John Vonderlin: Unhappy, Unpaid Ocean Shore Laborers


Story from John Vonderlin

Email John ([email protected])

Hi June,

Here’s an article that has a little piece of the complex puzzle of why the Ocean Shore Railroad failed. I was  happy to see the employees of the Unemployed co-operative   league, my favorite union, getting involved in this, no matter the irony.

My guess is this story is more complex then the plaintiff’s lawyer asserts. With few banks, little literacy(signed with an X)  and a “Wild West” scene at the labor camps with saloons, gambling, extortion, prostitution, and violent crime,  having paychecks become legal tender is problematic. And how Mr. Genatto, the “humblest citizen,” the man who did the hard work, is protected by Mr. Backus being able to cash his check, I’m not quite sure. He may may have accepted it for gambling losses, a night’s drunken binge-ing or other misguided pleasureseeking.

On the other hand, after working a long, hard day at a dangerous job, to have the company make me wait until I could go to San Francisco, (or HMB) to get that whole dollar I earned, burning a hole in my pocket, might irritate workers hankering to spend it on some of the fine entertainment I mentioned..

I will agree with the lawyer that earning $1 a day, for backbreaking dangerous work, makes one a member of the “humblest citizen” class. But, ironically, those humblest of citizens, at least got fully paid, unlike almost all of the investors and many of the contractors and suppliers of the Ocean Shore Railroad.  Enjoy. John



Test Case Will Be Made Against

Time Check System by

Co-operative League

Attorney Denounces Railway

Company and Threatens to

Go the Limit in Court

As a test case in the campaign

against  the  time – check system, – suit

was filed in the justice  court yesterday

by Backus, a member of the Unemployed

co-operative league against the Ocean

Shore railway company for a claim

of $29.50.

The time check was .made payable

to^ A. A Genatto,  a  laborer, and after

passing through .various hands was as-

signed finally to  Backus,  who declared

in his complaint, that he was unable to

collect.  The check, according  to the

data on its face, was payable April 15,

1909, for 30 days’ work, done, during

the month of December 1908, at the

rate of $1 a-day. Of the total amount

50 cents was deducted for hospital

service. (What! no health care benefits?)

Attorney G.B. Benham, representing

the plaintiff, said that the case was a

test one. “We are anxious to find out,”

he  said, “by what right these firms

refuse to pay their  workmen,  and

whether or not they have a legal

ground for their  action. This is the

first case and it will be followed  by

scores: of others.”

Backus, was emphatic in his denun-

ciation. “The present instance,” he

said, “is one of many, but it has been

selected for prosecution because of its

aggravated character.  We propose to

go the limit in showing up this corporation,

which has always received generous

treatment from. San Francisco and

which is guilty of such inhumanity to

one of its humblest citizens.”

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