Kellogg's Six Hour Day, Benjamin Kline Hunnicutt (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1996) 261 pages
On Nov 24, 1930 Kelloggs Company President Lewis Brown announced the 6-hour day for workers. There were adjustments and controversies over the years but the policy continued to be an option for at least some workers until 1985, when it came to an abrupt end. Mr. Hunnicutt’s book presents a documented history of the 6-hour day at Kelloggs along with interviews of the Kellogg’s workforce from the shorter hours era. The history and supporting material make the case for a shorter work day, a still relevant but largely ignored policy.
There are nine chapters, which follow a rough chronology from the start in 1930 until 1985. Chapter 2 and Chapter 6 have supporting material with Chapter 2 primarily devoted to organized labors’ efforts to reduce work hours. Chapter 6 discusses human relations theories and the relation between work and human needs.
Chapter one presents the early years of success when management and labor supported the plan and largely cooperated to make it work. Data reported in the book shows Kelloggs had 1,500 workers at the start. With the 6 hour day the minimum daily wage for male workers increased to $4.00 a day. Other wages went up 12.5 percent. Kellogg’s asked for sharing of the burden with workers by sharing a modest weekly pay cut due to the 25 percent decline in hours in exchange for work rule concessions. Kelloggs hired more people and paid more in total wages as a result of 6 hour day. Hourly pay as opposed to total pay was important to the workforce. The 6-hour day was the company's effort to share the benefits of mechanization and productivity with workers and fulfill its obligation to the community. Lewis Brown felt Ford had already proved that shorter hours "was a good cost cutting move."
As part of the deal management insisted on the elimination of the night shift bonus and half hour lunch break when they went to four shifts at 6 hours each. Also the overtime bonus was phased out in favor of a production bonus based on what workers produced not how long they worked. Brown felt this was scientific management with shorter hours giving new opportunities for recreation and enjoyment.
Brown wrote of "another income of which we do not often think, and yet it is the one by which much of our lives is governed. ... Happiness is a bigger 'mental value' ... than the gain in money income ... of the job. The mental income is satisfaction - the enjoyment of the surroundings of your home, the place you work, your neighbors, the other pleasures you have - [which are] harder to translate into dollars and cents." He claimed that the 6-hour day would "revolutionize continuous industry operations" and laissez-faire capitalism because the balance of the workers lives would shift from concerns about work and economic matters to the various kinds of "mental income" life offered. ...
Lewis Brown guided company through the early 6-hour period. By April 14, 1931 Brown decided to make 6 hour day permanent concluding that shorter hours had proven a successful response to industrial mechanization. He found that workers were more efficient and worked harder on 6-hour shifts. He wrote, “workers worked with a will and a spirit in anticipation of the early quitting time; they accepted the "speed ups" and production bonuses because of the lure of leisure."
Brown admitted their jobs were boring and monotonous so that current and future work was likely to be boring and so it was important to work for shorter hours. Brown believed few workers found their work as interesting or fun as their time off. "Leisure" for Brown had matured into an open ended idea like "Freedom" which meant rest, family, life, recreation, education, music, ... cultural studies[sic] ... resulting in a more health, ambitious, alert, and aggressive working force." Since work was becoming more machine like it was better to eliminate it where possible.
In 1935, after 5 years on the 6 hour day, W.(William) K.(Keith) Kellogg Co. recommitted itself to the short schedule, finding that the "burden[or overhead] unit cost was reduced 25% ... labor unit costs reduced 10% ... accidents reduced 41% ... the severity of accidents(days lost per accident) improved 51% ... [and] 39% more people [were] working at Kellogg's than in 1929." "This isn't just a theory with us," W. K. boldly maintained. "We have proved it with five years' actual experience. We have found that, with the shorter working day, the efficiency and morale of our employees is [sic] so increased, the accident and insurance rates are so improved, and the unit cost of production is so lowered that we can afford to pay as much for six hours as we formerly paid for eight."
As we can tell Mr. Hunnicutt lets Mr. Brown and Mr. Kelloggs make the case for a shorter work week. The next chapter, Chapter 2, discusses labor movement history and reminds us that the early days of industrialization were periods of 10 and 12 hour days and 6 day work weeks at least up to the 1920’s. In these earlier periods labor fought to reduce work hours and the days in the work week, but much less for higher wages. By the end of the chapter many readers will realize modern day unions have abandoned the effort for shorter work hours.
After a chapter devoted to interviews with the workforce the book reaches 1937 when WK Kellogg retired and new management took over at Kelloggs. It was also the year the workforce elected to have a union. The two changes brought conflict where there had previously been harmony. The new management made it clear they would trade higher pay for longer hours and a smaller workforce. The remaining chapters of the book describe the nature of the conflict that finally brought an end to the 6 hour day at Kelloggs.
Work and pay negotiations and the 6 hour day were suspended during the Second World War and had to be restored by supporters. Management offered a raise if the union would agree to an 8 hour day, but the union voted 1477 for 6 hour day, only 440 in favor. However, the lopsided vote did not discourage management and they continued their pressure to undermine the 6 hour day. The company pressed to have department by department votes. Union pressed for plant wide vote. Company wanted to reduce the workforce and the union wanted to guarantee work for its older workers.
These chapters also describe management’s human relations efforts to undermine support for the 6 hour day among the union rank and file. For example, management began to call 6-hour work women's work and segregated older and partially disabled into 6 hour departments.
Pressure from the company divided the workforce until management had members of the union to lobby their views to others. The union began to speak of "job enhancement,” "satisfaction,” “more money for longer hours” and the "right attitude." Workers began to see favoritism in assignments for those who adopted the "right" attitude because many accepted the new management.
Chapter 8 describes the arguments and disagreements that developed over leisure time. Some argued the management position that leisure was good for nothing but idleness and the foolishness of women. The opposition, who called themselves mavericks by the 1950’s, countered with "the benefits of the 6 hour work day depends upon the quality of the use of time.” … While "crafts," "recreation," "hobbies," "pastimes," "games," “participatory sports’” were discredited in local discussion, many of the activities of the 6 hour day such as home cooking, gardening, sewing, music, home decorating, and conversation are now taken over with passive activities that are commercial. Now we defrost frozen dinners or buy fast food. We buy cut flowers. We do not converse we listen to the talk show.
Chapter 9 briefly recounts the 1980’s style business tactics that ended the 6 hour day at Kelloggs. Demands for tax favors, subsidies and threats to relocate were among them.
Even though the business view prevailed at Kelloggs, the book should be thought of as an important source of arguments for, and defense of, shorter hours. Shortening work hours continues to be relevant in 2007 as it was in 1930. Fewer hours for full time work spreads the work and jobs to more people and Hunnicutt’s use of available archival data and his discussion emphasize this point.
Cutting the work day has important economic effects, but the reader may get the impression, as I did, that the Kellogg position against shorter hours was partly driven by managerial determination to be in control. Longer hours pressures the rank and file to give up control of their time and helps management identify the more compliant people in their workforce.
Neither the Republicans nor the Democrats will touch the issue since business wants longer hours and the hefty increase in labor supply long hours represents. More surprising organized labor has shown little interest in shorter hours at least lately. Where union negotiations bring higher wages, business will economize on labor. Higher wages for fewer people divides the workforce since those left out are thrown into a surplus labor pool to earn lower wages or low wages. Solidarity is hard to achieve with the types of wage divisions that exist today in American labor markets. Labor would do well to think over bargaining for a shorter work week.
Kellogg’s Six Hour Day is an academic work that is logically organized, fully documented and written in a serious documentary or historical style, but not a journalistic or popular style. Nor does the book offer an operational plan to change the current wages and hours act or suggest how unions might bargain for a shorter hours policy. There are many shorter hours policies to explore, but the book avoids direct advocacy as part of the narrative. The reader can tell Mr. Hunnicutt believes America needs shorter hours, but the record from Kelloggs is allowed to speak for itself.