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Lane v. Holderman

Decided: February 4, 1957.


On certification granted.

For affirmance -- Chief Justice Vanderbilt, and Justices Heher, Oliphant, Wachenfeld, Burling, Jacobs and Weintraub. For reversal -- None. The opinion of the court was delivered by Wachenfeld, J.


Appellants, 43 employers in the laundry, dry cleaning and dyeing industry, petitioned the Appellate Division under R.R. 4:88-10 for a judgment declaring the provisions regulating overtime rates in Minimum Fair Wage Standards Mandatory Order No. 10, promulgated by the Commissioner of Labor and Industry under the Minimum Wage Act, invalid.

The order in question was issued on November 7, 1955 and governs the employment of women and minors in the affected industry. Pursuant to the recommendations of the wage board appointed by the Commissioner to survey conditions prevailing in this field of service, the order fixed a basic minimum wage, after the first four weeks of employment, of 85 cents per hour for non-clerical workers and 80 cents per hour for clerical workers, effective May 6, 1956. In addition, it embodied administrative regulations formulated by the Commissioner which specified that, after a gradual start, commencing on November 8, 1956 women and minor employees must be paid one and one-half times the "regular hourly wage rate" for work in excess of 40 hours per week. The provisions with respect to overtime compensation and the methods of adoption and computation are as follows:

"Overtime Rates. Overtime rates mean one and one-half times the employee's regular hourly wage rate which shall be paid to each woman and minor subject to the provisions of this Order for hours worked in excess of forty-eight (48) hours in any work week during the period of time beginning with May 6, 1956 through August 6, 1956; hours worked in excess of forty-four (44) hours in any work week during the period of time beginning with August 7, 1956 through November 7, 1956, and hours worked in excess of forty (40) hours in any work week beginning on or after November 8, 1956. The overtime rates established by this Order shall not

apply in the case of any person employed on a weekly, monthly or yearly salary basis, whose salary reduced to a weekly basis is in excess of $60.00 and whose employment is in a bona-fide supervisory or executive capacity.

Regular Hourly Wage Rate. The term 'regular hourly wage rate,' as used in this Order, shall mean the amount that the employee is regularly paid for each hour of work. When an employee is paid on a piece work basis or any other basis than an hourly rate the 'regular hourly wage rate' shall be determined by dividing the total of the hours worked during the week into the employee's total earnings exclusive of part time bonuses for the week and exclusive of wages earned at overtime rates as such rates are defined in this Order."

By stipulation, the issues presented for the consideration of the Appellate Division were limited to two in number. The first involves solely a question of statutory interpretation and concerns the authority of the Commissioner under the provisions of the Minimum Wage Act to define overtime rates and the number of hours worked per week after which said rates shall become effective. Implicit in this challenge to the powers of the Commissioner is the subsidiary consideration of whether, in any event, he had the right to base the prescribed overtime rates upon the hourly wage actually paid by the petitioners which might deviate from the basic minimum wage recommended by the wage board. The second issue, however, brings into controversy the constitutionality of R.S. 34:11-47, as amended L. 1941, c. 321, ยง 2, p. 862. The petitioners maintain that if the Commissioner does have the authority to establish overtime rates, its exercise is not sufficiently guided by standards to satisfy constitutional requirements concerning delegation of powers.

The Appellate Division determined all of these contentions adversely to petitioners except that attacking the use of the "regular hourly wage" rather than the minimum of 80 or 85 cents an hour as the figure for computing overtime. With respect to the latter, the court below declined to express an opinion, being of the view that none of the petitioners enjoyed standing since they had not demonstrated injury by proving their regular hourly rates exceeded the minimum wage prescribed.

Upon application by 43 of the 64 employers originally supporting the cause, we granted certification.

Initially, it is important to observe by way of clarification that appellants do not assail the Commissioner's regulations, as embodied in the order in controversy, for lack of substantial evidence justifying their adoption. Neither do they impugn the subject order for any failure by the Commissioner or by the wage board to comply with the fairly elaborate procedural requirements of the Minimum Wage Act. Despite this, to discuss intelligently the arguments advanced by appellants, it seems necessary to give at least a cursory account of the conditions prerequisite to the issuance of a final mandatory order and the modus operandi by which its terms are established.

The Minimum Wage Act was originally adopted by the Legislature in 1933. L. 1933, c. 152. It has since been twice amended. L. 1941, c. 321 and L. 1953, c. 33. The act declares the employment of women and minors in this State at an unreasonable and oppressive wage to be contrary to public policy. An unreasonable and oppressive wage is defined as one that is both less than the fair and reasonable value of the services rendered and less than sufficient to meet the minimum cost of living necessary for health. When the Commissioner finds a substantial number of women and minors in any occupation are receiving such wages, he is obligated to appoint a wage board. This body consists, at a maximum, of three representatives of the employers in the occupation involved, three representatives of the employees, and three disinterested members representing the public.

Upon the convening of the wage board, the Commissioner presents to it all the evidence and information in his possession relating to wages of women and minor workers in the occupation under scrutiny, any other information which he deems relevant to the establishment of a minimum fair wage, and witnesses he thinks material. The board has the power to require by subpoena the attendance and testimony of

those it desires to hear, and the production of all books, records and other evidence relative to the matters under investigation.

Within 60 days after its organization, the wage board submits a report to the Commissioner embodying its recommendations of minimum fair wage standards for women and minors in the subject occupation. The Commissioner is directed to accept or reject the report within ten days thereafter. If the report is rejected, the Commissioner is enjoined to resubmit the matter to the same board or to a new board, describing his reasons for rejection. If the report is accepted, it must be published together with such administrative regulations the Commissioner proposes as appropriate to supplement the report and to safeguard the minimum fair wage standards to be established. At the time of publication, notice is required of a public hearing before the Commissioner. All persons favoring or opposing the recommendations contained in the report or the proposed regulations are given the opportunity of being heard.

Within ten days after the hearing, the Commissioner must finally approve or disapprove the report. Disapproval ordinarily entails resubmission of the matter to the same wage board or to a new board. When the Commissioner approves the report, however, he must promulgate a mandatory order containing the minimum fair wage rates included in the report and the proposed administrative regulations. The order becomes effective 180 days after it is issued.

The Commissioner and the wage board in establishing a minimum fair wage under the act consider: (1) all relevant circumstances affecting the value of the service or class of service rendered; (2) wages paid in the State for work of like or comparable character by employers who voluntarily maintain minimum fair wage standards; and (3) the factors which a court would consider in a quantum meruit suit. A "fair wage" is defined to be: "a wage fairly and reasonably commensurate with the value of the service or class of service rendered." R.S. 34:11-34.


Appellants contend that "the overall language and intent of the minimum wage act demonstrates that 'overtime' has a restricted meaning and does not purport to confer authority to fix overtime in the sense of a premium or penalty rate for excessive working hours." The gist of their argument is that the purposes of the Minimum Wage Act are subserved solely through the establishment of the minimum fair wage, in this instance 80 or 85 cents an hour. They contend a complete reading of the act reveals its object to be the establishment of wage rates adequate for subsistence to which the concept of an overtime premium is alien.

The meaning of a statute is primarily ascertained by reading the language employed in its ordinary and common significance. See Jamouneau v. Harner, 16 N.J. 500, 513, petition for certiorari denied 349 U.S. 904, 75 S. Ct. 580, 99 L. Ed. 1241 (1954); Julius Roehrs Co. v. Division of Tax Appeals, 16 N.J. 493, 497, 498 (1954); Abbotts Dairies, Inc., v. Armstrong, 14 N.J. 319, 325 (1953); Bass v. Allen Home Improvement Co., 8 N.J. 219, 226 (1951); Eckert v. New Jersey State Highway Dept., 1 N.J. 474, 479 (1949). The language of R.S. 34:11-47 amply establishes the intent of the Legislature to invest the Commissioner of Labor with authority to regulate the payment of overtime compensation, even though the rate adopted will exceed the minimum fair wage recommended by the wage board. This section reads as follows:

"Within ten days after the hearing the commissioner shall confer with the director and approve or disapprove the report of the wage board. If the report is disapproved the commissioner may resubmit the matter to the same wage board or to a new wage board. If the report is approved the commissioner shall make a mandatory order which shall define minimum fair wage rates in the occupation or occupations as recommended in the report of the wage board and which shall include such proposed administrative regulations as the ...

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