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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
News >  Spokane

100 years ago in Spokane: Eight-hour workday for lumbermen draws presidential praise

President Woodrow Wilson expressed his “deepest gratification,” via telegraph to Spokane, for the Western Pine Manufacturers Association’s adoption of the eight-hour day in lumber camps.

The U.S. secretary of labor also telegraphed his thanks and called it “the first ray of light in the situation of labor unrest with which the whole country is contending.”

Why did the regional lumber companies voluntarily adopt the eight-hour workday, when other regions were still working “their men 10, 12 and even 14 hours a day”?

Probably because they had been persuaded, several days earlier, by arguments made by the president of the University of Washington and the head of the university’s economics department.

They met the lumber company owners at the Davenport Hotel and said that with better working conditions, lumberjacks would “stay longer at their jobs and be more efficient.” Under the current, harsher conditions, the monthly turnover was “declared to be as high as 100 percent in some circumstances.”

Underlying this argument was the notion that the companies could avoid crippling strikes, which had the potential to devastate the production of wartime materiel.

The professor told the assembled lumbermen that “the solution of their labor problem is in falling in line with the tendency of the industrial world and voluntarily granting the eight-hour day.”

After hearing these arguments, the lumbermen of Montana, Idaho and Eastern Washington agreed to an eight-hour day, over the strong objections of the Oregon contingent. This action had “no precedent in any industry west of Chicago,” said The Spokesman-Review.

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