TELECOM Digest Editor wrote:
> For several years in the 1960's and 1970's I was employed by the Amoco
> Oil Company in its central credit card operation in downtown Chicago.
In those days business purposely located such operations downtown so
as to be close to a wide source of labor. These days business put
those operations in rural areas to get cheap labor or even overseas.
> Most of that time was spent in the Sales Authorization Department,
> which is another name for the part of the credit department which
> approves (or not) credit card sales 'at the point of purchase'. In
> those days, 35-40 years ago, originally there were no computers to
> help us; -- there were the large mainframes in our 'computer
> department' but no desktop individual computers; they did not exist --
Desktop inquiry terminals and supporting on-line processing existed
since the early 1960s but it was extremely costly. The most well known
example is SABRE reversation system IBM built for American Airlines.
Terminals were modified Selectric typewriters and function pads. Most
large operations worked exactly as you described--clerks with headsets
running around checking large books or tubfiles of index cards.
We take modern stuff for granted but back in 1970 the terminal itself,
wiring and hardware to connect to the mainframe, on-line disk storage,
programs to take inquiries, do a lookup, and return the response, and
the mainframe itself were all extremely expensive. It took some years
until the costs of each of those components came down enough to
justify replacing a staff of clerks. The programming of on-line
functions was extremely complicated in those days.
> Suffice to say, we by and large 'trusted' the customers to not go
> over their credit limit; those were simpler times and simpler
> customers, not as sophisicated in fraud as many are today.
Unlike today's general purpose credit cards, a consumer was limited how
wild they could get with a gasoline credit card. You only can fill up
your tank so much or buy so many batteries or tires. Some gas cards
had special features, like Gulf was accepted at Holiday Inns, but that
was relatively limited, and not practical for a street thief.
In 1979 I was driving a lot and got several oil company cards for
convenience. In buying gas, the guy would just check a little booklet
of stop orders. In having repairs done, the man would call it in. I
dropped the cards when they charged extra to buy gas with them.
My cards were stolen from my car and I reported them before they could
be used. (Oddly the thief left behind an envelope containing cash.)
Some months later the oil company called me about a charge made for a
battery to see if I made it (I didn't), but I had cancelled the card
so I wasn't responsible.
I suspect they had more of a problem with deadbeats running up big
bills and sloppy stations not calling in purchases.
Companies liked issuing credit cards because they made money two ways:
1) People spent more using a card than they do with hard cash, and 2)
interest charged on payments spread out over time was very high (as it
> The employees responded by wrecking the whole office until the
> police arrived to crack open some heads, etc.
Incidents like that were not uncommon in those days and gave
management pause. What management realized as a result was they were
sitting on time bombs and didn't want any part of it. Quietly and
discretely, here and there, offices were moved out of the city to
perhaps the suburbs or a more distant rural area. As technology
improved, telephone tie-line costs went down and they had more
flexibility in locating call centers. The biggest issues to
management were work-ethic and radicalism. Management didn't like
their center shut down every other day because the streets were
blocked for some protest march, a critical utility was on strike, or
workers in a nearby building were rioting or demonstrating. Obviously
management didn't like pickets in front of their own building. Also,
high taxes and 'pressured contributions' for radical social causes
didn't help either.
The protest and riots ended up being counter productive in many cases
(social activists go nuts when I say their work hurt more than it
helped). Instead of improving conditions for the masses, the
companies just left altogether leaving the masses unemployed. Most
companies did this long after a protest action so the two wouldn't be
These departures were a factor in the decline of NYC and other cities
in the 1970s. It became a viscious cycle feeding on itself. To this
day many companies fear working in cities or old suburban areas
because they don't want the aggravation of activist employees or
external social agitators, etc.
American business can be very ruthless and plenty of employers want
every ounce of blood, sweat and tears they can suck out of you. It is
true plenty of businesses of this nature exploited the masses in the
cities. But many businesses are not like that at all and do treat
their employees very well. It is also true that the labor force of
many business -- good or bad -- was just as bad and ripping off their
employer big time. Who started it is tough to say in many cases.
Unfortunately the end result was lose-lose -- the workers lost their
jobs and the employer endured the cost of relocation or went out of
I know of a steel mill that once had 10,000 workers and how has 300
with little future. The union controlled that mill by brute force.
If a foreman pushed his workers to work, his tires would get slashed.
Then his car would end up in the steel tank. Then he would end up in
the steel tank. The productivity was attrocious. The company has
essentially abandoned the mill and 9,000 people lost their jobs. The
union is damn proud of everything it did.
> I asked the Pip Squeak where is the car now? He told me it was
> still on the rack but he was finished with his work. I told him you
> keep that car up on the rack, which is your right. You have a
> workman's lien on that car until he pays the bill, and he is not
> going to get it paid with that card. I asked him if he still had
> the plastic there. He said he did, so I told him (by then the pip
> squeak had told me his name was Timmy) "Timmy have you got a pair of
> scissors there or a sharp cutting blade?" He said he did and I
> asked him, "Timmy, would you like to make fifty dollars?" I think
> his eyes almost bulged out of his head as he said "Oh, yeah man, I
> really need the money to get Christmas presents for my family, what
> do I have to do to make that kind of money?"
[TELECOM Digest Editor's Note: Neither Amoco Credit Card nor Diners's
Club (at least in those days) were union shops. The refineries were
of course unionized, but Amoco worked very hard to keep them out of
the offices. Typically, Amoco's procedure was to pay and treat the
office workers _as though they belonged to a union_ even though they
did not. Wages and benefits at the credit card office were quite good.
Diners did the same thing; two weeks vacation after a year, three
weeks after five years, good medical benefits, a great 401-K plan
(both Amoco and Diners paid dollar for dollar into the plan, matching
their employees 'savings' dollar for dollar); the catch was if you
quit before the 401-K (or whatever it was called in those days) had
matured the employee got _none_ of the company's share. Yet even with
a _two year_ notice that the credit card office planned to move out
of town (half moved to Raleigh, NC; the other half to Des Moines, IA)
employees were not happy. Even with an already sweetened pot, the
company sweetened it a bit more at that point: Within a day or two
or a week of announcing their plans to move out of Chicago, the
smartest and most useful employees had already quit and split for
Amoco's response was "if you remain in our employ, show up for work on
time each day and do not get fired until _we_ say you are no longer
needed you will get a bonus: a thousand dollars for each year of
service you have put in and an extra 500 dollars. So new workers who
started after that point were promised at least a 500 dollar bonus for
staying until the bitter end. Each person who quit prematurely (in
order to get a jump on an unemployed labor pool two years later) had
to be replaced of course. Over that next two years, those of us who
stuck it out until the end got those bonuses, all of the 401-K money
in our accounts (and the company's share) and a few other perks as
well. But oooh, la la! You talk about a hell hole of a place to
work at, it got much, much worse toward the end. The 'temporary'
employees hired in the last two years in Chicago were absolutely
There was the time the Remittance Department clerks went 'on strike'
for a few days: A dozen young ladies who's job was to slice open
remittance envelopes, stack the checks in one pile and the
remittance coupons in the other pile, keeping them in order for
the combination microfilm/check endorsement machines so the end
result was a microfilm of remittance coupons and checks went through
in the same order (the films for later reference, each check
'endorsed' "Pay to order of Payee named within; Diners/Amoco/Torch"
and the date and the 'batch number' on the reverse side to get
taken to First National Bank, at the rate of five or six hundred
checks per clerk every few minutes after they had been balanced.
One day, they walked off the job and stood in front of our building
at 165 North Canal Street with 'picket signs' saying "Credit Card
is unfair to workers". First day on the street, management peered
out of upstairs windows snickering about it. Second day, management
was a little more concerned; all those checks, money orders, etc
stacking up inside not getting processed. Third day, bank showed
deposits were down a little and headquarters called over and asked
'where the hell is all the money for this month?' Amoco (the
corporate offices) looked for that two or three million dollars
in deposits each day; they were not coming in. Management person
decided better go see what the ladies want, and went to talk to
them on the street. It turns out they wanted _new chairs and desks_
to sit at; nothing more nor less. The new chairs and desks were
delivered the next day. Amoco had hoped to hold out with all the
old junky furniture there on Canal Street until the move to
Iowa was completed. No such luck. PAT]