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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Robert Riley, February 1, 1994. Interview K-0106. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Gender- and age-appropriate tasks at White's

Riley describes the role of sex and age at White's. He remembers the arrival of women, who after a period of adjustment made significant contributions. He also mentions that young or old workers held jobs appropriate to their experience and ability level. In short, Riley does not recall any overt discrimination. As he recalls these changes, he muses on the transformation of White's over the years he spent there.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Robert Riley, February 1, 1994. Interview K-0106. 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

When you were working at Hillsborough--you can talk about Mebane if you want to--were there certain jobs that certain people did? Was it organized according to how old you were, the younger people do some kind of job and the older people do some kind of job? Or maybe the women would do one kind of job and men would do another?
When I first went to White's there weren't any women in the Hillsborough plant at all. During the time after I went there they started talking about this. There was a lot of discussion about it. You see, there were no facilities for women like a bathroom. There was just one and she was the secretary, but she worked in the office and there was a bathroom in the office for her. But, out on the floor there was nothing but men's bathrooms. They talked about it and saw the day coming, and some were halfway resenting that day for different reasons. It wasn't too much that women could not do the job, but a lot of companies, when you have women and men, sometimes your productivity goes down. You might not agree, but it does. The reason, I think, is a lot of times men will talk to men, but they have a tendency to talk to a woman if she will stand a little bit longer. A lot of times things start happening in their jobs so a job is generated. It's a lot of things that they had talked about that kind of half way see coming if they ever started hiring women. Women came and they did a beautiful job. There are a lot of jobs in furniture plants that women can do, and I imagine in most plants now it is forty percent women.
Do you think that productivity did decrease? Did you see some of that happening?
Well, let's just say, anytime you've got a new broom that sweeps clean or does a little bit better, what I'm saying is, here's a bunch of men that have been working ever since White's been started and all male, and I think they started with maybe one or two women and kind of gradually brought them in. In other words, let's just say there are attractive women and there are some not too attractive and all these kinds of things. Women were made from man, so as time passed on they would go by and stop, but I think after a period of time they all got to know each other and found out we're all here to try and make a living. If it went down some it might have dropped just a little bit getting adjusted. It's kind of like anything else, it takes adjustments and once you get the kinks worked out things went on and worked real good.
What about according to age, were there certain jobs that were for young people?
You take, for instance, when I first went to White's on the yard, you had to be kind of be young and pretty fast because everything evolved around speed. Our sawer and our tripper, all of those were experienced people. The sawer would just stand there and pull the lever, and the tripper would just stand there and catch the slabs as they came up the thing there, but he wouldn't handle the lumber. Certain jobs today you have to have young people. Certain jobs old people can do in furniture plants just as good as anybody. I think what most companies try to do is to take the old people and push them on up and try to take care of them because of the longevity they have built with the company. Today I think they are admired so much more than they did when I first went there. Goodness gracious, they don't do things like… Well, they can't today. Back in those days, like I said, they weren't paying me but a dollar and fifteen cents an hour so they could do a lot of manual work. remember when I first went to White's they didn't have what you call a forklift, but today they've got these big lifts that can do as much work in fifteen minutes as a half dozen men can do all day. It can pick up so much more. What you have to do is to modernize as time goes along. It's amazing to see how far…