When I Was A Worker Like LaVerne…

A documentary about a day in the life of a Sears mail order catalog facility in Chicago, where the disconnect between workers and management is striking.  The management seems to be entirely white and male, while the workers are black and female. The tape was produced as part of the "It's a Living" series of videos on working in America.

0:00Copy video clip URL Expediter Ben Filipelli (his position seems to be low-level management) shows how a mail order is processed, packaged, and delivered through several departments in the facility. He uses a nearby employee, Jeannette Walker, to illustrate a sample work flow, talking about her as if she is not there. Skip and Jane attempt to interview Walker, but she is unwilling to be very vocal in the presence of her boss.

4:57Copy video clip URL On the floor with the workers, who are more willing to talk about the reasons they have their jobs and their enjoyment level while Filipelli is out of sight. They express ambivalence towards their jobs and semi-confusion when asked questions like “what do you enjoy most about your job?” They rapidly sort orders on a conveyor belt.

8:44Copy video clip URL Filipelli takes Skip and Jane to the order filling area, where women complete the processing of an order. The orders need to be filled on 20-minute timetables which are so strict that when one woman goes on a break, another woman needs to replace her and fill her orders. Filipelli, “[To do this job] you really have to like this kind of work. … They enjoy what they’re doing, a lot of these girls. They enjoy the pressure, they enjoy keeping up with schedule. I guess the reward is their job, really. They’re happy to be working to begin with.” Skip repeats this information (about how one really has to enjoy the work to do the job) to one wrapper, Barbara White, and she skeptically agrees with him. “How did you choose this job?” “I don’t know. I just went lookin’ for a job.”

11:53Copy video clip URL Salvatore Camodeca, assistant manager, explains some of the technical details of the production schedule. He claims the difficulty of the work and the fast pace makes the employees more “neighborly” and willing to help each other out so the work gets done on time. “I’ve always felt in 187 that it was a big happy family.”

15:11Copy video clip URL Skip talks with a woman wrapping packages, LaVerne Reese. She says the job isn’t all that hard once you get the hang of it. “Is there a lot of satisfaction in the job?” “Well, I guess the satisfaction is in the check.” “When you go home, I guess you’re tired?” “Very. Very tired. I guess it gives me something to do. I would be a housewife if I weren’t here.” “If you could change the system, what would you do?” “[Laughs]. I don’t think I’ll comment on that. [Gestures at Camodeca.]” Later Camodeca makes a big show of encouraging Reese to voice her concerns, saying that employees who submit useful suggestions can win awards. Reese expresses doubt that the suggestion system actually runs on suggestions from the low-level workers. Camodeca tells Skip that “when I was a worker like LaVerne,” many of his suggestions were implemented.

24:34Copy video clip URL Filipelli explains that Sears has been very good to him over the years and has offered him many opportunities for advancement. His use of pronouns in his description is telling: “It’s up to the individual as to where he exceeds in the company. If you’re the type of person that’s not a go-getter, that just is satisfied with one job for 25, 30 years, fine and dandy. But if you’re a fella that thinks there is an opportunity, if he has the capabilities, why not?”

27:14Copy video clip URL Credits roll over shots of the production line.

 

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