That and two bucks will buy you …
The attitude of the Lake Superior copper mining companies toward trammers had, by 1913, created a labor shortage that negatively impacted what trammers they had.
Ocha Potter, superintendent of the Superior Mine, a subsidiary of the Calumet and Hecla Mining Company, testified during the U.S. House of Representatives investigation of the strike of 1913 that for several years prior to the strike the mining companies had been very short of trammers.
Based on his testimony, it appears that Potter did not quite grasp the significance of the differences he pointed out between tramming work and the labor performed by those not engaged in mining.
“The only difference is that these (trammers) work down underground, by the light of an acetylene lamp, and ‘ordinary’ surface work is done by daylight,” Potter said during the Congressional hearings.
Thomas Gibson, supervisor of Public Works of the village of Houghton, based on his testimony during the congressional hearings, seems to have had a much better understanding of the differences between tramming and roadwork than Potter did.
Gibson said that he frequently hired men for the summer months that worked in mines, primarily trammers, despite the lower wages paid to his work crews than those paid to trammers.
When asked why, he responded, “the men come out of the mines and work for you in the summer. I don’t know; only to get out and get a better job, probably.”
Gibson’s statement suggests that wages were not the only consideration in determining the definition of a “better job.”
Using Ocha Potter’s Superior Mine as an example, the U.S. Department of Labor, in its investigation, found that men in that mine were underground for about 10 hours and 20 minutes, one hour being allowed for dinner. It also included the time allowed for going from the surface to the working place and returning, about 10 minutes each way.
At the Quincy mine, men were underground for about nine hours, including one hour for lunch, and time required for going from the surface to the working place and returning. At Quincy, the travel time was about a half-hour each way.
The report of the Department of Labor also stated that the unskilled work of trammers “is much harder labor than the work of the miners, and their pay is considerably lower.”
In addition, the report stated trammers worked longer hours per week than the miners. Between Monday and Friday, on either the day or night shift, the hours miners and trammers were underground was nominally 10, but that time was often stretched to 10 ½ to 11 hours, owing to the inefficient means for lowering the men and bringing them back up.
While miners worked a shortened shift of between 5 and 5 ½ hours on Saturdays, trammers worked from 7 to 7 ½ hours.
Two trammers were required to load and push cars weighing between 1,200 pounds and 3,000 pounds, which were loaded with from 1 ½ to 2 ½ tons of rock. “Two men, or for the heavier loads three,” the report stated, “push this weight of 4,800 pounds over rough tracks hundreds of feet, often from 1,000 to 1,500 and sometimes farther, and do this many times a day.”
At the Superior Mine, the weight of a tram car was recorded as 1,900 pounds, minus the 2 ½ ton rock when filled. Based on his ideas on differences between underground and surface work, Potter seems to have had little knowledge of what his trammers did or what was involved in their day.
While trammers were paid more than non-mining unskilled laborers, the mining companies made deductions from their earnings. Trammers were charged 25 cents each for pick handles, $1 for each shovel, 75 cents for an acetylene lamp or 25 cents for the older sunshine lamps.
The investigation report stated that “deductions from earnings are made on payday for rent of houses occupied by employees, and for coal, wood, or electric lights that the company may furnish them.”
Other deductions included funds for access to the company physician – 50 cents for single men and $1 for married men. Most companies also deducted 50 cents a month from each employee for the “Aid Fund,” which was a sick-benefit fund. In other words, the employees financed their health insurance.
Whether street crews were charged by municipalities for their tools, the investigations did not examine. But in a very real way, the insurances were a huge cost-savings to the employees. The hospital deduction covered medical and surgical attention and all medicine that may be necessary for the entire family, the Bureau of Labor report stated.
According to the investigation findings, however, employees were often charged additionally for hospital stays and medical attention. At the same time, if a worker was sick or injured and required time off, the aid fund provided him benefits to carry him over until he was able to return to work.
The Bureau of Labor studied the records of all the companies. In compiling averages regarding earnings, the Calumet and Hecla Mining Company and its subsidiaries were calculated separately, because the wealth of those mines placed them in a different pay category than the others.
For instance, the Bureau of Labor reported the earnings of trammers employed during the year (1912-1913). The calculations made showed that C&H trammers averaged from $2.50 to $2.91 per shift and averaged $2.75 per shift. Earnings for trammers at all other mines varied from $2.30 to $2.54 per shift, averaging $2.40. If the calculations for C&H were factored in, the average earnings of all trammers in the district rose to $2.59.
The Bureau of Labor then looked at dockets (pay stubs) for the period between January and July 1913, which included the man’s name, company, occupation, shifts worked during a particular month, deductions taken from the earnings, and the net amount received by the worker.
Two examples are as follows:
Joseph Allen was a rockhouse worker at the Superior Mine, who in May worked 26 shifts. His monthly earnings were $53. Fifty cents were deducted for the physician and aid fund. His net earnings for the month were $52.50. An extreme example is found with another rockhouse laborer, Paul Musso, also at the Superior Mine. In July 1913, he worked 17 shifts, earning a total of $38.60. His deductions totaled $15.15, for a net of $23.45. His deductions were $1 for the physician and aid fund and $14.15 for building materials for his owned home.
Joseph Allen’s statistics are typical for the period for both earnings and deductions. However, it should be noted that Allen’s deductions did not include house fuel of any kind or assignments to a grocery store.
The investigation of the conditions of the strike that was conducted by the Copper Country Commercial Club compared costs of living in the Lake Superior copper district to those of the Butte, Mont., mining districts, where the Western Federation of Miners had won strikes in the past. But, as mentioned earlier, it does not make comparisons between wages and costs between mine workers and non-mine workers in the Michigan district. The Michigan district operated strictly on copper. Butte was not only a copper producer, but it also produced gold and silver; Butte’s nickname was “The Richest Hill on Earth.” Copper was discovered after silver and gold.
The Mining History Association on its website states, “By 1896 a five square mile section of the earth was producing 210,000,000 pounds of copper a year, over 26% of the world supply, 51% of the United States’, and employing some 8,000 men with a payroll equivalent to $44,000,000 a month in today’s dollars.”