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UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF LABOR
WOMEN’S BUREAU

THE EMPLOYMENT OF
WOMEN IN PUERTO RICO
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TYPICAL NATIVE HUT.

UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF LABOR
FRANCES PERKINS, SECRETARY

WOMEN’S BUREAU
MARY ANDERSON, Director

BULLETIN OF THE WOMEN’S BUREAU, NO. 118

THE EMPLOYMENT OF WOMEN
IN PUERTO RICO
CAROLINE MANNING

UNITED STATES
GOVERNMENT PRINTING OFFICE
WASHINGTON : 1934

For sal* by tho Superintendent of Documents, Washington, D. C.




Price S cents




CONTENTS
Pace

v

Letter of transmittal--------------------------------------------------------------Home work in the needle trades----------------------------------------------Introduction-------------------------------------------------------------------Extent of factory work----------------------------------------------------Summary____________________________________________
Method of home-work survey-------------------------------------------Earnings of home workers------------------------------------------------Estimates of management as to time and earnings--------------Agents_________________________________________________
Subagents______________________________________________
Wage agreement frustrated..--------------------------------------------Other effects of disorganization----------------------------------------Drawbacks of home work to managers------------------------------Proposed community workshops---------------------------------------Comparison with mainland wages-------------------------------------Assistance by men and children---------------------------------------Family income__________________________________________
Homes in which work is done-------------------------------------------Recommendations_______________________________________
Factory employment in the needle trades--------------------------------Men’s clothing__________________________________________
Women’s dresses------------------------------------------------------------Infants’ and children’s cotton dresses-------------------------------Handkerchiefs__________________________________________
Underwear---------------------------------------------------------------- --­
Employment of women in industries other than the needle trades
Canneries______________________________________________
Tobacco and cigar industry---------------------------------------------Straw hats_____________________________________________
Stores__________________________________________________
Laundries______________________________________________
Telephone exchanges-------------------------------------------------------

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. 33

ILLUSTRATIONS
Facing Page

Typical native hut------ --------- ------------------------------------Home-work processes as done in a factory...-----------------Sewing with a hand machine on a board laid on the bed.
box, with knees against the bed------------------------------Squatters shacks on mud flats------------------------------------Better type of town houses-----------------------------------------




________ Frontispiece
_______________ 14
Worker sits on a
_______________ 15
_______________ 18
_______________ 19

ui




LETTER OF TRANSMITTAL
United States Department of Labor,
Women’s Bureau,

Washington, May 7, 1934.
I have the honor to transmit for publication a report on
the employment of women in Puerto Rico. In connection with the
establishment of the Bureau of Women and Children in the Puerto
Rico Department of Labor, for which the Federal Women’s Bureau
lent the services of an industrial supervisor, a survey of the industries
of the island was made, with special attention to home work in the
needle trades. The effects on the sewing trades on the mainland of
the enormous quantities of hand-made garments, handkerchiefs, and
other articles produced in Puerto Rico at extremely low wages would
be difficult to measure.
To secure information to be applied in the drafting of a code for
home workers in the needle trades of the island, hours and earnings
were inquired into. The data have been presented at hearings on a
code held at San Juan and at Washington.
As stated, the survey was conducted jointly by the Federal and
Insular Departments of Labor, Caroline Manning, industrial super­
visor of the Women’s Bureau, representing the former. The report is
the work of Miss Manning.
The cooperation extended by employers, workers, and other persons
while the survey was in progress is gratefully acknowledged.
Respectfully submitted.
Mart Anderson, Director.
Hon. Frances Perkins,
Secretary of Labor.
Madam:




v

THE EMPLOYMENT OF WOMEN
IN PUERTO RICO
HOME WORK IN THE NEEDLE TRADES
INTRODUCTION
This information on home work was gathered in connection with a
survey of the needle trades of Puerto Rico that was made in the winter
of 1933-34 under the joint auspices of the Federal and Insular
Departments of Labor. This system, said to comprise all but a small
part of the entire needlework industry of the island, is of great interest
to the mainland, where the markets are flooded with Puerto Rican
products covering a wide range of qualities and prices. The home­
work information in the following pages was presented at the hearings
on a code for the needle trades held at San Juan and at Washington.
EXTENT OF FACTORY WORK
The number of establishments in the needlework industry varies
greatly from time to time. A recent report of the Insular Department
of Labor gives the number visited as 91. There are 129 such establish­
ments in the following summary of a recent trade list:
Number of
factories

Product

Total-.............................. ........ ............................... ............ ..

129

Handkerchiefs1 41
Men’s suits, pants, or shirts 29
Infants’ or children’s dresses 16
Women’s underwear:
Silk lingerie
Other
Household linen
Various

7
16
10
10

The Puerto Rico Department of Labor states that 4,723 persons,
only 250 of them men, are employed inside the 91 shops it reports.
SUMMARY

A brief summary of the report shows the following:
Date: Winter of 1933-34.
Scope: 323 workers, in 252 homes, were visited.
Time worked by women:
Some women worked extremely long hours, days and evenings. In terms of
8-hour days, one-third of the women finished their bundles of home work in 2 to 4
days and one-third finished them in 5 to 8 days, all but four of the remainder taking
9 days or more.
1 Many small, probably little more than distributing centers of home work.




1

2

THE EMPLOYMENT OP WOMEN IN PUERTO RICO

Earnings:
Earnings per bundle ranged from 10 cents or less to $4, the median being 65
cents. Only 8 percent of the women earned as much as $2. About one-fifth (19.2
percent) earned less than 25 cents.
Hourly earnings were extremely low: For 31.4 percent of the women they were
less than 1 cent, for 31.1 percent they were 1 and under 2 cents, and for 31.4 per­
cent they were 2 and under 4 cents.
Agents, whose commissions (averaging about 22 percent) greatly reduce the
home workers’ earnings, also were interviewed. A number of subagents were
found.
Unfair practices included payment in groceries; payment in keep; delays in
supplying work and in payment; retention by agent of wage increases.
Worries of the contractors were delay in return of work, spoiled goods, and
constant cutting of rates by New York firms.

METHOD OF HOME-WORK SURVEY
N o manufacturer or contractor was able to give a satisfactory answer
to the question, “How many home workers do you employ?” A repre­
sentative answer was, “We do not know who does the work or where
it is done.” The estimate of 50,000 home workers for the island as a
whole must include many persons who work part time and many who
are now unemployed.
Neither could the contractors give any reliable information about
the amount of work the individual workers received, nor how much
each actually earned, or when they were paid. In San Juan 6 employ­
ers who give out work to be done in homes furnished the names of 89
of their agents, living in 37 widely scattered towns. They knew how
much the agents were paid, but how much of this the agents retained
for themselves and how much they paid the home workers no manu­
facturer or contractor was able to say.
To obtain some definite information about the work done in the
homes, 323 women were visited by agents of the United States and
Puerto Rico Departments of Labor in the winter of 1933-34. No
special plan was followed in selecting the homes to be visited, other
than to cover most parts of the island and to find the various
operations on all types of garments usually delivered to the homes.
The replies of home workers who were working on the same style
numbers were so surprisingly uniform, though they were living miles
apart, that they inspired confidence in the interview method and the
results of the survey.
Schedules were obtained from 323 workers in 252 households.
Fewer than 40 percent were mothers of families, and the number of
single daughters was about the same. In 145 households there were
children less than 7 years old. Yet even in these homes there seemed
to be someone besides the home worker who was free to take much of
the household responsibility. Aside from washing, domestic duties
interfered but little with the business of sewing in most cases, although
some were very casual workers, so casual sometimes that their replies
could hardly be used in summarizing facts. One-fourth of these home
workers had had experience inside of factories.
In 113 of the 252 households the only wage income during the week
previous to the agent’s visit had been from home work. Though some
families had other sources of income, it was likely to be negligible,
possibly 3 or 4 chickens, a goat, or a few banana trees. Rarely was
there any income of importance. It is small wonder that over half of
the women sewed 8, 9, or 10 hours daily when they could get work.




HOME WORK IN THE NEEDLE TRADER

EARNINGS OF HOME WORKERS
The discussion with the home workers of rates and earnings was
restricted to the last bundle of work completed by the interviewed
person. These bundles varied greatly in number of pieces, type of
work required, total amount of work on the various garments, and
rates paid. In some bundles of handkerchiefs there were several dozen
pieces; others consisted of possibly only a dozen handkerchiefs; and
in the case of silk undeiwear 2 or 3 pieces often made up a bundle.
The finest kind of embroidery was required in some cases, while in
other bundles the work was coarse and poor. Some work was slow,
other work went fast. All these various factors had to be considered
in discussing the last bundle of work. The scheduled questions, using
the last bundle as a base, included the names of contractor, agent,
and subagent, type of garment, material, size of bundle, rate paid
per dozen, time necessary to complete a piece or a dozen (or what­
ever unit of work the worker was best able to discuss), the usual
working time a day and variations from day to day. These questions
gradually led up to other inquiries about the amount earned for the
last bundle of work and the time required to complete it, first in
number of days on which work was done and then the hours worked
from day to day—reckoned roughly, of course, in many cases. Al­
ways an effort was made to allow for interruptions in the home work
and to keep the interview on a reasonable basis.
As was to be expected, some of the more casual workers failed to
give definite replies, but on the other hand it was surprising how many
regarded home work in a businesslike way and were able to make
consistent answers throughout the schedule. In cases where in­
complete or contradictory replies were made, the schedule was of
little statistical value. To reduce the schedule data to a common
denominator—or a common talking point—the working time per
bundle was reduced (in the office) to units of 8-hour days; for ex­
ample, if a woman after much questioning reported that she had
spent 2 mornings, 1 afternoon, and a long evening sewing quite
steadily, her working time was reckoned roughly as 2 days.
That many bundles are small, not large enough to keep a woman
working all the week, is evidenced by the fact that about one fourth
of the women had finished their bundles in 2 or 3 days and a few had
completed them within 1 day. However, another fourth took 6, 7,
or 8 days to finish their bundles, and one-eighth had worked on them
2 weeks, 3 weeks, even a month.
The earnings of the 323 women who reported definitely these data
on earnings and time worked ranged from less than 25 cents to $4 a
bundle:
Percent of the

Earnings per bundle:
women
Less than 25 cents 19. 2
25, less than 50 cents•23. 2
50 cents, less than $127. 6
$1, less than $222. 0
$2 or more 8. 0

Only 9 women earned as much as $3 a bundle, and the largest
amount was $4, for embroidering silk slips, earned by a young girl
who worked most diligently for 2 weeks on the allotment of 8 pieces.
59100°—34------ 2




4

THE EMPLOYMENT OP WOMEN IN PUERTO RICO

As an illustration of how little some bundles of work netted may
be mentioned the young woman who struggled for 2 days embroid­
ering handkerchiefs and had only 20 cents to show for her work; or
another who by embroidering a dozen coarse nightgowns earned 12
cents for her day’s work. In a few instances the rate for the bundles
was as little as 10 cents, or even less. To furnish a fairer picture of
earnings, a table showing the amounts received per bundle and the time
worked follows.
Earnings from last bundle of work, by days worked
NUMBER OF HOME WORKERS
Number
Less
of home
than
workers
reporting 25 cents

Days worked 1

Total................... ...............................

2
3

.............................................................
...................................... ..........................

13-18_
..................... .............................
19-24................................................................

25, less
than 50
cents

50 cents,
less
than $1

$1, less
than $2

323

62

75

89

71

4
40
41
27
26
30
30
20
19
22
12
8
25
7
12

4
21
12
6
2
6
3
2
1
2
1

17
12
9
6
5
4
7

2
15
8
8
15
9
3
8
5
3
2
7
2

2

7
1
2
3
1
1

2

2
4
9
2
13
6
7
3
5
2
12
1
5

$2 or
more

26

i

2
1

2
3
5
2
2

3
1
4

PERCENT OF HOME WORKERS
Total-----------------------------------——

4

..............................-.........................

100.0

100.0

1.2
12.4
12.7
8.4
8.0
9.3
9.3
6.2
5.9
6.8
3.7
2.6
7.7
2.2
3.7

6.5
33.9
19.4
9.7
3.2
9.7
4.8
3.2
1.6
3.2
1.6
3.2

100.0

100.0

100.0

22.7
16.0
12.0
8.0
6.7
5.3
9.3

2.2
16.9
9.0
9.0
16.9
10.1
3.4
9.0
5.6
3.4
2.2
7.9
2.2
2.2

2.8
5.6
12.7
2.8
18.3
8.5
9.9
4.2
7.0
2.8
16.9
1.4
7.0

9.3
1.3
2.7
4.0
1.3
1.3

1 Time worked in terms of 8-hour days.
Includes fractional parts of days, as 1 and under 2 days, 2 and
under 3 days, and so on.
»Not computed; base less than 50.

As is usual in piecework, there is no consistent increase in earnings
as the time required to complete the bundle increases. The median
time, however—half the women taking more and half taking less—
was, for less than 25 cents, about 3 days; for 25 and less than 50
cents, 5 days; for 50 cents and less than $1, almost 7 days; for
$1 and less than $2, 9 days; and for the small group earning $2 or
more, almost 11 days. All women who earned as much as 25 cents
worked longer than 1 day, and only 2 earned as much as 50 cents in
a 2-day period. All those who earned $2 or more had worked at
least 5 days. The median of the earnings was 65 cents.




HOME WORK IN THE NEEDLE TRADES

5

Estimated hourly earnings on last bundle of work, 823 home workers reporting total
earnings and time worked
Percent of

Hourly earnings (cents):
home workers
Less than 131. 4
1, less than 2_______________ 31. 1
2, less than 3 21. 2
3, less than 4 10. 2
4, less than 5
2. 7
5, less than 6
2. 1
6, less than 7
.3
7, less than 8
.9

Using the records of actual earnings per bundle and the estimated
number of 8-hour days necessary to complete the work, hourly earn­
ings have been reckoned, as an hour is a better unit for gaging work
that can be done so easily on a part-time basis. The results of these
estimates were surprisingly uniform, but they must be accepted with
some caution, as there were no written records of time worked, and
it had to be estimated.
Approximately half of the 123 women who were sewing on handker­
chiefs were making about 1 cent an hour; 30 percent were earning about
2 cents an hour, and a very few were earning as much as 6 cents. For
the group of 323 home workers as a whole, that is, not only those
working on handkerchiefs but those on household linens, dresses,
cotton nightgowns, silk lingerie, men’s pants and shirts, the earnings
are somewhat lower than those of the handkerchief workers. Re­
duced to an hourly basis, almost one-third of the 323 were earning
less than 1 cent an hour, about one-half were earning 1 or 2 cents, and
comparatively few—slightly more than one-twentieth—were earning
from 4 to 8 cents.
The scale of hourly earnings ran somewhat higher in men’s pants
and shirts than in other lines and was lowest in cotton nightgowns
and household linens. None of the 94 home workers in gowns and
linens earned as much as 3 cents an hour and almost three-fourths
were earning less than a cent an hour.
In silk lingerie most of the women were earning 1 to 2 or 3 cents an
hour; in dresses and handkerchiefs few were earning as much as 3 cents.
Hand-made products are or should be luxuries in the mass produc­
tion of the machine age, but home workers whose earnings average
only 1 to 2 or 3 cents an hour are paying the price for the rest of the
world that insists on finding exquisite handwork on the bargain table.
ESTIMATES OF MANAGEMENT AS TO TIME AND EARNINGS
In several instances contractors or agents with an intimate knowledge
of the labor required on various styles estimated the time required to
complete the necessary operations; and this time, correlated with the
rates per dozen, disclosed shockingly low wages in every case.
Cotton pillowcases
Hand scalloping and ornate embroidery, for which the rate is $1
per dozen pieces. A manager stated, “A girl must be very rapid to
make two, working steadily all day.” If a girl could make two a
day (and no girl doing this type of work reported such an accom­
plishment) she would earn 16 or 17 cents, less than 2 cents an hour.




6

THE EMPLOYMENT OE WOMEN IN PUERTO RICO

Cotton nightgowns
(1) A fairly simple design for which contractor pays agent 43 cents
a dozen and agent pays home worker 30 cents; the agent’s sister, a
particularly fast and good sewer, can finish six gowns a day, working
from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.; that is, 15 cents for at least 10 hours of work,
or about 1 % cents an hour.
(2) A very ornate embroidery design and scallop trimming
around neck and armholes. Design consists of 1}{ yards of double
hemstitching and 120 each of eyelets and embroidered leaves, dots,
and stems. The contractor pays $1.43 a dozen gowns for this work
and agent pays home -worker $1.25. The agent estimated that a swift
worker might do all the embroidery but hemstitching on one gown
in a day, working morning, afternoon, and night. She would earn
not over 10 cents for such a day’s work, probably averaging about
1 cent an hour.
Silk lingerie
(1) A hand embroiderer inside a factory—a good worker—has the
record of finishing her work on two silk undergarments in a day.
At the rate of $2 a dozen, her daily earnings are 33 cents, or 4 cents an
hour.
(2) On another style the agent herself was sewing. She stated
that with great concentration she could do one piece in a full day.
The rate being $1.75 a dozen, she is able to earn about 15 cents a day,
roughly 2 cents an hour.
Handkerchiefs
(1) Fairly fine and nice. Contractor estimated that a good sewer
cannot make over two a day unless she works from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.,
in which case she might embroider three a day. The rate is 96 cents a
dozen, as paid by contractor. Agent keeps 16 cents of this and pays
home worker 80 cents a dozen, which would yield 13 or 20 cents a
day according to whether 2 or 3 are made, or about 2 cents an hour.
(2) Cotton handkerchiefs retailing in New York at 5 cents apiece
(14% cents a dozen wholesale) have coarse embroidery in four colors
in each comer. The contractor estimated that a worker should em­
broider 2% dozens a day. At the rate of 8 cents a dozen her earnings
are 20 cents a day, or 2% cents an hour.
(3) In one little shop, inside workers were embroidering on hand­
kerchiefs the same designs as done by home workers. A very good
inside worker was finishing eight pieces a day, paid at the rate of 45
cents a dozen. Speeding all day, almost without interruption, that
worker was able to make 30 cents a day, or between 3 and 4 cents
an hour.
Infants’ dresses
Infants’ dresses with fagoting, hemstitching, and an embroidered
design on yoke and hem, the type of garment that retailed in the
summer of 1933 in some stores for about $1 apiece, are made for $1.50
a dozen. It takes a day to make one of these garments and nets the
maker 15 cents, roughly 2 cents an hour.
Silk blouses
Home workers receive $6.50 a dozen for making silk blouses by
hand. The agent estimated most carefully that it requires 1 % days




HOME WORK IN THE NEEDLE TRADES

7

to make 1; that is, 54 cents for at least 12 hours of work, or 4% cents
an hour.
In these 10 cases, as reckoned by someone connected with manage­
ment, daily earnings ranged from 10 cents through 15, 20, 30, to 36
cents, and hourly earnings ranged from 1 to 4% cents; one may have
reached 5 cents, but the most were around 2 cents an hour. This
corresponds quite closely to a statement made by a contractor who
had inside embroiderers, that they made perhaps 30 cents a day, not
over.
Further, these estimates by management did not differ much from
the estimates made from the statements of home workers. In both
cases the hand embroiderers and sewers could count on little more than
a few cents a day, at the most 2 or 3 cents an hour.
AGENTS
Not only were the workers in the homes visited, but the agents who
represented the contractors were interviewed. Some agents worked
for only one manufacturer or contractor, while others worked for as
many as 5 or 6. One agent who was delivering work for three con­
tractors, in three widely separated towns, was himself a contractor
for a New York firm.
Altogether, agents supplied data on 197 style numbers on which
women were working. The questions asked them related chiefly
to the quantity of work, amounts paid by the contractor, the recent
increase in rates, their own commissions, usual practice in determining
amount of commission, home workers’ earnings, and delays in col­
lection of the finished work.
Invoices of goods made out by the contractors were helpful in
verifying styles, quantities, and amounts per unit paid by the con­
tractors for the work, and were an excellent check on the statements
of the agents. Rarely was there a record showing how much the
agents paid the home workers, but statements made by one or more
home workers under each agent offered a satisfactory means of check­
ing his oral reports. In this way the business methods of the agents
were verified both by contractors’ invoices and the experience of home
workers.
There was no standard agreement that controlled the agents’
business arrangements with the home workers. Whatever they could
make for themselves they did. Their demands varied from commu­
nity to community and from individual to individual.
Illustrative of the haphazard arrangements was the case of two
agents who were receiving a straight commission from the contractor
for whom they both worked. The commission of one was fixed at
10 percent; for the other it was 5 percent, as she was less capable.
However, in addition to this 5 percent commission the latter agent
was deducting 6 percent from the amount intended by the contractor
for the home workers’ earnings, so that as a matter of fact the second
agent was getting more per dozen than the more efficient agent who
was paid the higher commission.




8

THE EMPLOYMENT OF WOMEN IN PUERTO RIOO

Proportion retained by agent of total amount (including commission and wage
increase) paid per unit by contractor for work done in homes
[Total: 197 style numbers
Proportion of payment retained by agent (percent)

Less than 10
10, less than 15
15, less than 20_____ ______
20, less than 25 _
35, less than 40_______
___ _________ _ _______
40, less than 50_______ ________ ________________________

Number of Percent of
styles
styles

3
25
55
37
39
20
12
5
1

1.
12.
27.
18.
19.
10.
6.
2.
.

5
7
9
8
8
2
1
5
5

Occasionally the agent kept very little of the amount paid per
dozen for the outside work, sometimes as little as 10 percent, but on
the other hand a few retained as much as 40 or 50 percent. The
average (median) was approximately 22 percent.
In the cases of the 197 style numbers for which complete records
were obtained, from the time they left the contractor’s shop until
finished by the home worker, the agents kept 25 percent or more of
the amount paid by the contractor per unit for about two-fifths of
the style numbers, 30 percent or more for about one-fifth of the style
numbers.
Relation of agent’s commission to home-work earnings per unit of work
[Total: 197 style numbers]

Proportion that agent’s commission is of home-work earnings per unit (percent)

Number and percent of
styles affected by
specified proportions
Number

Percent

48
67
47
12
23

24.
34.
23.
6.
11.

4
0
9
1
7

In two-fifths (41.6 percent) of the styles, agents’ commissions were
30 percent or more of home-work earnings per dozen articles; in
over one-tenth (11.7 percent) of the styles, agents’ commissions were
50 percent or more. Further, the agent handles many dozens while
a home worker may be embroidering only 1 dozen, so that the agent’s
income is determined more by the quantity he distributes than by
the commission rate per dozen, which he is free to fix for himself.
Several agents claimed to have a few hundred home workers, but
inspection proved that large numbers of home workers were not
receiving work at the time of the interview. For the most part the
igent seemed to be making a living. Reliable records showed that




HOME WORK IN THE NEEDLE TRADES

9

one agent’s commission was $125 for one month in the fall of 1933;
another’s was $97.73 for 2 months. In 1 month another agent re­
turned 2,097 dozen handkerchiefs to one of the three firms for whom
he was distributing work; for each dozen he retained about 2 cents
for his own income. Another agent made $68.21 in a month’s period.
Two cases were found where the agents were conducting verysmall shops with crude equipment. The few employees were either
living in or their families were free tenants on the agent’s farm. The
girls who lived in worked 9 % hours a day. But the wrorst situation
was the matter of wages. While the agent herself was receiving
about $25 a week from her contractor, she was paying only $6 in
wages to all the girls together.
Another agent was making a neat sum by distributing silk lingerie,
for which the contractor paid her $5.76 a dozen to cover all the outside
labor cost including her own earnings and those of the home worker.
In practice she kept $2.91 for herself and paid her workers $2.85 for
the embroidery.
Rates for embroidering bridge sets were low. They were paid by
the dozen sets, but each set consisted of 1 cloth and 4 napkins, making
60 pieces per dozen sets. The embroidery was coarse, and the
rate was as low as 30 cents a dozen sets for the embroidery, the agent
taking 16 cents as her commission.
Another style of bridge set was paid by the contractor at the
rate of 80 cents a dozen sets. Two agents were found distributing
this style, but while one deducted 20 cents as her commission the
other deducted 30 cents.
Not only were agents working independently, but contractors
perhaps were setting the pace, judging at least by the case of two
contractors handling the same style of garment for the same firm in
New York. For similar styles with practically the same amount of
work one contractor was paying his agents $3.60 a dozen while the
other was paying less than half as much, only $1.65. For another
style handled by two contractors the rate paid" by the first was $5.40
and by the second $2.75.
SUBAGENTS
When the amount paid by the contractor or manufacturer is sub­
divided into earnings for not only the agent and the home worker
but an intermediary person, a subagent, who acts in turn as a dis­
tributor for the agent, the earnings of one of the groups, agents or
home workers, must be correspondingly less.
Subagents usually work in the remoter districts not easily reached
by the agent. During this survey, less than a score of subagents
were found, and in some cases the information received was so incom­
plete or proved so contradictory that the final analysis simmered
down to only 10 cases or style numbers handled by subagents. These
10 cases, however, were verified by manufacturers’ records, statements
of agents giving out these style numbers, and home workers receiving
goods from the subagents. Unless such corroboration of amount
paid and received could be made through each successive stage of
handling, no comparison was made of the distribution of the labor
cost of the outside work of the manufacturer.




10

THE EMPLOYMENT OP WOMEN IN PUERTO RICO

These 10 illustrations may be too few in number to be representa­
tive of the entire system but they do indicate a trend. In no case
had the manufacturer or contractor any information about the sub­
agents; he shirked the responsibility for them as much as he did for
the home workers. Of course he knows that there are subagents in
the system, but it is immaterial to him whether or not any subagent
handles his goods or how many handle his goods.

Style

3.......................................-...........
5............................ -........ -........6.-------------------------------------8__........... ...........-........ -..........

9............. ...........-____________
10--------------- -----------------------

Total
amount
paid for
outside
labor by
contrac­
tor (per
dozen)
$0. 41
.072
.096
.24
.24
.08
.24
.24
.25
1.50

Distribution of labor cost
showing earnings of—

Agent

$0.10
.024
.025
.04
.04
.01
.06
.042
.06
.20

Sub­
agent

$0.16
.008
.01
.02
.04
.01
.02
.028
.02
.20

Home
worker

$0.15
.04
.06
. 18
.16
.06
.16
.17
.17
1.10

Percent distribution of labor
cost of earnings of—

Agent

24.4
33.3
27.1
16.7
16.7
12.5
25.0
17.5
24.0
13.3

Sub­
agent

39.0
11.1
10.4
8.3
16.7
12.5
8.3
11.7
8.0
13.3

Home
worker

36.6
55.5
62.5
75.0
65.7
75.0
66.7
70.8
68.0
73.3

The most amazing example of how this system can work was that
of a subagent distributing work on children’s dresses. The contractor
was paying 41 cents a dozen for outside labor. The agent retained 10
cents as his commission, the subagent 16 cents as his commission,
which left 15 cents for the home worker. In this one instance the
subagent was making more than the agent or the home worker.
Usually, however, the amounts retained by the subagents in lieu of a
definite commission were less than those of the agents; but in a few
instances subagents retained the same amounts as the agents. There
was absolutely no uniformity in the business arrangements. In some
cases the subagents kept from 8 to 16% percent as their part of the
income, and in one case 39 percent. Agents kept amounts varying from
12% to 33% percent. The part that fell to the home workers ordinarily
ranged from 55 to 75 percent of the total.
Another instance showing lack of organization is that of two sub­
agents who were distributing work for the same agent. The first sub­
agent kept 16% percent as his commission while the other subagent
kept 8.3 percent. The agent was retaining 25 percent of the labor
cost allowed for the style handled by the first subagent and was
retaining 16% percent for the work handled by the second subagent.
It was customary for the agents to retain the same amount regardless
of whether they themselves distributed the work to the home workers
or it was done through their subagents. So the home workers
obviously were the ones who suffered a decrease in earnings in order to
provide for the payment of the third party. The home workers’ in­
comes decreased in direct proportion to the amounts the subagents
were free to deduct for themselves. A contractor was paying a
uniform rate of 24 cents a dozen to each of 3 agents, who in turn were
paying 18, 19, and 20 cents, respectively, to their subagents. It could
hardly be expected in such cases that the subagents or home workers
would earn uniform amounts for practically the same work.




HOME WORK IN THE NEEDLE TRADES

11

Percent sub­
Percent sub­
Percent agent's
agent’s earnings agent’s earnings earnings are of
are of the agent’s are of the home the home work­
earnings
worker's earnings
er’s earnings
33.
33.
33.
38.
50.
66.
100.
100.
100.
160.

3
3
3
4
0
7
0
0
0
0

ii.
11.
12.
16.
16.
16.
18.
20.
25.
106.

i
7
5
7
7
4
1
0
0
0

16.
18.
22.
24.
25.
35.
37.
43.
60.
66.

7
1
2
7
0
3
5
3
0
7

The relation that the earnings of subagents bear to those of the
agents also emphasizes the great lack of uniformity and disorganiza­
tion in the home-work system. In 3 of the 10 styles that subagents
handled, they were earning only 33 % percent as much as the agents.
At the other extreme 3 were making as much as the agents (100 per­
cent) and 1 was making 160 percent as much as the agent.
Similar comparisons of subagents’ and home workers’ earnings con­
tinue to show tremendous proportional variations. The subagent’s
commission ranged from 11 percent of the home-worker’s income in
one case to 106 percent at the other extreme.
A third comparison of the agents’ commissions with the home
workers’ earnings is another ascending scale of proportional variations
in which agents’ commissions ranged from 16% percent to 66%percent
of the home workers’ earnings.
One subagent was doing business in a small way by distributing
all her work to free tenants on her farm to whom she paid nothing in
the way of wages. Once in a while she “would buy a woman who
sewed for her a pair of shoes.”
WAGE AGREEMENT FRUSTRATED
In September 1933 there was an agreement with the employees by
the terms of which the employers were to raise wage rates 15 percent
to 25 percent, depending upon the article. This agreement has been
observed conscientiously by some, but broken by others. It was possi­
ble to trace through the hands of the agents 126 styles for which the
contractor paid the increase as agreed upon.
It was with surprising frankness that agent after agent admitted
that he had kept all the benefits from the recent raise in piece rates
for himself and had passed on none of the gain to his home workers.
In over one-third of the cases the agent was paying the home worker
the full increase as he received it from the contractor, but in almost
two-thirds the home worker was receiving none of the increase what­
soever, the agent being the sole gainer.
When questioned on this point only 16.6 percent of the individual
home workers reported that they were getting the increase. Others
could not tell, due to changes in the style, but the majority felt they
were not getting it. Of course, they did not know whether the fault
lay with the contractor or with the agent.
59100°—34------ 3




12

THE EMPLOYMENT OP WOMEN IN PUERTO RICO

Excuses that agents gave for keeping the increase include the
following:
Formerly the contractor paid the express charges to agent and return; he has;
discontinued this since September, so agent keeps the increase to cover such
charges.
Agent notified he will lose his commission unless goods are returned within a
limited time, so he keeps the increase in case he should ever fail to receive the
commission.
One shop manager explained that though he paid the increase for work on table
linen, he did not pay it for bed linen, as the agreement did not specify bed linen.
Another was not paying the increase because the garments were made of rayon
and not of silk.
Before the September agreement, one firm had paid its agents a straight 15
percent commission, but since they were obliged to raise rates 20 percent they
had discontinued the commission. Perhaps naturally, the agent regarded the 20
percent increase as his commission, and the women who sewed derived no benefit
from the agreement.
In another firm all rates were lowered after the September agreement, so that
the new rate plus the percentage raise was no more than the former rate without
the increase.
Many firms never made definite commission payments to their agents, so it
was quite easy for agents of these firms to regard the increase as their fixed com­
mission—an increase that thus affected the home sewers not at all.

This reference to the agreement of September 1933 is pertinent here
as showing how lightly and with what a spirit of evasion this serious
agreement has often been treated, a recognition of which is necessary
in preparing a code of fair competition in the industry.
OTHER EFFECTS OF DISORGANIZATION
Payment of wages in groceries was found in two or three communi­
ties. More than one agent had an interest in a neighboring store and
always the home worker stated that prices were higher at the agent’s
store than elsewhere.
One young girl described the situation by saying that she never
gets any money, for by the time she finishes a bundle her mother has
spent her earnings in groceries. Groceries in lieu of cash are often
accepted, especially when the home worker must wait long for the
agent to get the cash. The agents as well as the home workers of one
contractor were inconvenienced by the fact that the agent’s checks
were dated 2 weeks later than the date the goods were returned,
which meant that all were waiting at least 2 weeks for their pay.
The mother of a home worker who once had an agency sends her
daughter to a distant shop to get work, instead of getting work from
the local agent, as the agent has a store and exploits her workers by
paying them in grocery checks.
Sometimes the home workers discover that they have spent more
for groceries than the income from the sewing.
In one district the home workers had to furnish their own thread
for sewing seams, though thread for embroidery was furnished.
Sometimes the home workers were at a disadvantage because there
had not been a definite agreement on prices. Not until after the
articles were returned to the contractor did the agent tell them the
rate for the work done.




HOME WORK IN THE NEEDLE TRADES

13

One woman working on a size-52 slip complained that the rate was
no more than for a 16-year size, though there was a considerable
difference in inches of fine needlework.
One hundred and seventy home workers reported irregularity and
delays in getting work; 123, delays in getting their pay; and 117 com­
plained of the seasonal character of the work and the tendency of the
agents to spread the work among too many home workers.
The comments of the home workers were somewhat as follows:
Has to go again and again to agent, hoping he may have been to Mayaguez
for more work. Agent does not make trip until the majority of the workers have
turned in their work.
Home worker must wait after she returns her work until perhaps the last bundle
of the lot is in, especially if it is a special order that the agent is particular about.
Agents do not get their pay immediately on delivery of the work, so all must
wait.
Irregularity of agent’s return of finished work causes irregularity in pay of
home worker.
Home worker must wait sometimes for more thread or perhaps for collars or
pockets before she can finish the dresses.
Home worker finds it expensive making futile trips for work, as she has to pay
bus fare.
Agent waits before returning work until she has enough finished to warrant
expense of trip to factory.
,
Agent goes to San Juan only when she has collected plenty of work to make
it pay.
Home worker had to wait 2 weeks for her pay because agent could not collect
the bundles from the other workers.

DRAWBACKS OF HOME WORK TO MANAGERS
Contractors as well as home workers had difficulties. One manager
complained that work sometimes was tied up for 6 or 7 months. It
was not unusual for managers to have hundreds and even thousands
of dozens of articles scattered over the island waiting for the home
workers to finish them. The case of cotton nightgowns seemed espe­
cially troublesome in this respect, and more than one agent complained
of his difficulties in persuading the women to take this type of work.
Shelf after shelf in the headquarters of the agents was filled with large
rolls and bundles of coarse cotton nightgowns—all cut and waiting for
someone to be willing to embroider them. One man summed up the
situation when he said: “The work is too cheap for the women who
know how to sew; none but the women who live far up in the hills
work on them.”
A contractor distributing cotton gowns complained that the work
gets cheaper and cheaper. New York firms insist on contracts with
constantly lower rates, though the patterns are more ornate. A con­
tractor has no choice but to accept the terms offered. A gown that
now costs the agent 35 cents a dozen to make and embroider whole­
sales in New York at $1.75 a dozen and retails at 3 for $1.
Another worry of management is spoiled goods. This is referred
to in the report of Puerto Rico made by the Brookings Institution:
“The proportion of spoiled work and of seconds in the garment trades




14

THE EMPLOYMENT OF WOMEN IN PUERTO RICO

is very much larger than upon the mainland. This evil reaches its
maximum in case of sewing given out to be done in the workers’
homes.”
Because of delays and spoilage unavoidable in the home-work sys­
tem, two local managers who were having much or most of their
embroidery done inside their factories expressed a decided preference
for the factory work, which could be efficiently supervised. It was
more satisfactory for several reasons—cleanliness, speed, and quality.
When they do give out home work, neither of these managers intrusts
his work to agents, preferring to deal directly with their home workers
from the factories. Both feel that in the long run the earnings of the
inside workers will suffer from the competition of home work not
regulated in any way.
PROPOSED COMMUNITY WORKSHOPS
That home work is not necessary has been demonstrated success­
fully by one outstanding firm. Gradually within the past few years
they have taken the work out of the homes in the towns and hills
and have centered it in workshops conveniently located in towns.
Beginning with 1 factory they are now operating 5. These employ
about 1,500 workers, most of whom are hand embroiderers, as there is
almost no machine work on their products. The accompanying
illustration shows one of their workrooms, typical of all, where con­
sideration has been given to conditions of work. It is well organized
and the shop is light and immaculately clean. The arrangement of
chairs and tables is convenient and comfortable and all modern sani­
tary conveniences are provided.
_ This firm estimates that at present not one-tenth of their embroidery
is done outside the shop. Furthermore, they trust none of their home
work to agents, but require such home workers as they have to come
to the factory for materials, where their work is supervised to some
extent. The added expense, in overhead of maintaining their work­
shops has been more than offset by the increased speed in production,
improvement in quality of work, and the reduction of spoilage and
loss.
In view of the success of this firm in establishing central workshops,
one of the solutions suggested for the home-work problem is the com­
munity workshop. Again and again during the interviews with the
home workers they expressed a preference for factory work, and about
one-fourth of the women had worked in factories at some previous
time. Many were eager to get back into the shop. They referred
to the steadier employment; they felt that it was easier to work there,
and that factory earnings were more satisfactory. If community
workshops are established, and there seems to be good reason for mak­
ing such an experiment, the home workers undoubtedly will be coop­
erative.
COMPARISON WITH MAINLAND WAGES
Unquestionably, wages are low in Puerto Rico, but on two occasions
during the survey employers complained of competition from the
mainland. Both had been contracting with New York firms for the
manufacture of children’s dresses and both had refused to renew their




m*r,

——B
HOME-WORK PROCESSES AS DONE IN A FACTORY.




SEWING WITH A HAND MACHINE ON A BOARD LAID ON THE BED. WORKER SITS ON A BOX,
WITH KNEES AGAINST THE BED.




HOME WORK IN THE NEEDLE TRADES

15

contracts because they could not compete with home-work conditions
in Pennsylvania.
Another New York manufacturer who still had contracts in Puerto
Rico_ was sending quantities of children’s dresses to Texas, where
Mexican women were engaged in the home-work embroidery at
earnings not unlike those of the Puerto Rican women. In a recent
study of women workers in Texas by the United States Women’s
Bureau, about two-thirds (65.2 percent) of the 89 women home work­
ers interviewed for whom an estimate of hourly earnings on infants’
and children’s garments could be computed, averaged less than 5 cents
an hour. Twenty-six of these women received less than 3 cents an
hour and 10 of them even less than 2 cents. Only 5 women had
hourly earnings as high as 10 cents.
_ Not only in home-work embroidery but in factory work are condi­
tions in some parts of the mainland little better than those in Puerto
Rico. For example, in a study made by the Women’s Bureau of
wages m 1932-33 before the N.R.A. code became effective, 29.5
percent of the women in cotton-dress factories in New Orleans and
19.2 percent of those in Atlanta were earning less than $3 a week.
At about this same time factory wages in the needle trades in Puerto
Rico, as shown in the report of the Insular Department of Labor,
averaged $3.32.
ASSISTANCE BY MEN AND CHILDREN
Although most of the home workers were women, a few young men
were scheduled, most of whom were very adept in handling the
needle, especially in hemming handkerchiefs. In one family two
brothers were supporting the household in this way when there was no
work in the fields. By sewing fast every moment, together they were
averaging about 2 cents an hour, and by working from sunrise until
long after sunset together they earned about 50 cents a day.
A considerable number of children (29) were making contracts with
the agents and were held directly responsible by the agents for the
sewing done in their homes, as if they had been adult workers. Only
6 of these 29 children were enrolled in schools,2 which left most of
them with much free time for sewing, and it was not unusual to find
them working 7, 8, 9, and 10 hours a day, frequently prolonging the
workday 1 or 2 hours into the evening. The earnings of the children
are petty amounts, not unlike those of their elders. Half of the 25
who were able to give definite information about the amount of work
done counted on less than 50 cents a week when they were busy, while
9 with the highest earnings usually made from $1 to $1.50 a week.
Estimated hourly earnings computed on this basis showed that the
majority were earning about % cent or 1 to 2 cents an hour.
FAMILY INCOME
As might be expected, the amount of earnings from home work in
the family increased as the number of home workers increased. In
about two-thirds (65.4 percent) of the families with but 1 home worker
1 The public schools are not equipped to accommodate all the children, so many thousands oj them are




16

THE EMPLOYMENT OP WOMEN IN PUERTO RICO

the week’s income from this type of work was less than $1, and in more
than one-third (36.6 percent) of the families with 2, 3, or 4 home
workers the combined home-work earnings were equally low. Almost
one-third of the families with 2 or more home workers had an income
of $2 or more a week from their combined earnings, but less than
one-tenth of those with but 1 home worker earned as much as this.
In most of the families there were other wage earners. Many of
the men were agricultural laborers in the cane fields, the coffee
plantations, and tobacco fields. But this work was so seasonal that
they were little more than casual laborers. In November and
December, when these families were visited, many men were idle or
working so little and so irregularly that their income was almost
negligible.
Adult male laborers in the cane fields in 1933 averaged $3.60 a
week and not quite 10 cents an hour; in tobacco planting their average
earnings were $1.46 a week and 4.7 cents an hour. When it is taken
into consideration that labor in the fields is very seasonal and uncer­
tain, it is clear that the $3.60 or $1.46 a week is for a few weeks only and
that often the laborer has no income whatever for weeks at a stretch.
For obvious reasons the cost of living is low, comparatively speak­
ing, in Puerto Rico, but a diet study made in 1933 by the University
of Puerto Rico and the Insular Department of Labor shows that such
wages quoted above are at a starvation level.3 The cost per person
per week for native foods and other common as well as nourishing
articles of diet was $3.19 in March 1933, since when there has been a
rise in prices.
Besides these laborers some men tried to eke out a living by fishing,
and a few were peddlers. Others in recounting their various sources of
income mentioned such small items as two hens, or a pig. The gar­
dens, found only occasionally, were pitifully small; a clump of banana
trees and space for a few legumes was about as much as any of the
country dwellers had. And 132 families had nothing but what the
various members made in wages.
In over two-fifths of the 247 families reporting, only 1 wage earner
was employed in the week previous to the survey, and in a great many
cases this was a home worker. In a third of the cases there were 2 or
3 employed, and 12 families had 4 wage earners, this being the maxi­
mum with one exception—a family with more than 10 members that
had 6 wage earners. During this week there were no wage earners in
15 households.
In 199 families it was possible to get detailed information on the
earnings of each wage earner for the week previous to the interview.
In most cases the earnings had been so little that the figure was not
difficult to obtain. In more than a fifth the total family earnings had
been less than 50 cents, and 14 of these families reported no earnings.
In almost four-fifths of the families earnings amounted to less than
$3. Among the families with the higher earnings only 16 had a total
of $5 or more.
3 A Report on Wages and Working Hours in Various Industries and on the Cost of Living in the Island
of Puerto Rico During the Year 1933. Puerto Rico Department of Labor, Bui. No. 5.




HOME WORK IN' THE NEEDLE TRADES

17

M eek s income of home workers' families
Home workers’ families
Family earnings
Number

Total________
No earnings __ _
Less than 50 cents
Less than SI _
Less than $2
Less than $3___
$3 or more___

Cumulative
percent

199
*

100. 0

14
29
72
128
156
43

7.
14.
36.
64.
78.
21.

0
6
2
3
4
6

The very few incomes oi $10 or more invariably were due to some
salaned person m the family, such as a teacher, Llesman or cCf!
feur But few families were so fortunate, and in at least 65 cases
or 58 percent, of the 112 with only wages as an income the S
income had been from home work" Though this larg“ proportion
had been dependent on home work, in five other families there was no
from any source m that week. In 15 there were no earnings
from home work though other income was received and in 22 others
earnings™
yie ded less than 30 Percent of the total family
HOMES IN WHICH WORK IS DONE
More often than not, the dwellings of the home workers in the
remotest country districts were one-room huts raised on stilts, some
entirely of thatch, others with a thatched roof. In the towns also
many dwellings were poor, sometimes a patchwork of boards zinc
and ,tln;. ,lsoflt mfrequently they had been built by squatters on
“l^dy tnle flats, impossible to reach when the tide was in
. Wither frame houses in town or native huts in the country thev
mnmfbThWCre SmaU’
tivo-thirds having not more than two
rooms. These were crowded, as it was not unusual to find 4 5 and
6 persons living in one room, or 6, 7, and 8 persons in two’rooms
Furniture was scant, some homes having only a wooden bench a
TCt t a flffuCOaf A*0*6’ -rd °?e or two cooking utensils. ’
About two-fifths of the families visited were living on the ranches
where members of the families were employed for a small part of
the year at least. Some of them were free tenants living in1 homes
furnished without charge by the company or rancher, but other
laborers had built their own homes on ranch property, sometimes
paying a rental fee for the strip of land and sometimes not.
in the phages and towns about as many were renting their homes
on a monthly basis as were living in their own homes. Rental for
the smaller houses ordinarily was $2, $3, or $4 a month
in many cases modern conveniences were entirely lacking, even in
own dwellings. In the country particularly the water supply was
a problem. Roof drainage and cisterns were the most common
source of water m town and country, but over 50 families were




18

THE EMPLOYMENT OP WOMEN IN PUERTO RICO

dependent on irrigation ditches and rivers, often at inconvenientdistances. Nineteen families were buying the water they used from
neighbors; one was paying a flat rate of 25 cents a month, but the
customary price was 1 cent a can. It was common to see men,
women, and even children walking along the highway carrying heavy
5-gallon cans of water. One home worker went to the “waterfall”,
half an hour’s walk over uneven ground, three times a day. Even
many city dwellers went to the neighbors or the public faucet for
the water they used. The effort needed to keep home and family
clean under such conditions can hardly be imagined, yet many
succeeded.
Drainage also was bad. Fifty-two dwellings had no toilet conven­
iences and only nine had sewer-connected toilets. The majority had
shallow unscreened privies, almost half of which were described by
the investigators as “dirty” or “filthy.”
,
To add to the distress in 15 homes there was illness of a contagious
nature while the home worker was sewing or had garments in the
house. Tuberculosis and measles led the list of diseases, while others
were syphilis, scarlet fever, “running sores”, whooping cough, and
chicken pox. A schedule of one such home reads: “Home worker,
affected with tuberculosis, sewing on cotton nightgown while propped
up in hammock hung across the one room. House a native hut,
dark and smoky. No toilet, no water; brought water from distant
cistern. Mother in this family was doing the laundry for the village
teacher.”
In contrast to the insanitary conditions found, many homes were
in good repair, light, clean, and sanitary.
_ _
Common safety is reason enough for insisting upon the rigid control
of home work (if there must be home work) and all would agree in
demanding sanitary conditions, but the remoteness of many dwellings
complicates the problem and makes the necessary, frequent inspec­
tion of the premises practically impossible with the present force of
sanitary and health officials in the insular government service.
RECOMMENDATIONS
In view of prevailing practices in the home-work system that are
haphazard, unbusinesslike, and often vicious, there is recommended a
reorganization that would provide—
(1) For complete elimination of subagents.
_
(2) Placing agents on a definite salary basis, as a foreman in a fac­
tory. The agent acts more or less as a foreman for outside workers,
for not only is he a distributing agency but he accepts responsibility
for quality and the satisfactory return of goods.
_
(3) Making the manufacturer or contractor directly responsible for
the payment of wages to the home workers. This can be done by
centering in the office of the contractor the bookkeeping of the agents,
now often rather meager and crude—
(a) By making out the invoice slips in the name of the home workers
instead of agents.
(b) By pay envelops to the individual home workers, envelops to bear
entries not only of names but of dates and amounts.
(c) By receipts for amounts to be signed by home workers and returned
and entered in the books of the contractor and filed.







..

/
’•*-' SJ

mM
»•

'

SQUATTERS’ SHACKS ON MUD FLATS.

4,^-i
■

mm
p^p{||

.

-:
vi \ '''’*■

--

Ki




SMS,

%/■&i%»./

BETTER TYPE OF TOWN HOUSES.

■

■'
g£$ig

HOME WORK 1ST THE NEEDLE TRADES

19

(4) Elimination of all home work done on machines.
(5) Progressive elimination of sewing, embroidery (hand opera­
tions), and the like now carried on in the homes. For example, at
the end of 3 months after this code becomes effective, 25 percent of
the hand sewing and embroidery of each shop, exclusive of sample
making, should be carried on inside the factory or shop. At the end
of a year from the effective date of the code, 50 percent to be inside
the shop; at the end of 2 years, 75 percent to be within the shop.
Experience during the first year or so would demonstrate when
complete elimination could be feasible, for complete elimination is the
only goal to work for.
(6) The formation of a continuing piece-rate board composed of an
equal number of representatives from employers, employees, and the
public, which shall determine fair rates of pay for various operations
and qualities of goods. These rates shall apply equally to work in the
homes and work in the shop, and shall be fixed so as to yield no
earnings less than the minimum established in the code.




FACTORY EMPLOYMENT IN THE NEEDLE TRADES
Before the World War the needle-trade industry in Puerto Rico
was of little importance, but since that time it has doubled and in
some lines it has trebled in value. Even in the present depression,
shipments of cotton garments to the mainland increased from 1,382,­
000 dozen in 1932 to 2,264,000 dozen in 1933.4
,
The Cotton Code Authority calls attention to the fact that this
development was particularly marked in the last months of the year
after the N.R.A. code for” the cotton garment industry became
effective on the mainland.
_
.
With this gain in production there has been an increase in em­
ployment. The census of 1920 showed roughly 16,000 in the cotton
garment industry; the census of 1930 showed 40,000. In each case it
was estimated that not over a fourth of these were employed in
factory work, the great majority—over 75 percent in 1920 and over
80 percent in 1930—being home workers.
_
The past 18 years has witnessed a great change in the quality of
work shipped from Puerto Rico. As most of the garments have
grown coarser and cheaper the work too has become poorer. Eighteen
years ago the needle work was fine, but today much of the commercial
embroidery is inferior. From the workers’ point of view there is
justification for this. In the “palmy days” of 1920-21-22, the home
workers often earned as much as $1 a day, occasionally $1.50, but
now if they earn 10 cents a day they do well and the time and incen­
tive for nice work are things of the past. With this mushroom devel­
opment of the needlework industry workers have been recruited who
have had little experience and have but slight skill in handling the
needle, and the industry has been too busy to train employees. The
managers have taken whom they could get, and whereas formerly
all the work was done in the towns, it now is scattered in the country
districts and hills. The loss in production time in having it so
scattered is said to vary in some small lines from 4 to 6 weeks.
_
Thus far in this report, emphasis has been laid on home work in
the needle trades, because it seems to overshadow most other lines
of women’s employment both in abuses and numbers involved.
However, the establishments that are distributing centers for the
home work usually have a few inside employees engaged in laundry
operations, stamping, examining, sorting, and so forth, and the
following is a brief analysis of the current wages of factory workers
in the five most important branches of the needle-trade industry.
4 Monthly Summary of Foreign Commerce of the United States, pt. II, December 1933, p. 61.
U. S.
Department of Commerce.

20




FACTORY EMPLOYMENT IN THE NEEDLE TRADES

21

MEN’S CLOTHING
In the men’s clothing industry the managers are Puerto Rican
citizens who operate their plants quite independently of New York
firms, and in contrast to other lines of garment manufacture most of
the sewing is done inside the factories. Comparatively little of this
production reaches the mainland.
Excerpts from a memorandum prepared for the hearing of the
N.R.A. code for the men’s clothing industry in Puerto Rico give a
picture of wages current in this industry in the fall of 1933. Wages
are not discussed separately by sex in this memorandum, but it is
predominantly a woman’s industry, as four-fifths of the 872 employ­
ees were women in the 11 men’s clothing factories forming the basis
of this wage analysis. Further, since the sewing departments are
composed almost entirely of women, earnings quoted here emphasize
the sewing occupations, including both hand and machine work.
Four hundred and fifty-one sewing employees in the coats and pants
factories averaged $4.20 for the week; 194 in shirt factories averaged
$5.23. Average hourly earnings were fairly similar in the two
branches of the industry, 13% cents in the first case and 14.7 cents in
the second.
The following summary shows the distribution of a week’s earnings
in the most frequent dollar groups for a limited number of employees
who worked fairly full time, as well as of hourly earnings for the
entire group of those in sewing occupations.
Summary of earnings of hand and machine sewers in the men’s clothing industry
Employees working 40 hours or more
Week’s earnings

All employees

Number

Percent

Total............. _________

261

100.0

Less than $3_________ _____
$3, less than $4____ ________
$4, less than $5______
$5, less than .$6________
$6, less than $7.............. ...........

25
36
36
54
53
38
19

9.6
13.8
13.8
20.7
20.3
14. 6
7.3

Hourly earnings (cents)
Total

_

Number

Percent

645

100.0

80
61
92
128
93
90
41
47
13

12.4
9.5
14.3
19.8
14.4
14.0
6.4
7.3
2.0

Of the total group in various sewing operations 261 were reported
as having worked at least 40 hours during the pay-roll week, which
may be said to represent an average full-time week in this industry.
About one-tenth (9.6 percent) of these earned less than $3 in the 40
or more hours; almost three-fifths (57.9 percent) earned less than $6;
only 7.3 percent earned as much as $8. The most common earnings
were the two groups comprising $5 and under $7.
From the summary of hourly earnings it is apparent that well over
half (56 percent) earned less than 14 cents an hour and the most
usual earnings ranged from 10 to 18 cents. Eighty employees earned
less than 8 cents, some even less than 5; only 60 averaged as much as
20 cents.




22

THE EMPLOYMENT OP WOMEN IN PUERTO RICO

WOMEN’S DRESSES
Less important in point of numbers employed is the manufacture
of women’s dresses. There are many dressmakers in Puerto Rico
who supply the ordinary demands of the island and some stores carry
ready-to-wear dresses shipped from the mainland. Only 2 or 3 factories,
controlled largely by New York concerns, are engaged in the manu­
facture of ladies’ dresses or blouses, and their product is exclusively
for export trade. The factory-made dresses are designed by New
York stylists and are sometimes beautifully hand-embroidered. This
hand work is done in the homes,6 the machine work and finishing
being done in the factories.
Though wages range higher for factory work than for home work, an
analysis of factory pay rolls for a busy week in the fall of 1933, cover­
ing about 150 women, all of whom had worked 40 hours or more,
shows almost a third (32.9 percent) to have earned less than $5;
about the same number (31.7 percent) earned $5 and less than $7,
and somewhat fewer (29.2 percent) earned $7 and less than $10.
Only 6.2 percent earned as much as $10. None earned less than $2.
Work is more or less seasonal in this industry and these wages represent
conditions of a fairly busy week. Further, women who worked less
than 40 hours are excluded from this summary of earnings.
These dresses compete in the States with high-class garments made
in New York, Connecticut, and other dress centers, but the labor
cost in Puerto Rico is decidedly low. For example, the amount paid
for making one style—a silk print dress, with elbow sleeves, pleats
in skirt, and trimmed with large buttonholes and bows—was 33 cents,
which included 22 cents for machine sewing and 11 cents for hand
finishing. This dress was retailing in one store for $12.50.
The sewing cost for making a simpler linen sport model was 84
cents a dozen for the skirts and 96 cents a dozen for the blouses. The
average worker was said to be able to make about 9 such skirts a day.
INFANTS’ AND CHILDREN’S COTTON DRESSES
For the most part the managers of the factories making children’s
garments were contractors only, depending on orders from New York
firms, and their production was shipped to the mainland. Except for
power-machine sewing, the work was done largely in the homes.
One of the most important lines of garment manufacturing is in­
fants’ and children’s cotton dresses, usually of a cheap or ordinary
quality and shipped by thousands of dozens to the mainland. Eleven
factories make most of these (though others make them as a side line)
and each is a modern machine-equipped plant. In the busy season
about 1,500 women are said to be employed as inside factory workers,
but the number working in their homes on children’s garments could
not be estimated. The consensus of opinion seemed to be that home
workers far outnumbered factory workers.
Earnings were lower for the factory workers in this branch of the
industry than in women’s dresses or men’s clothing.
1 One firm had parts of over 1,000 dozen dresses scattered in houses on the island where they were to be
embroidered.




FACTORY EMPLOYMENT IN THE NEEDLE TRADES

23

In one representative plant, for example, the median for 131 ma­
chine sewers was $3.01, and of 22 finishers only 3 earned as much as
$3, while the usual wage of time workers engaged in such jobs as
sorting and examining was less than $4 and only 2 of the 30 pressers
earned as much as $5. Altogether the median for the 189 employees
on piecework was $3.57, and for the limited group of these (176) who
had worked the full schedule of 48 hours it was not much higher—
$3.74.
In another factory, employing 132 women, wage conditions were
similar. The range in earnings of 52 women on piecework who had
worked the full schedule of 48 hours was from $1.81 to $6.27, the
median for the group being $3.72. The median for sewing-machine
operators was $3.71. Of 19 pressers 16 were paid less than $3, and no
examiner received as much as $4.
In only one plant was the scale of earnings higher than the usual
$3 to $4 average described. In this exceptional case the median of
the week’s earnings was $5.45 for all pieceworkers and $5.82 for the
more than 200 full-time pieceworkers. For machine sewers it was
$6.50, though for hand finishers it was as low as $3.91.
HANDKERCHIEFS
There is little inside work in the so-called handkerchief factories
for they are hardly more than distributing centers, almost without
exception operated by native Puerto Ricans or Syrians who contract
with New York firms that control the business. Inside factory work
consists of cutting yard goods to size, stamping designs for embroidery,
occasional machine operating, and in some cases laundering the hand­
kerchiefs before shipment. The usual rates for washing handker­
chiefs are % cent to 1 cent a dozen and for hand pressing from
to 3 cents a dozen, the rates varying not only with size and style but
with firm standards.
Of 480 inside workers listed in handkerchief factories, over fourfifths were engaged in laundry operations. The median of a week’s
earnings for the total was $3.73. The most frequent earnings were
$3 to $4 and $4 to $5. About one-third earned less than $3 and about
one-fifth $5 or more.
UNDERWEAR
Work in underwear factories was much like that in handkerchief
plants, and various employers in this line agreed that inside work
averaged around $2 to $3. In fact, they seemed to regard $3 as a
very good wage, declaring that it was all the industry could bear
under the terms of present contracts with New York firms. In both
handkerchief and cotton-underwear lines there were many com­
plaints of Chinese competition.




EMPLOYMENT OF WOMEN IN INDUSTRIES OTHER
THAN THE NEEDLE TRADES
Aside from the needlework trades the women of Puerto Rico are
found in their customary occupations in other manufacturing, in
stores, laundries, and telephone exchanges. During the first year
(1933) that the Bureau of Women and Children was functioning in
the Department of Labor, special studies were made of the employ­
ment of women in the laundries, stores, and canneries of the island,
and an analysis was made of a week’s pay roll in the tobacco and cigar
industry, straw-hat making, and telephone exchanges. The following
pages are a summary of these studies, and with the report on home
work they picture the main activities of wage-earning women in
Puerto Rico.
CANNERIES
Earnings and time worked
The recent hurricane had wrought such havoc in the island orchards
that some of the canneries did not attempt to operate in 1933-34.
However, records were secured in six canneries visited, and these are
the basis of the following statements.
Except in the case of employees paid by the hour, few cannery pay­
roll books indicated how many hours per day or per week the employees
had worked. The women were employed for the most part either in
preparing the fruit or in packing it. The packers invariably were on
an hourly rate of pay. In the three canneries reporting this varied
from 5 to 11 cents, with 8 cents an hour the most common rate, paid
to about one-third of the packers.
Though the 8-hour day and 48-hour week are the legal limits of
employment for women in cannery work, 89 of the 129 packers for
whom records of hours were obtained had worked more than 8 hours
on at least 1 day in the pay-roll week. Fifty-nine of these had worked
more than 8 hours on 6 days of the week, and 20 others had worked
overtime on 5 days. Eighty-eight had exceeded the 48-hour week.
Seventeen of these women had worked over 48 and under 54 hours,
29 had worked 54 and under 60, while 42, almost half the 88 reporting,
had worked 60 hours or more, a few as much as 67 hours. The most
usual week for the overtime group was 60 to 61 hours.
That some of these overtime days had been excessively long is
shown in the following summary:
Number of
Length of overtime workdays

workdays of
hours specified

Total____________________________________ _____ -

475

Over 8, less than 9 hours-----------------------------------------------9, less than 10 hours
10, less than 11 hours
216
11, less than 12 hours
12, less than 13 hours
13 hours‘—

29
138

24




65
24
3

WOMEN IN INDUSTRIES OTHER THAN THE NEEDLE TRADES

25

Of the total 475 days on which the 89 women had worked more than
8 hours, about three-fourths had been 9 and under 11 hours, yet many
days had been as long as 11 to 13 hours.
Of 1,073 women in canneries for whom wages and days worked were
reported, 921 were pieceworkers engaged in preparing the fruit, and
for this large group the employers had no records of hours worked.
To make any correlation between wages and the time required to earn
such wages, it was necessary to use as a measure of time the days on
which the employees reported for work, though such days may have
been anywhere from 2 or 3 to 13 hours long." Employers seemed to
feel that since these workers were on a piece-rate basis it made no
difference how long they worked, but the hour law does not exempt
pieceworkers.
Median of a week’s earnings of women in canneries, by days worked
Ntimber of Median week’s
earnings
women

Days worked

Total

1, 073

$2. 58

o 102
7 63
302
105
8 501

1_____

2 and 3­
4___ ....
5 _____
6 and 7_

0.
1.
2.
2.
3.

71
26
05
69
59

From this table it is apparent that almost half the women (46.7
percent) had worked 6 or 7 days, or a full week. Another represen­
tative group, 28.1 percent, had worked 4 days. The median of the
earnings—that is, the midpoint at which half the women earned more
and half earned less—was 71 cents for those who worked only 1 day.
For those working 6 or 7 days it was not 6 or 7 times the 1-day
average, but only $3.59 for the week. The following table shows the
distribution of earnings:
Distribution of a week’s earnings of women in 6 canneries
Women who worked on—
Total
Week’s earnings

'

4 days

5 days

6 days

Number Percent Number Percent Number Percent Number Percent
Total..............................

11,073

100.0

302

100.0

105

100.0

479

100.0

Less than $2______________
$2, less than $3_________ _.
$3, less than $4.......................

311
344
243
129
40

29.0
32.1
22.6
12.0
4.3

138
162
2

45.7
53.6
.7

9
64
24

8.6
61.0
22.9

5
111
210

1.0
23.2
43.8

1

1.0

38

L9

1 Includes all women with days worked reported.

Almost three-tenths (29 percent) of these women earned less than
$2, including practically all who had worked 1, 2, or 3 days, almost
• Some of these women worked a day.
137 women worked 2 days.
• All but 22 women worked 6 day*
*.




26

THE EMPLOYMENT OF WOMEN IN PUEKTO EICO

half (45.7 percent) who had worked 4 days, and even a few who had
worked 5 and 6 days. Included in this group of 311 who received
less than $2 were 120 women who were paid less than $1, most of
whom had worked on 1 day, 17 on 2 days, and 1 on 3. Fourteen
women who were paid less than 50 cents had all worked on 1 day only.
Of course some of these lower earnings may be due to short days,
but on the other hand it has been shown that some days were exces­
sively long. There is no way of knowing how many women who
earned from $2 to $3 in a 6-day week worked 48 hours or less and
whether any worked 60 hours or more. Not until records are kept
of hours actually worked by each employee can satisfactory appraisal
be made of cannery earnings.
The majority of the women who worked 4 days earned $2 and under
$3, as did the majority who worked 5 days. The most usual earnings
of the 6-day workers were $3 and under $4, though not far from'a
third earned more than this. The highest wage was that of a packer
who earned as much as $7 in the week.
That wages were higher for the women packers, most of whom were
on an hourly basis of pay, than for those preparing the fruit, chiefly
pieceworkers, is evident from the following summary of the 6-day
workers.
Comparison of a week’s earnings of packers and preparers who worked 6 days
Packers

Preparers

Week’s earnings
Number
Total

____

$2, less than $3_ ................... ................... ............................ ...........
$3, less than $4__________ ___________ ___________________
$4, less than $5........................................................................ ..........
$5, less than $7.............................................................. ...................

Percent

Number

87

100.0

392

100.0

1.1
24.1
50.6
24.1

5
110
189
71
17

1 3
28.1
48.2
18.1
4.3

1
21
44
21

Percent

While over three-fourths (77.6 percent) of the preparers earned less
than $4, only one-fourth (25.3 percent) of the packers did so.
Working conditions
1
Best of mainland conditions prevailed in some canneries. There
were pleasant workrooms, immaculately clean, convenient, light, and
airy, and the age of the building did not necessarily determine the
standard of working conditions.
As in other canning areas, the managers apparently had widely
differing standards as to what constituted a sanitary workroom and
comfortable working conditions. Most of the structures visited were
well built, with lofty ceilings, wide aisles, and large window areas;
adequate gutters drained the concrete floors and white paint had been
generously used around work tables, supporting pillars, and rafters.
The work moved without confusion along the preparation tables, to
the canning line, and into storage quarters.
But here and there were conditions very different. Never to be
forgotten were the walls and pillars in one cannery, originally light
but at the time of the visit almost entirely covered with myriads of
tiny flies. Here the floors were decidedly messy, and the women stood




WOMEN IN INDUSTRIES OTHER THAN THE NEEDLE TRADES

27

so close together at the work benches that elbow touched elbow and
m order to have freedom of motion for the paring knife they stood
somewhat sidewise to the table. In addition, the aisles were so
narrow between the rows of women that it was almost impossible for
helpers to edge their way through what was supposed to be a passage­
way. Confusion was everywhere and the room was filled with noise.
Washing facilities
In most cases there was no special work clothing, the women
working m the clothes worn from home, but one canner not only
provided all necessary aprons but at the end of the day required the
women to leave them in the cannery, where they were laundered
in the corner of one cannery a tub of water served for washing
knives, trays, and hands. The water was said to be changed once a
day, oitener if necessary/’ Not many miles away was a cannery
where running water supplied at frequent intervals near the work­
tables provided adequate and convenient washing facilities.
Toilets
hone cannery a matron was in charge of the toilets, which were
beautifully clean. Contrasted to this were others indescribably
hluy' 0111 e, ™anagers were most apologetic for this condition, but
others blamed the women entirely for their ignorance and untidy habits
Yet if one canner can have toilets in a sanitary condition, it would
decent standard's
same kind of labor might maintain
11

Seating
In most canneries seats for employees were conspicuous by their
absence. lor hours at a stretch, from early morning to nightfall
hundreds of these women stood at the worktables peeling and sectioning
grapefruit or removing the waste from pineapples.
It was claimed that the women preferred to stand, as they could
work taster, but in one case where benches were provided most of the
women were using the benches, while others varied their positions
standing or sitting as they pleased.
1
’
Though a health certificate is required for each cannery employee
almost none were on file.
y J ’
All the canneries were managed by Americans with mainland ex­
perience, and it is a pity that some of them, in establishing business
concerns on the island, had not followed the best standards in working
and sanitary conditions.
TOBACCO AND CIGAR INDUSTRY
Th,® vast bu]k of cigars produced in Puerto Rico are machine made
and the equipment and organization of large factoiy units compare
favorably with machine plants on the mainland. Following the custom
m the States, women operated the cigar-making machines, and with
the stampers,, labelers or packers they were earning as high wages as
any group of industrial women on the island. For an average week of
ments°were «7^7era&e earnm^,ot 470 women, including all depart­
ments, were $7.57. Moreover, the earnings of the cigar makers that
is the machine operators, were higher than those of all women 264
of them averaging $8.50 m a week averaging 37 hours. One hundred




28

THE EMPLOYMENT OF WOMEN IN PUERTO RICO

sixty-three women in the making department had worked 40 hours or
more, and of this full-time group only 8 earned less than $8. In fact,
all but those few had earnings of $8 and under $10.
Scattered over the island are scores of small factories making cigars
by hand, like the “buckeye” shops of the mainland. Most of them
employ not more than 1 to 3 cigar makers, but there were one or two
hand plants employing 100 or more makers. In the small plants
especially work is very seasonal, so that sometimes there may be no
one at work and at other times only one or two. Hand making is a
man’s job, and the women in hand plants are on the less skilled jobs
such as stripping the tobacco.
,
.
Earnings of the men hand makers averaged much lower than those
of the women machine makers. In one representative hand plant the
men averaged $5.82 for a week of about 44 hours, in contrast to the
women full-time machine operators whose earnings have just been
_
described as almost uniformly $8 and under $10..
Far more women were employed in tobacco stemmeries than in cigar
factories, a few hundred in the latter, a few thousand in the former.
While women’s work is fairly steady in cigar factories with machine
equipment, it is most seasonal in the stemmeries, lasting not over 3
or 4 months at most; and while the women cigar makers earn decent
wages, the women stemmers earn very low wages. In the 29 stem­
meries reported, the earnings of 3,077 women, mostly stemmers,
averaged $2.29 in a week that averaged 44 hours.
There were great extremes in the size of the plants where women were
employed as stemmers. Fifteen of the stemmeries employed only 1 to
4 women, 6 others employed fewer than 100, and 8 employed approxi­
mately 100 to 500.
STRAW HATS
There were 5 straw-hat factories operating in Puerto Rico in 1933.
Two of these had fewer than 20 employees, but the others had about
80, 100, and 180. The seasonal element must be reckoned with in this
industry, as most of the product is shipped to the mainland, where it
competes with hats made in the States.
The following summary of earnings in a typical week reported by
agents of the Puerto Rico Department of Labor shows average wage
conditions in the industry.
Hours and earnings of women in hat factories
Number of factories--------Number of women----------Average hours per week—
Average earnings per week
Average earnings per hour.

5
221
39. 4
$4. 60
$0. 117

The number includes those who had worked undertime, so the
average hours worked by the group were somewhat less than 40. The
week’s average earnings for the women were $4.60, decidedly less than
a dollar a day. Average hourly earnings, which give a more definite
picture, were about 12 cents. Translated into earnings for a 40-hour
week the average woman could expect not more than about $4.70.
The next summary is based only on those employees who worked
40 hours or more during the week and represents wages at their best,




WOMEN IN INDUSTRIES OTHER THAN THE NEEDLE TRADES

29

somewhat above average conditions. More than half of the women
(54.8 percent) had worked such time.
Earnings

Percent
distribution
of women (121)

Total-------- ------------ -------------------------------------------- 100. 0
Less than $4 28. 9
$4, less than $6 31. 4
$6, less than $8
$8, less than $10
$10, less than $12
$12, less than $14

20.
14.
2.
2.

7
0
5
5

The range in women’s earnings for 40 or more hours’ work in the
pay-roll week was from less than $2 to $13 and under $14, but the
most representative earnings were $3 and under $6, received by 50.4
percent of the total. One-fifth of all (20.7 percent) earned $6 and
under $8.
STORES
The 8-hour day and 48-hour week are the legal standard for em­
ployed women in Puerto Rico and the majority of the stores had
adopted this as their working schedule, yet apparently the law was
violated more by mercantile establishments than by any other indus­
try. Twenty-six of the 106 stores inspected had women employees
whose weekly hours were more than 48, and 58 stores had daily sched­
ules of more than 8 hours. This does not mean that all employees in
these stores were working overtime, for sometimes two groups of
saleswomen in the same store were working different shifts of hours,
possibly one totaling 48 or less and the other more than 48.
The scheduled weekly hours ranged from a few hours a week for
part-time employees to as many as 50, 55, and 60 hours for a limited
group of full-time employees. However, 48 was the most common
schedule, and though slightly more than one-fourth of the schedules
exceeded 48 hours, clearly a violation of the law, about one-fourth
were less than 48.
Variations in daily hours were as marked as in the weekly totals.
A few schedules called for less than 6 hours, while others called for as
many as 9, 10, and 11. Though the 8-hour day was the most common,
31 percent of the schedules called for a shorter day and 36.6 percent
called for days longer than 8 hours.
Most of the stores were open Saturday evenings, the women gen­
erally working only 1 or 2 evening hours, though a few worked 3 or
4 hours. Such practice would, of course, require a rearrangement of
many daily schedules in order to keep within the 8-hour limit.
In some stores with a 9- to 10-hour Saturday, the other days of the
week usually were 8 hours; in some stores with an 11-hour Saturday,
the other days frequently were 9 hours. In either case the week
exceeded 48 hours. In some stores Saturday overtime was avoided
by operating two shifts, and certain other firms, to compensate for the
long Saturday, gave the employee time off on some other day. About
twice as many firms violated the daily limit as violated the weekly
limit.
Another provision of the hour law sets a 4-hour period as the limit
for continuous work. In 46 stores work periods of more than 4 hours
were found, many between 4 and 5, others as long as 5 hours.




30

THE EMPLOYMENT OE WOMEN IN PUERTO RICO

Pay-roll data were secured for 410 women employed in the various
occupations of mercantile establishments. All were on straight weekly
rates, $5 and $6 being common, and practically all had worked a full
week. The distribution of earnings for these few hundred women
follows:
.
Week’s earnings of women in mercantile establishments
Number

100.0

10

Less than $3____
$3, less than $4-.
$4, less than $5_.
$5, less than $6...
$6, less than $7_.
$7, less than $8 _ .
$8, less than $9..
$9, less than $10.
$10, less than $11
$11, less than $12
$12, less than $13
$13 and more___

Percent

410

Total

2. 4
10. 7

44
41
61
127
51
26
15
15
2

9
9

10. 0

14.
31.
12.
6.
3.
3.
.

9
0
4
3
7
7
5

2. 2
2. 2

Earnings for the store group as a whole, which includes all occu­
pations, massed at $6 and under $7. indicating a rate of only about a
dollar a day. Representative numbers were found also below and
just above the $6 group but elsewhere the numbers were scattering.
Thirty-eight percent earned less than $6 and 31 percent earned $7
or The median wage of saleswomen, who constituted about threemore.
.
fourths of the entire group, was $6.35. The median for cashiers was
somewhat lower, $5.90, but for office workers it rose to $7.80. The
few miscellaneous jobs were chiefly of a domestic-service nature ox
in alteration departments.
Median of a week’s earnings of women in mercantile establishments, by occupation
Number of
women

____________410

............................ 295
Saleswomen
---- ------------Cashiers. _ . ------------------- ________________ 59
______ _______ 45
Office workers_______________
____ ______ n
Miscellaneous..-------------------

Median
earnings

$6. 40
6. 35
5. 90
7. 80
(°)

Week’s earnings of saleswomen in San Juan and Santurce compared to other places
Saleswomen in—
Week’s earnings

San Juan and
Santurce

Other places

Number

»Base too small for the computation of a median.




Number

168

100.0

127

100.0

1
8
125
34

Total................. ....................... .............................................

Percent

Percent

.6
4.8
74.4
20.2

41
58
20
8

32.3
45.7
15.7
6.3

WOMEN IN INDUSTRIES OTHER THAN THE NEEDLE TRADES

31

The earnings of saleswomen were higher in San Juan and Santurce
than elsewhere, only 5.4 percent in the capital and vicinity, in con­
trast to 78 percent in other places, earning less than $6. In San
Juan and Santurce about three-fourths of the women earned $6 and
under $8, and one-fifth earned at least $8, but in other places almost
one-third earned less than $4, some even less than $3.
Perhaps in stores more than in other types of industry one expects
to find observance of high sanitary standards. But even here there
were cases of carelessness. In 11 stores there were no drinking facili­
ties and none were convenient, while in 15 other stores employees
were expected to patronize neighboring soda fountains or other stores.
In a few establishments where there was no water supply employees
solved the problem by bringing thermos bottles from home. Water
filters were in use m the majority of the stores, though in 3 cases
these were described as insanitary. Though regulations of the
Insular Board of Health prohibit the use of common cups and common
towels, at 5 of the filters were common cups for anyone to use, whether
employee or customer. Not only were there common cups but in 6
stores there were common towels. One clean towel a week was the
rule in one store and some looked as if they had been in use much
longer. In other stores many employees supplied and kept their own
towels. Paper towels were said to be supplied by certain firms, but
on inspection some of the containers were empty.
The condition of some of the toilets was inexcusable, and in 4 cases
there was no toilet or none was conveniently near. A summary of
the inspection, reports indicates that 30 toilet rooms were dirty and
24 were dark, while the majority were without adequate ventilation.
I he plumbing was dirty in some and in 13 cases it was in poor repair.
In 37 no paper was supplied. All these undesirable conditions were
m great contrast to the scores of toilets reported as “clean” “light”
“airy”, “in good repair.”
’ &
’
LAUNDRIES
•
survey of 59 commercial laundries in 10 cities and towns of the
island showed that 133 men and 224 women were employed in these
establishments. For the most part they were very small concerns
over one-half of them employing only 2, 3, or 4 persons; only one
laundry had as many as 50 employees.
The use of modern machinery was very limited. There were only
3 or 4 washing machines and laundry work still was a hand industry.
Much ol the work was paid for on a piece-rate basis. For example
$1 was a usual rate for ironing half a dozen men’s linen suits, though
other rates quoted for the same job were as low as 80 cents and'as
fugh as $1.50. For ironing shirts a usual rate was 5 cents apiece,
though others were as low as 2 and 3 cents. Rates paid for washing
also weie on a piece basis, 35 and 40 cents being a not uncommon rate
for washing a dozen suits.
Many of the small laundries were in connection with dwellings and
iff adapted for the purpose. Rooms were crowded and occasionally a
door was the only source of ventilation and light. As most of the
washing was done in the patios the floors were dry, but pressers
complained of the constant standing on tile floors.




THE EMPLOYMENT OF WOMEN IN PUERTO RICO

32

Only occasionally did the laundry owners keep any audit of the
business or pay-roll records, so it was necessary to rely almost solely
upon statements made by managers and employees.
There were no definite data as to the number of hours worked daily
or weekly; hours were far from uniform and varied from day to day,
depending on the changing volume of work. However, in the
larger and better-organized plants the 48-hour week seemed to be
general.
n , ,
A large proportion (85 percent) of the 206 women reported had
worked on 4, 5, or 6 days, three-fourths of these 5 or 6 days.
15.0 percent worked less than 4 days.
21.4 percent worked 4 days.
35.0 percent worked 5 days.
28.6 percent worked 6 days.

Earnings were reported for 203 women, of whom three-tenths
earned $3 and under $4 and almost a third earned $4 and under $5.
None earned as much as $8.
Week’s earnings of women in laundries
Number

Percent

100. 0

Total203
30
61
65
33
14

Less than $3----$3, less than $4_
$4, less than $5_
$5, less than $6.
$6 and more-----

14.8
30.0
32.0
16.3
6.9

The most usual earnings of the women who worked 3 days were
$2 and under $3, of those who worked 4 days $3 and under $4; 5
days’ work yielded $4 and under $5 most commonly and 6 days’
$5 and under $6. Considering the earnings only of those who had
worked a fairly full week, of 5 or 6 days, wages naturally ranged higher
than for the entire group, yet a few of these earned only $2 to $3.
Week’s earnings of women who worked 5 or 6 days in laundries
Number

$2,
S3,
$4,
$5,
$6,

Percent

Total_____________________ __________ — 127
i -----5
less than $3
24
less than $4
51
less than $5
33
less than $6
14
less than $8

100.0
-------3. 9
18. 9
40. 2
26. 0
11. 0

These laundry employees gave some information about themselves
and their families, and as is usual in this industiy the workers were
not young. Of the 161 who gave their ages only 4 were under 20 and
60 were 40 or more.
Age of women laundry workers
umber

Total--------

161

Under 20 years---20, under 30 years
30, under 40 years
40, under 50 years
50 years and over.

4
36
61
46
14




Percent

100. 0
2.
22.
37.
28.

5
4
9
6

8. 7

WOMEN IN INDUSTRIES OTHER THAN THE NEEDLE TRADES

33

Some of these women had had long experience in the industry, 42
of 146 reporting experience having worked in the trade 10 years or
longer; but 77 had worked less than 5 years, and 47 of these even less
than 2.
Fifty of the women were married, and 60 were widowed, separated,
or divorced. That many of them were carrying heavy home respon­
sibilities is evident from the number of their children. Seventy-seven
were mothers of children under 14 years. Of those reporting the size
of the family, 27 had 1 child, 21 had 2 children, 13 had 3, 10 had 4,
and 6 had 5 to 8. Forty-seven of these mothers were widowed,
separated, or divorced.
TELEPHONE EXCHANGES
The telephone company in Puerto Rico probably has instituted more
of the so-called “welfare measures” than any other industrial company
employing women. Two weeks’ vacation with pay is granted after 1
year’s employment with the company. Sick leave of 2 weeks with full
pay is allowed, the allowance increasing as service increases, and free
medical service may be given in the home.
In the spring of 1934 there were 23 student operators, some of whom
had served much more than the usual 3 months’ apprenticeship and
had been waiting long, even a year in some instances, for vacancies
among operators to occur. With one exception the students were
paid at the rate of $15 a month for 4 hours’ work a day.
The telephone company provides for a regular progressive increase
in wages. Beginning with the third class, wages for operators having
completed student apprenticeship are $30 a month for the first year;
in the second class wages begin at $35 and increase to $37.50 and to
$40 or more over a period of years, the promotions depending on the
ability of the operator. In the first class the wages begin at $50, but
there are few opportunities for promotion to class 1, as the number of
supervisors or chief operators who are paid these higher rates is limited.
Just over two-fifths of the operators were on a $37.50 rate, the most
common wage, and only one-third of the operators had rates higher
than $37.50. Ten of 97 operators for whom monthly wage rates were
reported were in the third class, earning $30 a month.
The rates of pay of five supervisors ranged from $50 to $75 and
those of chief operators from $85 to $97.
The agency system was found in several of the smaller cities. By
placing the exchange in a dwelling house, 24-hour service is assured
subscribers at a minimum labor cost, for, though the company’s
contract is with one person, the entire family shares the responsibility
of the service. In some cases tne income of the operator is on a per­
centage basis, depending on the number of stations served, which
may be 1 or 50.
The 8-hour day and 48-hour week are the standard, but actual hours
sometimes vary from this. The 4 hours required on Sunday are sup­
posed to be compensated by time off on a week day, but in practice
this often fails. The hours of night operators are from 10 p.m. to 7
a.m.




34

THE EMPLOYMENT OF WOMEN IN PUERTO RICO

The spread of hours within which the working period fell was often
much longer than 8 hours. Many who actually worked 8 hours had
lunch periods of 2 hours, customary in Puerto Kico, which gave them
an overall of 10 hours. But for 14 of the 45 operators with hours
worked reported the overall was 11, 11%, or 12 hours. For example,
6 operators began work at 9 a.m., and though they worked only 8
hours it was 9 p.m. before their work was done. For others the day
stretched from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., or from 6:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
One of the inconveniences of telephone work is the long interval
between the two work periods. Many had the 2-hour break referred
to, but for others the interval was 3, 3%, or 4 hours.




o


Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, One Federal Reserve Bank Plaza, St. Louis, MO 63102