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STREET RAILWAY EMPLOYMENT IN THE UNITED STATES.
BY WALTER E. WEYL, PH. D.
INTRODUCTION AND SUMMARY.
The conditions of street railway employment in the United States are worthy of study. Within the half century during which street railways have existed in this country a huge army of men has been recruited for city transportation lines—an army which is rapidly and continually increasing. The street railways show a far greater increase in the number of their employees than do most industries of equal age. The introduction and extension of electric traction have more than doubled the number of employees, so that in 1902 there were some 140,000 men, including officers and clerks, upon the pay rolls of the street railways of this country. No other country has as many as onefourth of this number of street car employees. Excluding officials and clerks, the number of persons engaged in street railway transportation in this country amounted in 1902 to 133,641, or, in other words, to almost one-eighth of the number of men employed upon our 200,000 miles of steam railroads.
This vast body of street railway employees is largely concentrated in the populous cities of the Union. Almost all of them are found in the northern tier of States stretching from the Atlantic to the Mississippi. As the industry is essentially urban, practically all of the men engaged in it are residents of cities and towns, and a very large proportion live in the few metropoli. This fact, that a majority of the men engaged in American street railway service are urban dwellers, and residents, moreover, of the largest cities, should be borne in mind in considering the wages which are paid to them and the cost of their living.
The condition of street railway men is one which lends itself to general observation by the fact that the majority of those engaged in the industry perform their work in the full view of the public. About three-fifths of all employees of the street and electric railways of the United States, excluding higher officials and clerks, consist of motormen and conductors, with the general nature of whose work everyone is sufficiently familiar. The remaining two-fifths of street railway employees are engaged in the car barns and power stations. In this part of the service the introduction of electricity as the motive power has led to considerable division of labor and differentiation of function. During the horse car days approximately the same proportion obtained between the drivers and conductors on the one hand and the station and barn employees on the other.
The occupations in city railway transportation are almost exclusively monopolized by adult males. No women are engaged upon the platforms of the car, and the number of female employees generally is so small that they may be disregarded. Although a few boy conductors were employed during horse car days, they entirely disappeared from the service with the introduction of electricity, and the great majority of companies accept no person as conductor or motorman under 20 years of age.
The fatiguing nature of the work in which street railway employees are engaged has led to a selection, among the numerous applicants for positions, of men who are physically and mentally capable of coping with the difficulties. The stress and strain of the work, which has been enormously increased by the introduction of mechanical traction and is aggravated by the long hours of work, has necessitated a selection along these lines, and the very large number of applicants for positions has enabled such a selection to take place. In the following pages the requirements as to age, weight, and height of street railway employees, as well as the character of the physical examinations which the men must undergo, are given in detail, and statistics are also presented giving the average standing in this regard of accepted applicants. The requirements as to age and the age statistics of successful applicants are especially worthy of note, since they confirm the general impression of the youthfulness of the men employed at this occupation. The work is essentially that of young men, and while efforts are made to retain employees of experience as long as their physical vigor remains unimpaired, the rules of the majority of the companies absolutely exclude from the occupation new men over 35 or 40 years of age. In a considerable number of companies the limit is placed at 35.
The character of the occupation imposes still other requirements of a physical nature. It is indispensable that the platform men, and especially the conductors, be able to speak and read the language of the country. It is equally essential that both motorman and conductor be alert and familiar with the city streets. As a consequence, several companies prefer the employment of city rather than country men, owing to their greater alertness, although the majority prefer country men owing to their greater vigor, strength, honesty, and loyalty, and their willingness to work cheaper. The opportunities which the conductor has of "knocking down," or withholding fares, necessitates the selection of honest men for this position, and references are usually demanded. As a rule deposits or bonds, ranging from fifteen to one thousand dollars, are required of all accepted applicants for this position.
Notwithstanding the nature of these requirements, the street railway service receives applicants from all classes and all conditions of men. The ranks of the street railway men are recruited from scores of occupations (specified in this report), from farmers, clerks, unsuccessful professional men, and from thousands of skilled artisans temporarily unemployed. The extent to which many classes of temporarily unemployed men resort to the street railway service is due to the fact that a knowledge of the work is readily acquired. Eligible applicants for positions are given a preparatory training, lasting from three days to two weeks, and averaging about a week. After a successful examination, such men are placed on trial cars and are admitted as extras. The proportion of extra men is large. The system in the past produced a debasement of the conditions of the employees. The use of a certain proportion of extra men is inevitable from the nature of the occupation and the requirement that cars be run at all times irrespective of the ability of the regular employees to man them. But in the past the ease with which unemployed men could secure the position of extras attracted too large a proportion of the unemployed of great cities, and on many lines an unduly large body of partially employed men was created, few of these men earning wages commensurate with the cost of their enforced attendance at the barns.
As stated, the effect of this mass of partially employed men was to debase the condition of the regular employees. By the rules of the companies, men were suspended for missing their cars or losing time, and their cars were given to the extra men. The regular men tried to hold their jobs from the extra men by working excessive hours, and, as a consequence, the system led, in many cases, to a serious over-employment of regular men and to a chronic under-employment of extra men. These evil conditions were at their worst during horse car days, but within the last decade a marked improvement has taken place in this as in certain other features of street railway work.
The evil resulting from the impermanency and irregularity of the occupation has been, to a considerable extent, remedied within recent years. Both the companies and the men, as represented in their trade unions, are endeavoring to secure a more permanent and stable body of street railway employees, and to convert the occupation from one which is open to the casual, unskilled, and temporarily unemployed man into one which is based upon a regular, well-disciplined, and thoroughly coordinated group. The introduction of electricity, necessitating a higher grade of employees, has been the prime factor in this development, by which the character and caliber of the men employed are being revolutionized. This improvement in the character of
employees is attested by the great majority of street railway officials, and is the most important and salient feature of the recent development in the street car service.
The nature of the employment has left its stamp upon the men admitted into the service; and this report will show their general characteristics. It will give detailed information concerning, among other things, the citizenship and nativity of employees, their length of residence in the place of their work, their age, their conjugal condition, their weight and height, their former occupations, their savings, their ownership of houses, their cost of living, their liability to mortgage and debt, and their expenditure for insurance against death and accident.
The strict liability to which street railway companies are held for the loss of life, limb, or health, due to accidents, has compelled the adoption of rigid disciplinary rules for the government of employees. According to the law, street railway companies, like other employers, are liable for the actions of their employees in the regular course of their occupation, and the dangerous character of the work requires the establishment and maintenance of regulations for the government of the men engaged in it. Great progress bas been shown in this direction, as the result of the concentration of formerly competing lines into gigantic systems covering entire cities and as the result of the improvement in the character of the employees. Formerly each petty company had its body of rules printed or written or oral, and more or less observed according to the character of the superintendent. Favoritism, which was manifested in the appointment and promotion of men, was also evidenced in the discipline. Men were discharged without other cause than the desire to supplant them by candidates with political or other backing, and the morale of the force was, as a consequence, at the lowest. Men going from one line to another passed from one body of rules to another. The usual punishment was suspension, with the result that the man so punished returned much the worse for wear, and with a permanent grudge against the officer of the company who suspended him. The first reform grew out of the consolidation of the companies, and the standardization of the rules for all the lines within a district or within a State. Still further progress was made by the adoption on some lines of the merit system and by the abolition of suspensions, although such measures are still merely in an experimental stage, and very much yet remains to be done to perfect the discipline. The inherent difficulty of the situation lies in the fact that the majority of the men employed work alone, and their actions can not be subjected to any adequate inspection or review.
Those lines which have adopted the merit system have usually based thereon a system of promotion. The opportunities for promotion from one branch of the service to another are not particularly great, the chief reward of the men engaged in the train service being promotion from a bad to a good run. As is indicated by certain statistics in this report, the wages earned by men on different runs do not vary to any great extent. Another system of promotion, more automatic in character, provides for increased pay with an increased period of service. Somewhat over half of the companies have adopted a system of paying slightly higher wages during the second year of the man's employment than during the first year, still higher wages during the third, and still higher during the fourth and fifth years. The workingmen, organized in the trade union, are, as a rule, opposed to both of these systems of promotion, on the ground that they work for favoritism, which they allege forces the men to curry favor with superior officers to the detriment of their fellow-employees.
In the street railway service, as in other occupations, promotion is a moot question of dispute between the employer and the unions, since loyalty is largely based upon the hope of promotion, and each party desires to obtain the adherence of the men to as large an extent as possible.
In this report the wages of street railway men are given in detail for the various cities of the Union and for the various grades of street railway employment. The statistics include not only average and classified wages, but the rates of pay per hour and per day for several hundred specified street railway companies. Wages given in the past by the street car companies of various States are also presented, and comparisons are made between the wages during horse car days and since the introduction of electric traction. Statistics are also shown as to the savings of men engaged in this service in several of the systems throughout the country. The salient feature of these wage statistics is the clearly established fact of an extremely rapid increase of wages during the last decade. The statistics of wages on the old horse cars show clearly that the amounts earned at that time were entirely inadequate, and the increase in wages since then has amounted in cases to 50 or 100 or even over 100 per cent in the rate of remuneration per hour. The rates of wages, however, are still much lower than upon the steam railroads, although any comparison between the rates of pay to employees in these two industries is rendered difficult by the inherent differences in the nature of the occupations.
The rise in wages of street car employees appears to be due to the increasing difliculty of the work; to the improved character of the men employed; to the rapidly growing receipts of the consolidated operating companies, and to the action of the trade unions, which have endeavored to improve conditions. Wages are higher in the wellorganized cities, and are, of course, higher in large than in small cities. The influences governing wages in other occupations, such as