“Funny Money”

Cash Bill of 1899 put an end to employers‘ use of it.

by Vince Farinaccio

The first set of legislation passed by the State of New Jersey in the late 19th century accomplished little to curb glass factories from denying its workers cash payments in favor of scrip and credit usable only in company stores. But legislators, particularly those from Cumberland County, were not ready to retreat.

According to Documents of the One Hundred and Twenty-Fifth Legislature of the State of New Jersey, three years after the 1877 passage of a bill introduced and shepherded by Millville’s George W. Payne, a new bill was enacted. Previously, legislation had focused on “an act for the better securing of wages to workmen and laborers in the State of New Jersey.” On March 12, 1880, however, the wording of the new bill was altered significantly, identifying the new law as “an act to secure to workmen the payment of wages in lawful money.”

Since company scrip, or “funny money” as it was also called, was not legal tender outside a company’s store, it would not fall into the category of “lawful money.” But the bill, which “made [it] unlawful to pay wages to workmen or employes [sic]in store goods, merchandise, printed, written or verbal orders, or due bills of any kind,” left open a loophole. Any order from the company store requested by a worker and filled by the company as payment of wages left the receipts in the hands of the employers “and could not be secured as evidence,” according to Documents of the One Hundred and Twenty-Fifth Legislature of the State of New Jersey.

The passing of a subsequent law on March 25, 1881 was an attempt to strengthen the legislation from a year earlier but proved to be just as feeble. Dubbed “an act for the relief and protection of workmen in the purchase of store goods and supplies,” this bill “made it unlawful for any manufacturer, firm, company or corporation, their agents, clerks, or superintendents, to attempt to control employes [sic] or laborers in the purchase of store goods or supplies by withholding the payment of wages longer than the usual time of payment, whereby the employee should be compelled to purchase supplies at company stores.”

Like its predecessor, this law also failed to address the fact that a transaction in which goods are provided as wages left proof of its existence in the employer’s possession. Unlike the previous law, however, this legislation stated that a violation carried a fine of up to $100. But it also, as the Documents of the One Hundred and Twenty-Fifth Legislature of the State of New Jersey notes, jeopardized the worker with “the probability of forfeiture of place and inability to obtain employment in other factories, if they thus placed themselves in antagonism to the employers.

The next attempt to address the issue occurred two years later but took a different tack. Instead of the State of New Jersey addressing the problem, the fight was placed in the hands of the workers, who as of February 14, 1883 were free to take a stand by organizing. It was no longer “unlawful in this State for the members of an association to combine together for the purpose of securing the work connected with their trade and to endeavor to effect such purpose by peaceable means.” The strikes that followed at Bridgeton glass factories and Whitall Tatum in Millville did not change the use of scrip, but a bill introduced by Edward C. Stokes of Cumberland County did. The Cash Bill of 1899 addressed the complaints by labor organizations over the limitations of previous legislation and, after revisions, was “submitted for consideration to the various locals of the Green Glass Bottle Blowers of South Jersey,” who gave their approval, according to Documents of the One Hundred and Twenty-Fifth Legislature of the State of New Jersey. Despite vigorous opposition from glass manufacturers in the state, “the bill passed the Senate without amendment and was only slightly changed in the Assembly.” Yet, as Documents… points out, “no matter how strong a bill may be framed and made a law, if the officers of the law do not see to its enforcement it remains but a dead letter upon the statute books.”

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