History of International Shift Worker Sunday
Shift workers have existed since ancient times. Among them were the watchmen of ancient kingdoms and the military. Modern-day shift work can be traced back to the early 1800s with the industrial revolution and the transition to “non-stop production.”
Initial schedules split the workforce into a day and night crew that typically rotated every two weeks. The first crew would work 13 straight days (12-hour shifts) and a continuous 24-hour shift. This exhausting day was immediately followed by 13 straight night shifts, with one day off at the end before starting this work pattern again.
This back-breaking schedule resulted in high rates of workplace accidents and injuries. Union pressure to limit the workday to eight hours began as early as 1866, culminating in the violent and unsuccessful riots in Haymarket Square, Chicago, in 1886. Little progress was made until 1933, when Congress enacted the National Industrial Recovery Act, which included minimum wages, maximum work hours, and collective bargaining provisions. This act was soon repealed, but the Wagner Act replaced it. As part of these new regulations, employers were mandated to pay time-and-a-half in overtime wages for any work over a weekly level of 40 hours. Spurring the change to an eight-hour workday, with the traditional day, evening, and night shifts becoming commonplace.
In the 1960s, the 12-hour shift started to regain popularity, mostly for weekend work, as this allowed workers to enjoy more weekend time off. Some companies adopted 12-hour schedules for all shifts, a trend that continues to increase today due to the extra time off and the longer breaks provided by 12-hour shifts between the work blocks. In an 8-hour shift system, three crews are needed each day, with only one team gaining time off.
In a 12-hour system, two crews are needed while two are off work. As impressive as it may sound, the results show that shift workers spend 75% of the day working on an 8-hour shift system and 50% of the days in a 12-hour one.