Endicott Johnson Shoe Company
Mr. Roger Russell (b. 24 September 1931) moved to Endicott and started working for EJ in 1951 as a leather handler. He was handling leather which came out of a "hot room" and gave it to lasters so that they could make them uppers for shoes. He worked in this capacity for 6 months before "Uncle Sam called" him to the Korean War, where he spent the next three years. Reflecting on this time, Mr. Russell said that he would have been "better off" if he had stayed longer in the military. Coming home from the war, he went back to work for EJ, getting a job in a survey crew. This job had him working mainly outdoors going from site to site where houses were built. His next job was for the EJ fire department. After learning that he would probably be laid off, Mr. Russell left and worked as a taxi-cab driver for a short time. He then got a position in one of the five EJ warehouses in the Triple Cities (which was located where the present Price Chopper off Oakdale Ave is) in shipping and receiving. For the next 30 years, Mr. Russell would work in a warehouse (the last 4 years was at a warehouse in west Endicott). For his first job at the warehouse, he was a "piler". This meant that he had to pick up the orders (which were piles of boxes filled with shoes), and send them "downstairs" on a conveyor belt, which were then loaded onto trucks to be shipped. Mr. Russell wheeled boxes of shoes (there were 16 pairs of shoes per box; 30 boxes per order; and approximately 60 orders a day) and set them up in the aisle. He described the warehouse as being a three-story building. "Packers" worked on the first floor, "pilers" on both second and first floors, and order-clerks were based on the second floor. The conveyor belt went from the second to the first floor. There were four order-clerks (two on each side of the conveyor). His next job was as an order-clerk where as he says, shoes were piled for him. The workday was an eight-hour shift, with a lunch hour, from 7am to 4pm. Mr. Russell noted that he volunteered for overtime work "whenever [he] could get it."
Roger discussed how, at the beginning of his career at EJ, the benefits were comprehensive - such as free medical - until the late 50's and early '60's. Then, according to him, because "some people got greedy" and "abused" the system (by taking too many sick days, and excessive time off) that EJ was no longer willing to provide the same comprehensive healthcare. Instead workers were covered by BlueCrossBlueShield, which they split paying with EJ. His wife and children were covered under this plan (children only until age 21).
In 1989 or 1990, Roger was given an "ultimatum" to retire - he refused, and instead he was sent to a different warehouse in west Endicott. He noted that this warehouse was "newer" with "fancy machinery" but that "it wasn't as fast as they thought it was." He retired in 1993 at the age of 62. He missed his full pension by two years. He was forced into retirement because there were two people working in the same position and the company was making cut-backs.
Mr. Russell noted that there was "talk" of unionizing at EJ. He said that the "union got into the tanneries". As a result, the tannery workers got better pay (and got more money than IBM workers at one time). He said that management ("they") discouraged the workers from joining a union. He said that people who tried to organize unions were fired. He did not want to be the first or one of a few to sign - he said "if they all went [to sign], I would have signed." Mr. Russell also noted that IBM was not unionized because they had a pay-scale comparable to union-wages.