The companies that made up the Westinghouse Works prided themselves on being modern and progressive. This opinion is probably what led them to allow motion pictures to be taken of the working conditions in these plants, since they felt that their progressive ideas were in particular evidence there.
An example of these forward-thinking ideas was the institution of the 9-hour workday and the 55-hour work-week in 1869 in the Westinghouse Air Brake Company, one of the first companies believed to have done this. It was also reputed to be the first company in American industry to adopt half-holidays on Saturday afternoons.
When the Westinghouse Air Brake Company relocated to the suburban town of Wilmerding, the company furthered its image as progressive by instituting a series of measures of welfare work aimed at bettering the working and living conditions of the employees. Wilmerding was clearly a "company town;" the town's fortunes rose and fell with that of the Westinghouse Company, giving the company a sense of responsibility to its employees which it to some degree acknowledged through these programs. The Westinghouse Company also hoped that by offering educational and cultural activities, a better type of employee could be procured and that the attrition rate of workers would lower. These measures included providing buildings, parks, and cultural activities for the town, as well as providing housing and some educational classes.
As mentioned, when it relocated to the town of Wilmerding, PA, the Westinghouse Air Brake Company recognized the need to provide adequate housing for its employees. The company built houses on a tract of land it purchased, then sold the dwellings to employees "at about cost and upon terms which enabled them to pay for the properties in monthly installments extending over a period of ten or fifteen years." The plan was later altered so that...
The Westinghouse Air Brake Company was also instrumental in the setting up of educational and cultural institutions through the local Y.M.C.A. The company provided the location for the institution and through it offered courses and activities for its employees.
The relief department of the Westinghouse Air Brake Company was established in May of 1903, its intent being...
Membership during this period was 76% of the total number of employees, according to The Wilmerding News.
The Westinghouse Air Brake Company was not unique in offering welfare incentives to its employees. The trend of offering welfare policies to the employees seems to have been initiated by companies as a way to improve contact between employer and employee in what was an increasingly depersonalized industrial age. Many of the employers that instituted welfare systems also employed a large number of women and children to whom they felt a certain sense of responsibility to provide good working and living conditions. (p. 114, Daniel Nelson, Managers & Workers: Origins of the Twentieth-Century Factory System in the United States, 1880-1920)
The Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Company also prided itself on its progressive ideas and touted itself as "the largest and most modern workshop in the world." A promotional book published by the Company in 1904 went into great detail describing the benefits available to workers there:
Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Company also offered training courses to its employees. The course of Ordinary Apprenticeship was available to non-technical men, while the Engineering Apprenticeship was open only to graduates of technical schools and colleges.
The progressive ideas touted by management did not include, however, support of labor unions. By paying higher salaries and offering better working conditions, Westinghouse hoped to keep the unions out of its companies, an end which became impossible to achieve with the rise of unionism in the United States. The response of the Westinghouse Company to unionism during this period is exhibited by the strike which occurred in 1903 at the Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Company. Rather than accede to the workers' demands, Westinghouse hired outside workers until the strike was finally called off by the International Association of Machinists. Many of the workers were unable to return to jobs at Westinghouse since their jobs had already been filled by others.
(Photos taken from Works of the Westinghouse Electric & Manufacturing Company, 1904)
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