Facts Related to Commonwealth v. Hunt

July 16, 2015 by  
Filed under general

By Phineas Upham

Commonwealth v. Hunt was a crucial case in labor history, because it set an important precedent that allowed workers the right to unionize. The case, at the time, was heralded as the Magna Carta of trade, helping to set clear legal guidelines for when it was ok to collude with others for higher wages. Prior to this ruling, it was illegal for workers to attempt unionizing.

The entire dispute stemmed from boot makers who were demanding higher wages for their work. A strike held in Boston, by the Journeyman’s Boot Maker Society, had led to an increase in pay of $1.75 per pair of boots manufactured. Seeing progress, the group staged another strike that raised wages to $2.00 per pair.

One particular worker by the name of Jeremiah Horne basically used this strike as a loophole, refusing to pay fines and charging much higher rates for work that went over the allotted time. This kind of thing seems pretty common place to modern day workers, but back then rates were negotiated beforehand. It made it difficult to price projects, and even harder to collect a living wage.

Horne’s escapades eventually landed him in hot water with his boss. The Boston Journeyman Boot Maker Society had levied $7 in fees against Horne, who refused to pay. This dispute was taken to the courts, where they ruled that someone could seek higher wages (even enlisting the help of others to organize a strike) as long as it was not in a way that was deleterious to the local community.

This important ruling essentially made it legal to unionize.

Phineas Upham is an investor from NYC and SF. You may contact Phin on his Phineas Upham website or Twitter page.

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