Hours and Pay
Rose Schneiderman describes her experience as a department store errand girl
I got a job as an errand girl [at Hearn’s Department Store] and was stationed on the first floor where tables were laden with sales merchandise…My weekly salary was $2.16 for a sixty-four-hour week. The sixteen cents was supposed to cover the weekly cost of laundering the over-all apron I was required to wear on the job. It was navy blue muslin with white polka-dots and it was most unattractive, but I saved the sixteen cents by laundering it myself…
After working at Ridley’s for three years, my salary was all of $2.75 a week!
Ann, who worked in a factory making artificial flowers and feathers, was earning much more than I, and more than Martha Apple [who had worked there for 14 years], who still made only $7.00 a week.
Rose Schneiderman describes her work as a lining maker
Like all lining-makers, I had to furnish my own sewing machine. One could be bought from Singer on the installment plan for one hundred dollars. But since Mother had been able to save a little money, how I’ll never know, we bought a Wilcox and Gibbs one-thread machine for thirty dollars cash. I also had to furnish the thread I used. And not just one color either. You had to have several colors handy to mach the colors of the lining. The cost ran up to at least fifty cents a month.
I learned to use the machine in three or four weeks and after a trial period with Cornelia, I was on my own. The first week on the job I earned six dollars, more than twice as much as I had earned at Ridley’s. However, Mother was far from happy. She thought working in a store much more genteel than working in a factory. But we needed that extra money.
Pauline Newman describes working at the Triangle
… The job I found next was to sew buttons on shirtwaists. The shop was located in an old walk-up building on Jackson Street, near the East River and facing what was then called Jackson Street park… At the end of my first day’s work I was handed a slip of paper showing that I had earned thirty-five cents! I considered myself rich!
The day’s work was supposed to end at six in the afternoon. But, during most of the year we youngsters worked overtime until 9 p.m. every night except Fridays and Saturdays. No, we did not get additional pay for overtime. At this point it is worth recording the generocity [sic] of the Triangle Waist Co. by giving us a piece of apple pie for supper instead of additional pay! Working men and women of today who receive time and one half and at times double time for overtime will find it difficult to understand and to believe that the workers of those days were evidently willing to accept such conditions of labor without protest. However, the answer is quite simple – we were not organized and we knew that individual protest amounted to the loss of one’s job. No one in those days could afford the luxury of changing jobs – there was no unemployment insurance, there was nothing better than to look for another job which will not be better than the one we had. Therefore, we were, due to our ignorance and poverty, helpless against the power of the exploiters.
As you will note, the days were long and the wages were low – my starting wage was just one dollar and a half a week – a long week – consisting more often than not, of seven days. Especially this was true during the season, which in those days were longer than they are now. I will never forget the sign which on Saturday afternoons was posted on the wall near the elevator stating – “If you don’t come in on Sunday you need not come in on Monday!” What choice did we have except to look for another job on Monday morning. We did not relish the thought of walking the factory district in search of another job. And would we find a better one? We did not think so. So we came in to work on Sundays, tho we did not like it. As a matter of fact we looked forward to the one day on which we could sleep a little longer, go to the park and get to see one’s friends and relatives. It was a bitter disappointment.
Rose Cohen recalls her first day on the job in a piecework shop
All day I took my finished work and laid it on the boss’s table. He would glance at the clock and give me other work. Before the day was over I knew that this was a “piece work shop,” that there were four machines and sixteen people were working…
Seven o’clock came and everyone worked on. [She had arrived at the shop at 7:00 in the morning.] I wanted to rise as father had told me to do and go home. But I had not the courage to stand up alone. I kept putting off going from minute to minute. My neck felt stiff and my back ached. I wished there were a back to my chair so that I could rest against it a little. When the people began to go home it seemed to me that it had been night a long time.
The next morning when I came into the shop at seven o’clock, I saw at once that all the people were there and working steadily as if they had been at work a long while. I had just time to put away my coat and go over to the table, when the boss shouted gruffly, “Look here, girl, if you want to work here you better come in early. No office hours in my shop.”
From this hour a hard life began for me. He refused to employ me except by the week. He paid me three dollars and for this he hurried me from early until late. He gave me only two coats at a time to do. When I took them over and as he handed me the work he would say quickly and sharply, “Hurry!”…Late at night when the people would stand up and begin to fold their work away and I too would rise, feeling stiff in every limb and thinking with dread of our cold empty little room and the uncooked rice, he would come over with still another coat.
“I need it the first thing in the morning,” he would give as an excuse. I understood that he was taking advantage of me because I was a child.
[Cohen’s father] never came home before eleven and he left at five in the morning. He said to me now, “Work a little longer until you have more experience; then you can be independent.”
“But if I did piece work [getting paid by finished piece rather than by the week], father, I would not have to hurry so. And I could go home earlier when the other people go.”
Father explained further, “It pays him better to employ you by the week. Don’t you see if you did piece work he would have to pay you as much as he pays a woman piece worker? But this way he gets almost as much work out of you for half the amount a woman is paid.”
I myself did not want to leave the shop for fear of losing a day or even more perhaps in finding other work. To lose half a dollar meant that it would take so much longer before mother and the children would come.
- Do the speakers/writers believe they are paid fairly for the work they are doing? Provide quotations to back up your response.
- Do the speakers/writers believe the hours they worked were reasonable? Provide quotations to back up your response.
- What kinds of trade-offs do the workers talk about making in choosing to work where they did? What did they lose? What did they gain?
- Why did these young people have to work?