Frederick Taylor's Piece Rate System - 1895 - Part 6
76. But what is perhaps of more importance still, the
rate-fixing department has shown the necessity of care-
fully systematizing all of the small details in the running
of each shop, such as the care of belting, the proper
shape for cutting tools, and the dressing, grinding, and
issuing sairfe, oiling machines, issuing orders for work,
obtaining accurate labor and material returns, and a host
of other minor methods and processes. These details,
which are usually regarded as of comparatively small
importance, and many of which are left to the individual
judgment of the foreman and workmen, are shown by
the rate-fixing department to be of paramount import-
ance in obtaining the maximum output, and to require
the most careful and systematic study and attention in
order to insure uniformity and a fair and equal chance
for each workman. Without this preliminary study and
systematizing of details it is impossible to apply success-
fully the differential rate in most establishments.
77. As before stated, the success of this system of
piece-work depends fundamentally upon the possibility
of materially increasing the output per man and per
machine, providing the proper man be found for each
job and the proper incentive be offered to him.
78. As an illustration of the difference between what
ought to be done by a workman well suited to his job,
and what is generally done, I will mention a single class
of work, performed in almost every establishment in the
country. In shovelling coal from a car over the side on
to a pile one man should unload forty tons per day, and
keep it up year in and year out, and thrive under it.
With this knowledge of the possibilities I have never
failed to find men who were glad to work at this speed
for from four and a half to five cents per ton. The
average speed for unloading coal in most places, how-
ever, is nearer fifteen than forty tons per day. In secur-
ing the above rate of speed it must be clearly understood
that the problem is not how to force men to work harder
or longer hours than their health will permanently
allow, but rather first to select among the laborers
which are to be found in every community the men who
are physically able to work permanently at that job and
at the speed mentioned without damage to their health,
and who are mentally sufficiently inert to be satisfied
with the monotony of the work, and then to offer them
such inducements as will make them happy and con-
tented in doing so.
79. The first case in which a differential rate was ap-
plied furnishes a good illustration of what can be accom-
plished by it.
A standard steel forging, many thousands of which
are used each year, had for several years been turned at
the rate of from four to five per day under the ordinary
system of piece-work, 50 cents per piece being the price
paid for the work. After analyzing the job and deter-
mining the shortest time required to do each of the
elementary operations of which it was composed, and
then summing up the total, the writer became convinced
that it was possible to turn ten pieces a day. To finish
the forgings at this rate, however, the machinists were
obliged to work at their maximum pace from morning
to night, and the lathes were run as fast as the tools
would allow, and under a heavy feed.
It will be appreciated that this was a big day’s work,
both for men and machines, when it is understood that
it involved removing, with a single 16-inch lathe hav-
ing two saddles, an average of more than 800 pounds of
steel chips in ten hours. In place of the 50-cent rate
that they had been paid before, they were given 35 cents
per piece when they turned them at the speed of 10 per
day, and when they produced less than 10 they received
only 25 cents per piece.
80. It took considerable trouble to induce the men to
turn at this high speed, since they did not at first fully
appreciate that it was the intention of the firm to allow
them to earn permanently at the rate of $3.50 per day.
But from the day they first turned 10 pieces to the pres-
ent time, a period of more than ten years, the men who
understood their work have scarcely failed a single day
to turn at this rate. Throughout that time, until the
beginning of the recent fall in the scale of wages
throughout the country, the rate was not cut.
81. During this whole period the competitors of the
company never succeeded in averaging over half of this
production per lathe, although they knew and even saw
what was being done at Midvale. They, however, did
not allow their men to earn over from $2 to $2.50 per
day, and so never even approached the maximum output.
82. The following table will show the economy of
paying high wages under the differential rate in doing
the above job.
COST OP PRODUCTION PER LATHE PER DAY.
Ordinary system of piece-work.
Man’s wages $2 50
Machine cost ....... 3 37
Total cost per day . . $5 87
5 pieces produced.
Cost per piece |i 17
Differential rate system.
Man’s wages ...... $3 50
Machine cost 3 37
Total cost per day ... $6 87
10 pieces produced.
Cost per piece $0 69
The above result was mostly, though not entirely, due
to the differential rate. The superior system of manag-
ing all of the small details of the shop counted for con-
83. There has never been a strike by men working
under differential rates, although these rates have been
applied at the Midvale Steel Works for the past ten
years, and the steel business has proved during this
period the most fruitful field for labor organizations and
strikes. And this notwithstanding the Midvale Com-
pany has never prevented its men from joining any
labor organization. All of the best men in the company
saw clearly that the success of a labor organization
meant the lowering of their wages in order that the in-
ferior men might earn more, and of course could not
be persuaded to join.
84. I attribute a great part of this success in avoiding
strikes to the high wages which the best men were able
to earn with the differential rates, and to the pleasant
feeling fostered by this system ; but this is by no means
the whole cause. It has for years been the policy of
that company to stimulate the personal ambition of
every man in their employ, by promoting them either in
wages or position whenever they deserved it and the
A careful record has been kept of each man’s good
points as well as his shortcomings, and one of the prin-
cipal duties of each foreman was to make this careful
study of his men, so that substantial justice could be
done to each. When men throughout an establish-
ment are paid varying rates of day-work wages accord-
ing to their individual worth, some being above and
some below the average, it cannot be for the interest of
those receiving high pay to join a union with the cheap
85. No system of management, however good, should
be applied in a wooden way. The proper personal rela-
tions should always be maintained between the em-
ployers and men ; and even the prejudices of the work-
men should be considered in dealing with ]them.
The employer who goes through his works with kid
gloves on, and is never known to dirty his hands or
clothes, and who either talks to his men in a condescend-
ing or patronizing way, or else not at all, has no chance
whatever of ascertaining their real thoughts or feelings.
86. Above all it is desirable that men should be
talked to on their own level by those who are over them.
Each man should be encouraged to discuss any troub-
le which he may have, either in the works or outside,
with those over him. Men would far rather even be
blamed by their bosses, especially if the “ tearing out ”
has a touch of human nature and feeling in it, than to
be passed by day after day without a word and with no
more notice than if they were part of the machinery.
The opportunity which each man should have of air-
ing his mind freely and having it out with his employ-
ers, is a safety-valve ; and if the superintendents are rea-
sonable men, and listen to and treat with respect what
their men have to say, there is absolutely no reason for
labor unions and strikes.
87. It is not the large charities (however generous
they may be) that are needed or appreciated by work-
men, such as the founding of libraries and starting
workingmen’s clubs, so much as small acts of personal
kindness and sympathy, which establish a bond of
friendly feeling between them and their employers.
88. The moral effect of the writer’s system on the
men is marked. The feeling that substantial justice is
being done them renders them on the whole much more
manly, straightforward, and truthful. They work more
cheerfully, and are more obliging to one another and
their employers. They are not soured, as under the old
system, by brooding over the injustice done them ; and
their spare minutes are not spent to the same extent in
criticising their employers.
A noted French engineer and steel manufacturer, who
recently spent several weeks in the works of the Mid-
vale Company in introducing a new branch of manu-
facture, stated before leaving that the one thing which
had impressed him as most unusual and remarkable
about the place was the fact that not only the foremen
but the workmen were expected to and did in the main
tell the truth in case of any blunder or carelessness,
even when they had to suffer from it themselves.
89. From what the writer has said he is afraid that
many readers may gain the impression that he regards
elementary rate-fixing and the differential rate as a sort
of panacea for all human ills.
This is, however, far from the case. While he regards
the possibilities of these methods as great, he is of the
opinion, on the contrary, that this system of manage-
ment will be adopted by but few establishments, in the
near future at least, since its really successful applica-
tion not only involves a thorough organization but re-
quires the machinery and tools throughout the place to
be kept in such good repair that it will be possible for
the workmen each day to produce their maximum out-
put. But few manufacturers will care to go to this
trouble until they are forced to.
90. It is his opinion that the most successful manu-
facturers, those who are always ready to adopt the best
machinery and methods when they see them, will
gradually avail themselves of the benefits of scientific
rate-fixing ; and that competition will compel the others
to follow slowly in the same direction.
91. Even .if all of the manufacturers in the country
who are competing in the same line of business were to
adopt these methods, they could still well afford to pay
the high rate of wages demanded by the differential
rate and necessary to induce men to work fast, since it
is a well recognized fact the world over, that the highest-
priced labor, providing it is proportionately productive,
is the cheapest ; and the low cost at which they could
produce their goods would enable them to sell in foreign
markets and still pay high wages.
92. The writer is far from taking the view held by
many manufacturers that labor unions are an almost un-
mitigated detriment to those who join them, as well as
to employers and the general public.
The labor unions — particularly the trades unions of
England — have rendered a great service, not only to their
members but to the world, in shortening the hours of
labor and in modifying the hardships and improving the
conditions of wage-workers.
In the writer’s judgment the system of treating with
labor unions would seem to occupy a middle position
among the various methods of adjusting the relations
between employers and men.
When employers herd their men together in classes,
pay all of each class the same wages, and offer none of
them any inducements to work harder or do better than
the average, the only remedy for the men lies in com-
bination ; and frequently the only possible answer to
encroachments on the part of their employers is a strike.
This state of affairs is far from satisfactory to either
employers or men, and the writer believes the system of
regulating the wages and conditions of employment of
whole classes of men by conference and agreement be-
tween the leaders, unions, and manufacturers to be vastly
inferior, both in its moral effect on the men and on the
material interests of both parties, to the plan of stimu-
lating each workman’s ambition by paying him accord-
ing to his individual worth, and without limiting him
to the rate of work or pay of the average of his class.
93. The level of the great mass of the world’s labor
has been, and must continue to be, regulated by causes
so many and so complex as to be at best but dimly
The utmost effect of any system, whether of manage-
ment, social combination, or legislation, can be but to
raise a small ripple or wave of prosperity above the sur-
rounding level, and the greatest hope of the writer is
that here and there a few workmen, with their em-
ployers, may be helped through this system toward the
crest of the wave.