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Working for Eaton’s - privilege and hardship

The Story

A distinct employee culture is part of the Eaton's legacy. Generations of Eaton's employees proudly refer to themselves as "Eatonians." They feel a part of the splendour of the retailing empire and are dazzled by lavish gifts and favours bestowed on them by the Eaton "royal family." But there's a darker side to being an Eatonian -- a legacy of hard work for low wages. In 1984 CBC radio interviews some Eaton's workers who are trying to form a union to better their fortunes with the company. The history of the Eaton's employee is a study in contrasts. In some ways Eaton's treats its employees with paternalistic affection. During the late 1800s Timothy Eaton sets the benevolent tone with a shorter workday. He closes his store at 8 p.m. -- two hours earlier than his competitors -- an innovation for the time. Later generations of the Eaton family continue the special treatment, providing employees with housing, private hospitals and exclusive summer camps. In contrast, Eaton's has a history of questionable labour practices. In 1934 Eaton's comes under attack from H.H. Stevens, the federal trade minister. A government commission is formed to investigate the country's biggest companies, suspecting that they are exploiting workers. Eaton's is publicly humiliated and changes its labour practices. But the changes don't go far enough for some employees. Workers try and fail to form a union in 1952. In 1984 some stores manage to unionize but after a failed strike most of the unionized staff vote for decertification.

Medium: Radio
Program: Sunday Morning
Broadcast Date: March 18, 1984
Guests: Hugh Buchanan, Ledi Varga, Kathy Walker, Paul Wanamaker
Host: Barbara Smith
Reporter: Rene Pelerent
Duration: 5:26

Did You know?

• In 1923 Eaton's built a summer camp for its female employees on 225 acres of land north of Toronto. Named Shadow Lake, the camp had a nine-hole golf course, tennis courts and horseback riding. The fee for a week was $5. Eaton's employees used the camp for three decades.
• During the first four years of the Great Depression, Eaton's cut more than 5,000 jobs from a workforce of 30,000. Those who kept their jobs earned an average weekly salary of $10.

• During the Second World War Eaton's was the first Canadian company to continue to pay the thousands of employees who joined the Armed Forces. If an employee's military pay was lower than their Eaton's salary, the company made up the difference.


Eaton's: A Canadian Institution more