In a little bindery plant in an inner city neighborhood of St. Paul, Minn., a large computer firm has tailored its work schedule to suit the needs of mothers like Mamie Curtis, who wanted jobs there.
Until she was hired at the Control Data Corporation's bindery plant there five years ago, Curtis, who is 32 and the mother of three small children, was out of work and on welfare. Now she is one of aboyt 140 employees at the plant, all of whom work only part time. Curtis, for example, works only the five hours when her children are in school.
"I hadn't felt I could work full time while I had small children," she said. Her only previous work experience had been as a kitchen aide and a canery worker years earlier.
Now she cansee her children off to school, walk to the plant three blocks from her home and "get home the same time the kids do," he said.
Each day, Curtis punches holes in thousands of pages that are then bound into technical manuals. Under the supervision of a block manager, she and the other women, most of whom are also black, work at long rows of tables to the accompaniment of the constant drone of the lo"joggers," machines that vibrate a platform to help the women align the tens of thousands of pages they assemble into technical manuals and brochures. Some women spend their hours at the tedious task of taking pages off stacks and collating them, watching a seemingly infinite procession of the mysterious symbols of the computer age - 4,000 pages an hour if they're good.
When the "mothers' shift" of about 70 women ends at 2:30 p.m., a three-or four-hour shift for students begins.
Control Data, a computer and financial services conglomerate withe 41,000 employees in 33 countries, initiated the bindery operation in a converted bowling alley seven years ago, following the urban riots of the late 1960's.
"It was our plan to provide the kind of employment most needed, in the place it was most needed," said James Bowe, vice president of Contol Data.
On the other hand, he emphasized, the plant is "not a charitable operation . . . We may have a jump on a lot of companies in thinking you can make money by solving cocial problems."
Last year, the bindery [WORD ILLEGIBLE] turned a profit of $20,000 and [WORD ILLEGIBLE] up 75 new coutomers for work rammpaging up 75 biblical posters to promotional material for the St. Paul Chamber of Commerce. The operation did so well that the company built a new plant, using black contractors.
Like other Contol Data operations in depressed neighborhoods, this one has had its difficulties. Most of the employees had been out of work, and many were strangers to the requirements of a job, according to senior vice predident Norbert Berg.
The company had to comtend with such problems as absenteeism and tardiness. "We got into providing legal counseling, financial loans, we've bailed people out ofjail, provided day care, nutritional help, "Berg said. "We had to learn how to do these things."
Berg believes the [WORD ILLEGIBLE] given the whole neighborhood [WORD ILLEGIBLE] In an area of boarded-up store [WORD ILLEGIBLE] and sporadic vandalism, he pointed out that the building is free of paint or graffiti. "You'll notice we've got a basketball hoop in the parking lot, where the kids play. We make it sa point to keep a net on that hoop and one kid told us that net is as important as anything else we do here."
The bindery workers [WORD ILLEGIBLE] pay ranges from $2.71 to $3.12 (after a year) to $5, according to plant manager Richard Mangram. Employees earn on the average $80 a week for 25 hours.
In addition to her wages, a mother employed at the plant might get an additional $270 monthly welfare grant (compared with $400 a month if she were unemployed, so that the job plus the welfare check means a boost in her income of perhaps $190 a month.
The company estimates that its paroll has served almost $600,000 in local welfare costs over the past seven years.
Though the bindery jobs require little skill, the plant offers training and a chance to move into full-time work for women who want to do so. Mangrum said about 150 employees so far have done that.
Mamie Curtis said she hopes to do the same, "soon as my kids are old enough."
The workers' benefits include paid vacations, holidays, legal aid, retirement eligibility and access to government health plan that the company administers but does not pay for.
For printing trade unions in the St. Paul area, however, take a dim view of the nonunion bindery operation. Some of the members "have figured out that these part-time workers by about half," according to one union spokesman. "And also the wage rates are just about half what they would pay professionals. So, it's not exactly philanthropic."
He said a union book binder in the Twin Cities area earns about $5.49 for the same work that earns a Contro Data worjker $2.71.
Plant manager Mangrum maintains that the plant is competitive because of its low overhead, low absenteeism and turnover, and its high productivity per worker.
"This is no plaything," says plant manager Mangrum. "I look at the production records daily. We have sophisticatted cost accounting methods. We know who is slack."
While the workers tend to be hired on the basis of need, he said, "if there's a slough off, we deal with it."
The workers praised the plants' efforts to accommodate them in other ways.
"If a child gets sick, I can call in and say I won't be in. And yesterday they let me go over to the school for my grandson's conference," said Mabell Burch, 51, who works the shrink wrapping machine, sealing a clear plastic wrap over posters, bookd and the like. She is mother of seven children with custody of a grandchild as well, she said. Her husband has been working two jobs so she could stay home withe the children when they were all smaller.
"This job helped us a lot. I don't need special training for it. Anybody could do it, really. I'm not a fast worker," she added, "but I'm constant."
Like most of the other workers, she is able to walk to work, or on bad days, take a bus.
The Control Data excutives are not sure why more firms have not followed their example. "The problems are solved, we've making maoney and yet we're still the only ones around (the inner city), Bowe said.
"This could be such a big part of that big Carter problem - the unemployment that everybody's scratching his head about. Think of the corporate power to do something about it. All you need is a modest government in centive for business to go in and do it."
The bindery program is no panacea, he added. "It's just a nice combination of things that's working well."
Next: Reduced hours, part of the answer to the unemployment problem?