "30 for 40," 30 hours work for 40 hours pay.


The federal Fair Labor Standards Act sets a national 40 hour, five-day week standard. It also set time and a half pay for more than 40 hours and sets a minimum wage and child labor regulations. States are given permission to set a daily time-and-a-half standard after eight hours. California is one of a half dozen states that does so.


A then-Gov. Pete Wilson-appointed Industrial Welfare Commission eliminates daily overtime. He claimed employers needed to have more flexibility with setting their own hours and it was too expensive to pay overtime. The labor movement fought the initiative. Overtime was restored a few years later by Democratic appointees under then-Gov. Gray Davis.


AB 2932 proposes a 32-hour work week for companies with more than 500 workers. It stalls in a labor committee. It's not clear how or whether the bill will come back.

Contact Us