Shop Efficiency and Wages

By R.O. Vandercook from Inland Printer, February 1912

Low wages do not necessarily mean low cost of production. This is, I believe, especially true in the printing business in this country. It seems that a certain standard of living is necessary to develop in the worker a given standard of efficiency. This fact is shown by statistics in many other kinds of labor.

Most interesting along the general line of wages in relation to the cost of production are the statistics brought out in the building of the Panama Canal. These figures conclusively show that the comparatively high wages and the enforced better standard of living have resulted in a very much lower cost for labor than expected, and much lower than if the laborers had worked for the usual wages in that country and lived according to the usual standards. It is shown that where farm labor is the poorest paid, the cost of crops is larger than in the enlightened communities where wages are enough to allow something for mental and physical growth.

That a reduction in wage scales has not resulted in a corresponding reduction in the cost of production has been shown in the analysis of costs where printing plants have been moved to localities where the standard of living is lower and, therefore the wage scale less. Great savings are often made by locating where land is cheap, shipping facilities good, and the building planned according to scientific principles. After deducting the savings due to the material betterments it is often found that the net percentage of saving in labor is not by any means equal to the percentage of difference in the wage scale.

Let us consider the wage question in a printing-office, not from a humanitarian standpoint, but strictly in manager, actuated by humanitarian or even selfish motives, should increase his wage scale without doing other things it would be a miracle if he got anything for his money except a corresponding increase in costs.

These “other things” require great tact and patience. Time will be required. Methods must be varied according to circumstances. I have in mind some offices where the first thing the manager must do is to wash his windows, and shovel the dirt and antiquated material out of the shop. No matter what wages are paid, unless the manager insists on a clean, well-lighted and orderly shop, no increase in wages will help. Good workmen always prefer a clean and decently equipped shop. They know what it means to drift into slovenly habits. They will not work long in an environment that is against their better instincts. Careless habits are easier to acquire and harder to lose than habits of accuracy and dexterity.

Intelligent workmen gravitate toward intelligently managed offices. Efficient workers do not like to remain where their best efforts are annulled by slovenly and inefficient management, or where the shop arrangement and material are such that they cannot get results.

Before any increase in wages is made the shop must be in order, so that willing workers can make their efforts count. When the shop and material are up to a high standard it is safe to bid for workers of high efficiency. A few men in the shop who are known to receive pay in advance of the union scale, and whose product is clearly worth more than that of the average man, are a stimulant to all the rest. To draw out efficiency in this manner, the strictest fairness and absolute good faith, as well as tact, are required of the management. If the overscale men are used only as decoys to entice the other workers to increase their efficiency, only to find that all the benefits of this increased production are gobbled up by the management, and harder and more exacting requirements are made on all others without corresponding benefits, then it is only natural that the decoy men will soon be spotted and a sullenness will pervade the shop. To do only enough work to hold their jobs and to prevent by all means in their power others from doing any more than they, is the natural result of the management trying to hoodwink the workers.

I believe it is because the decoy game has been so often worked on them that the trade unions have opposed bonus systems; and, as a rule, bonus systems have failed to get results.

If the workers believe that the management is on the square, and, that all who qualify for advance-of- the scale wages will get them without question, then good results are bound to follow for all concerned. In Chicago there is a big linotype shop where every man is an “advance of the scale man.” The manager knew some of the men were easily worth more than the average. He paid them according to their worth and announced that the scale of wages in that shop would be according to the scale paid the advance men, and all who could not deliver the goods according to his scale would go elsewhere for work. His shop is always filled with the class of employees he demands and pays for, and no other shop has a more satisfactory product or a better class of trade than his. The whole shop is permeated with tact, fairness and absolute honesty. Of course, it is successful and making money.

A case showing the results of the other extreme is a large printing plant in the neighborhood of a great city. It is in the hands of a receiver. The responsible head came up from the ranks, but he did not earn the money the big plant cost. His business course has been one continual warfare. He moved to get a lower wage scale for the one thousand or more employees. The little city welcomed his big plant. Soon there was a row between him and the city which had granted his concern privileges. The city claimed that he had fooled it. Strikes and labor troubles there were without end. Every expedient except straightforward dealing with the workers was resorted to. He tried to cajole his workers by bonus systems. He rowed with all executive heads of departments. He was easily influenced by flattery. Hot air, his men said, counted more with him than good work. No shop was ever better laid out or better equipped to encourage the maximum of human efficiency, but the humanitarian side of business was an unknown factor to the proprietor. His whole shop was permeated with selfishness, egotism and sly dealing. Of course it went into the hands of a receiver.

No shop can hold loyal workers without a fair wage scale and human treatment of employees. A loyal shop spirit among the workers is the greatest factor in reducing costs. Money and big wages alone will not accomplish it. It takes personality. It takes a strict sense of justice for justice’s sake alone. A manager whose guide-posts are only dollars can never equal the efficiency of the manager whose guide-posts are strict fairness and absolute honesty.

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