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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Hill Baker, June 1977. Interview H-0109-2. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Strict rules at a furniture plant

Baker describes a workplace where supervisors held all the power. Eating, smoking, and visiting the restroom could only occur at specified times; supervisors expected workers to be punctual and reprimanded those who were not. This strict atmosphere may have contributed to the fact that Baker does not recall workers ever deliberately slowing down the pace of work, demanding concessions of any kind, or even complaining about working conditions.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Hill Baker, June 1977. Interview H-0109-2. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

PATTY DILLEY:
That was a long time. When you were working at the boiler, and you had a foreman or someone above you …
HILL BAKER:
Sure, I had the superintendent of the whole plant. I was under him.
PATTY DILLEY:
How closely do you think he checked on your work? Did he come around a lot?
HILL BAKER:
We were in there all the time, in a great big brick room. There were two great big boilers in there, two big engine rooms adjoining, all built together.
PATTY DILLEY:
So he just came in every now and then? Was your room separate from the rest of the plant?
HILL BAKER:
The boiler room and the engine room were all together.
PATTY DILLEY:
Could you see the other workers from where you were?
HILL BAKER:
In the shop? No, it was upstairs. I couldn't see them all. They had a partition fixed. The engines and boilers were in separate rooms.
PATTY DILLEY:
So then the supervisor came around. Did he …
HILL BAKER:
Oh, yes, the super came around every half hour to see how things were going in there.
PATTY DILLEY:
Do you think you needed him to come around that much?
HILL BAKER:
Well, that was his job. He didn't have to come, as long as things were going good. If something broke down, he'd come around and see what to order to fill it out. Just like here. 1 * At the rest home. They've got a supervisor.
PATTY DILLEY:
[Laughter] Yes. I guess we do need them. Did the company have any certain rules at work? Did they have rules about smoking? Could you smoke in the plant?
HILL BAKER:
We had a smoking period, to give you a rest period twice a day for fifteen minutes.
PATTY DILLEY:
How about eating?
HILL BAKER:
While you would eat and smoked all was about the same, when you'd come out for what they called the eating period, smoking period. They didn't smoke in the building; they had to come outside.
PATTY DILLEY:
Did they have a place for you to eat?
HILL BAKER:
Oh, yes, a great big fine place. Broyhill's.
PATTY DILLEY:
How about Mr. Brady?
HILL BAKER:
That way back then. He didn't have nothing like that.
PATTY DILLEY:
You all just went outside and sat.
HILL BAKER:
That's right.
PATTY DILLEY:
Could you talk to other workers while the work day was going on?
HILL BAKER:
You might say a few words, but you couldn't stand and have no conversation.
PATTY DILLEY:
Did the supervisors object to people talking?
HILL BAKER:
Well, you can't talk and work. You could talk to them, but you couldn't have no conversations.
PATTY DILLEY:
Did they have any rules about things you had to wear to work?
HILL BAKER:
No'm, the men didn't.
PATTY DILLEY:
Did the women?
HILL BAKER:
Oh, yes, the women did. When they went to work. I mean the crowd what's working now. Way back yonder they didn't. The men just wore the overalls, and now the women got suits they wear, have them in the plant. Working in that paint and stuff.
PATTY DILLEY:
Did they ever let you all have bathroom breaks? Could you leave your work in the middle of the day if you had to go to the bathroom?
HILL BAKER:
That's a work period. They have that.
PATTY DILLEY:
Did they only let you go during the breaks that they gave you, or could you just go anytime?
HILL BAKER:
You couldn't just go anytime.
PATTY DILLEY:
You had to wait.
HILL BAKER:
Had the break period and the smoking.
PATTY DILLEY:
Did they have a specific time that you had to be in in the morning?
HILL BAKER:
Oh, yes.
PATTY DILLEY:
What time did you all usually go in the morning?
HILL BAKER:
Seven o'clock was the work hour.
PATTY DILLEY:
What happened if you didn't come on time?
HILL BAKER:
If you didn't come in on time, you didn't get time for the time you didn't come in. They paid by the hour, and you just got paid from the time you were coming in.
PATTY DILLEY:
Do you remember anybody ever getting fired or reprimanded for not coming in on time?
HILL BAKER:
Oh, yes, they had to have a reason. They'd come in with a reason. Some of them may have been sick or something like that.
PATTY DILLEY:
So they gave you a little bit of leeway?
HILL BAKER:
You had to have an excuse.
PATTY DILLEY:
What kind of holidays did you all get when you worked there?
HILL BAKER:
The Fourth of July. At Christmas we'd get a week off. On all holidays we'd get the week off.
PATTY DILLEY:
So this would be everybody in the plant.
HILL BAKER:
Oh, yes.
PATTY DILLEY:
Could the people in the plant ever take off without the supervisor's permission?
HILL BAKER:
They had to have permission. They couldn't walk off from their jobs. No, they couldn't walk off. If they would, they wouldn't walk off no more, unless someone was still sick. Their folks sick or they got sick or something, why, that was a different proposition. No, they didn't allow them to walk off.
PATTY DILLEY:
Did you and the other workers ever decide among yourselves how much work should be done and how much work a person could do in the plant? Who was it that decided?
HILL BAKER:
The supervisor. The superintendent.
PATTY DILLEY:
So the workers never discussed among themselves …
HILL BAKER:
Oh, no. Your job is laid out. And the superintendent depends on you to do that.
PATTY DILLEY:
And everybody abided by those rules?
HILL BAKER:
That's right. If they stayed there, they abided by them.
PATTY DILLEY:
Did you ever know of anybody in the plant that deliberately tried to slow down the production of the furniture?
HILL BAKER:
Not exactly. And if they did, they wouldn't fool with them. Got to slowing down his production and work, they wouldn't hire them. They couldn't work for them.
PATTY DILLEY:
Could you or your fellow employees make up rules that had to be followed by other workers or supervisors?
HILL BAKER:
No, ma'am.
PATTY DILLEY:
It was always the supervisors that made the rules.
HILL BAKER:
That's right.
PATTY DILLEY:
Did you ever complain to your supervisor about some of the problems related to your work?
HILL BAKER:
No, ma'am.
PATTY DILLEY:
How about the other workers? Did they ever complain about problems with their work?
HILL BAKER:
If they did, nobody didn't know it. It was a secret.
PATTY DILLEY:
Did the other employees ever complain about having too much supervision?
HILL BAKER:
Not as I know of.
PATTY DILLEY:
If a worker did have a grievance or a problem, how was it decided that the problem would be solved?
HILL BAKER:
You had to talk it out with the superintendent.
PATTY DILLEY:
It was always the superintendent?
HILL BAKER:
Yes.