These men were part of a corps of 5,000 men paid 50 cents an hour to do the dirty unskilled labor that created the magnificent dam over 5 years of hard dangerous work. Those who got that 50 cents an hour considered themselves lucky, as wage rates were depressed by the height of the Great Depression. Still, labor unions at the time bitterly denounced the wage rates and working conditions of the Hoover Dam laborers:
"We believe that a great injustice is being perpetrated against the workers at Boulder Dam in the general lowering of working and living conditions on a project directly under the supervision of our Government during this time of depression and unemployment. Labor at Boulder Dam has no voice in the settling of wages, hours of labor, working conditions, safety or living conditions. Last year local Labor Unions attempted to have the Bacon-Davis prevailing wage law apply to the Boulder Canyon project and Boulder City. An investigation by the conciliation Division of the Department of Labor found that the Bacon-Davis Act did not become a law until two days after the Six Companies signed their contract. Further, that reservations were not covered by the prevailing rate of wage law and the result was a general lowering of wages and working conditions. An arbitrary scale of wage was imposed on skilled mechanics twenty-five to fifty percent lower than the prevailing scales for similar work in the territory adjacent to the project."Picture and quote from the Boulder City/Hoover Dam Museum. Go there if you're in Vegas sometime. It's an incredible story they tell.
Now fast forward to 2005. The GOP dominated US Senate has just voted down the first increase of the minimum wage since 1997: from $5.15 to $6.25 an hour. All the Democrats plus four Republicans voted for it. It failed 51-49. In the time since the last increase in the minimum wage, Senators voted themselves seven pay raises totaling $28,000 per year.
What does this have to do with the Hoover Dam workers? Well, 50 cents an hour in the Depression translates into $7.89 per hour in today's dollars. (Don't believe me? Do the math with the historical Consumer Price Index.) What the Senate is saying is that today's minimum wage workers should be getting a wage 35% LOWER than unskilled, non-union labor in the height of the Great Depression. This is progress? No. It's a crime against Americans. Next election time, remember who did this to us.