William Bryant and Francis May were the owners of the Bryant and May Match Company. For quite a while, if you were a smoker you had Bryant and May matches in your pocket. Also the blood and tears of children.
Why They Were Asshole Bosses:
Look, if you ever have a chance to take a job that requires you to first travel in a time machine to Victorian era England, don't do it. This is Scrooge era here, when filthy children roamed the streets, eating rats and doing adorable song and dance numbers.
So how shitty of a boss did you have to be to become the subject of huge public backlash in those days? Let's examine the Bryant and May method.
First, you hire nothing but young, teenage girls. There were plenty of them around, they had no other opportunities, and they weren't likely to beat you down with lead pipes when they got fed up with your shit. You work them 12 hours a day, and pay them in the neighborhood of four shillings a week (the equivalent of $20... in today's money).
The exact amount Corey Feldman was paid to be in The Lost Boys sequel
Since forcing the workers to scrape by on quite a bit less than what it costs to buy food still wasn't keeping morale quite low enough, they imposed a series of petty fines for a long list of offenses--everything from going to the bathroom without permission, to having dirty feet. When one girl let a machine jam up rather than have it tear off her finger, she was told the machine was more important, dammit, and to never let it happen again. When another girl did get her hand mangled, she was given the boot. Can't make matches one-handed!
However, Bryant and May couldn't help but notice the other match companies were still making more money. What were they doing wrong? Clearly they weren't abusing their employees enough... was there some kind of torture device they could be using? Maybe if they just let wild badgers run loose on the production floor?
They had a better idea. They had been making their matches with the extremely flammable but otherwise safe red phosphorous. But there was this other kind, white phosphorous, that was way cheaper. And there was absolutely no downside.
Oh, except it would literally eat your face off when you handled it.
Seriously. They called the condition phossy jaw. It was caused by breathing the fumes for too long. The symptoms start with toothache, which led to swelling, abscesses and then a putrid discharge caused by your jaw bone actually rotting inside your head.
Then your jaw would actually start to glow green. It fucking glowed. The only treatment was jaw amputation, which had to be done before organ failure killed the victim.
Keep in mind, Bryant and May knew this; white phosphorous matches and the corresponding side effects had been around for decades. The girls at the factory finally went on strike, figuring horrifying deformities were the final straw. The whole "glow in the dark face-rot" won the sympathy of labor activists at the time, and the women eventually won the right to experience something less than David Cronenberg-levels of horror at their workplace.
The Bryant and May company, of course, stayed in business for decades and made its owners huge amounts of money.
Max Blanck and Thomas Harris were the owners and operators of the Triangle Shirtwaist Company, which made lady's blouses. Why blouses are called "shirtwaists" is lost to time, if by "time" you mean us not caring enough to go check. Did they only make the waist part of the shirt? We'll never know.
Why They Were Asshole Bosses:
Blanck and Harris employed an almost entirely female workforce for the same reasons as Bryant and May: young, many of them immigrants, all with nowhere else to go. They paid six or seven dollars a week (again, shit money even in 1909) and when workers walked out demanding better conditions, the pair hired thugs to beat the crap out of them. When the garment workers' union finally came to an agreement with other manufacturers, Blanck and Harris said hell no.
On top of all this, it seems like a minor thing that they also locked one of the main factory exits from the outside, to supposedly prevent theft by employees. Minor, you know, unless there's a fire. But why would there be a fire in a factory full of machines, strips of dry cloth, tissue paper and smokers? Where there had been fires twice before?
On March 25, 1911, the inevitable happened. Some women made it out before one exit filled with smoke and flame. Others made it onto the fire escape, which collapsed. The rest were trapped inside, banging on that locked door, while they were cooked alive.
All told 146 people died, the worst fire in New York history (a record that would stand all the way until 9/11).
Blanck and Harris were charged with manslaughter. Luckily for them they had way more money than the plaintiffs, and they hired Max Steuer, the Johnny Cochran of his day. He tore apart the testimony of the survivors, hinting that the whole thing was a conspiracy by the evil labor unions, and that no one could prove the door was actually locked. Sure, they found the lock in the burned out rubble, still very much in its locked state. But couldn't it have been tampered with? By the unions?
Blanck and Harris got off. But Blanck was arrested two years later for--get this-- locking his fucking workers inside another factory. Holy shit!
They had his ass now! Justice would be served! Oh, wait, no. He was fined $20.
But wait! Twenty-three families did successfully sue over the Triangle fire and won... $75 each. So, that's sort of justice, right? That's almost 2,000 bucks right there?
Wait, did we mention that Blanck and Harris filed a claim with their insurance after the fire? And got $60,000?
Mayor of Memphis, Tennessee, 1968 - 1971. Unemployed jackass, 1971-?
Why He Was An Asshole Boss:
If there's one thing a city thrives on, it's a rich subculture of homosexual artists who will paint murals on all the downtown buildings. Next in line is the services it provides. And no service is more vital in the sweltering, stanky South than getting the trash off the streets, so you'd think the mayor would want to keep the sanitation workers happy at all costs.
Does this look like the type of man you'd want to cross?
Unfortunately things worked a little different in the late 60s, and things worked way different in Memphis. Especially when the mayor was the white, wealthy Henry Loeb, and the sanitation workers were black.
So, it's one thing to do job that still paid minimum wage after 15 years, and involves picking up trash in a city that didn't require any kind of bags or cans at all, so people could just fling the shit onto the curb as part of their "the negroes will get it" system.
A system supported by many [dirty racists].
But it's another thing to do the job for a boss like Loeb, who layered on one arbitrary rule after another, purely out of dickishness. Workers weren't allowed to stand in the shade of a tree. They got 15 minutes for lunch. But, worst of all, were the trucks; the old, broken-down machines were ridiculously unsafe, as employees told Loeb again and again.
Finally, one of those trucks malfunctioned and crushed two workers to death, pulverizing them into the garbage.
The employees went on strike, and the city council immediately decided that what they had been doing was pretty shitty even by the standards of the late 60s South. They voted to give in to the union's demands, and everyone lived happily ever-
-Oh, wait, no. We forgot about Loeb. Loeb rejected the council's decision, then sent in police to fire mace and tear gas at demonstrators.
At this point the sanitation strike became a national civil rights cause, bringing a certain Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to town, along with tens of thousands of protesters. Loeb declared Martial Law, and brought in 4,000 National Guardsmen.
King addressed the sanitation workers on April 3rd, 1968. That, in fact, is the reason he was still in Memphis the next day, on April 4th, 1968. The day he was assassinated.
Yes, the world is basically one big orchestra of assholes, playing in concert.
Needless to say, in the wake of Dr. King's assassination, Loeb and the city finally gave in to the striker's demands. Then they reneged on the deal, and the workers had to threaten a second strike before Loeb was finally forced to give in, his well of douche having finally run dry.
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