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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Paul Edward Cline, November 8, 1979. Interview H-0239. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Employer fights to withhold compensation for brown lung sufferer

Cline remembers the impact of his worsening health on his work and his struggle to win compensation from his employer. His drive to "get ahead" propelled him through a variety of jobs in a textile mill, including doffing, weaving, and hauling cotton filling. He performed these tasks as World War II broke out, and as fiberglass, asbestos, and heavy smoking took a toll on his health. Trouble breathing forced him out of the mill, and when his owners resisted his efforts to secure compensation, he sued. Cline recalls his employer's effort to discredit his case—Cline had brown lung, but company doctors said otherwise—and reflects on the way corporations treat their employees.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Paul Edward Cline, November 8, 1979. Interview H-0239. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

PAUL CLINE:
My name is Paul Edward Cline. I'm fifty-eight years old. I went to work in a mill with J. P. Stevens in 1938, sweeping. I swept two small weave rooms, upstairs and downstairs. That was my job, to keep the floors clean. Well, I rocked on and I was making $8.10 a week.
ALLEN TULLOS:
What mill was this?
PAUL CLINE:
That's Slater, South Carolina. That's one of J. P. Stevens' mills now, but it belonged to the Carter boys that bought it out. It merged with J. P. Stevens later on. Married Nick Carter. It was a filament, run filament then.
ALLEN TULLOS:
What was that used for?
PAUL CLINE:
They made dress goods, all kinds of fancy goods. After fill order on that, they would get order on cotton. They'd run cotton, they'd fill order on that. Then they'd run anything they could get. Then the government come in and give them a government order, and they put cotton back on. I was always looking to try and get ahead and get a better job. Just young, kept my eyes and ears open. Doffing cloth paid a nickel more a hour, so I got a job a-doffing cloth and made a nickel more a hour. It's been so long, I forgot what I was making a hour, but you can count it up, it's not very much a hour. Then I hauled filling a while. The jobs wasn't stretched out like they are now. I kept watching people how to start up looms, when I got caught up. I always tried to learn something more. I got wanting to weave. I'd run these women's looms while they was going to eat their lunch, or go to the bathroom. They got to watching me. I guess the war was coming on. They was going to have to have some help, so that might a speeded me up getting a job weaving as I did because they started drafting people in the army right after that. In 1940, I went to weaving on the third shift. They had spun rayon on then, take that off and put the filament back on. We got in the war after Pearl Harbor. When I heard of Pearl Harbor, I was going to work on Sunday night. As I went out the door, everybody standing around, I thought something was wrong. Just talking, and I said, "What's going on?" I thought somebody died, and they was. A bunch of our boys died over in Pearl Harbor. My supervisor, Mr. Sartain, he's dead now, I never will forget it, he said, "The Japanese is bombed Pearl Harbor," and I said, "Where in the devil is Pearl Harbor?" I knew, but it just come to me then I forgot it because we studied it in school. I knew it was in Hawaii-Pearl Harbor. But I just couldn't sink in. He says, "Over in Hawaii." So it rocked along there till they drafted me.
ALLEN TULLOS:
Which mill were you working in then?
PAUL CLINE:
At Slater's. I went on through the war two years, come back, went back to work at Slater. I worked there with. . . . they started putting cotton on a while, different other stuff-whatever the market was doing. They said the market was so changeable, they'd run anything they could get. Well, they started putting fiberglass on. We all had to learn over. You couldn't tie a end on that, you had to glue it. We had to learn all over how to weave with that. During that time, they put asbestos on my job, three or four looms at a time with the fiberglas. They told us that was to make the uniforms for the steel mill people that works close to the furnaces.
ALLEN TULLOS:
Who owned the company at that time?
PAUL CLINE:
J. P. Stevens, I believe, had it after the war. They bought it out. After I come back, somewhere in late '46, they done bought it out. They didn't tell me about the hazards of cotton dust or fiberglas, but anybody with common sense knows fiberglas is worse than anything. It'd get on your clothes and you couldn't get it out. It's on your skin, it just stick. Then the asbestos with the fiberglas and all that, about fifteen years ago, I started having smothering spells. I went to the company doctor and he said it was my nerves. He introduced me to the valium tablets; that's the first time I ever heard of them. That's a common thing now. They helped me to sleep and it felt pretty good, but went back in there, I was exposing myself to the same thing. I'd still smother. I'd go back to him, I say, "That ain't doing me no good." He give me a TB test. He didn't find no TB, he said, "You got emphysema." I said, "What in the devil is that?" The first time I ever heard of emphysema is when it come out in the Reader's Digest. People didn't know what emphysema was. I said, "What causes it?" He said he didn't know what caused it. I asked him, I said, "Is it cause of me working in that mill?" "No, no." If he'd of said that, I would a got out. I don't know whether he knew or not. But if he'd a said by working in the mill caused me to have emphysema, I'd a got out then. But he didn't know. He said, "No, that don't cause it." He said, cigarettes-he told me to quit smoking. Course, I didn't do it.
ALLEN TULLOS:
Were you a pretty heavy smoker?
PAUL CLINE:
No, I wasn't too bad. I smoke maybe a pack a day sometimes. A lot of times I wouldn't do that because I'd work. When I worked, I didn't smoke because we had to split the smoke in the mill. I'd always take pride in my job; I wanted to run them looms. I didn't have time to smoke. I'd get it off my mind. I'd smoke when I'd go out. It kept rocking along. I left Slater and went to Dunean. I worked there about three months. I got another job on the first shift-I was on the third shift at Dunean-I got a friend of mine was superintendent at Brandon Duck Mill. He give me a first shift job. I worked six weeks in that plant and couldn't make no money. I cut my pay. The old job I run, I had a different kind of loom, they call a Hunt loom-this fella Hunt down here made a loom, his own- bought him out. It's a pretty good loom, but they just couldn't keep parts for it. It just didn't pay as much as Stevens.
ALLEN TULLOS:
When was this that you were moving around like this?
PAUL CLINE:
That was during in 60's. I went to Moneghan after I left Brandon Duck Mill. I worked there about on up till I retired in '77. I just got to where I went to my doctor after I moved from the country down here. Was living up at Travelers Rest, and Dr. Lipston, I went to him, he told me, "I don't want you to go back in that mill because it's killing you. It's going to kill you." I said, "You give me a leave of absence." So I took my leave of absence over there, but it made them mad. What they wanted to do, they wanted to fire me. If I hadn't give them a leave of absence, been under a doctor's care, they would have fired me. Anything pertaining, if you're injured or not able to work, they want to get rid of you because they don't want nobody around sickly like that. They're not going to take care of nobody like that, and they the one that done it. So they couldn't fire me because I didn't never go back. I get a new leave of absence for six months and I drawed my insurance, seventy-five dollars a week for six months. That's all I drawed, that's all the insurance I had. When that was all, I had nothing coming in. J. P. Stevens ain't going to pay your bills if you don't work for them. So I went and put in for my social security. I had to go to court to get that. Had four doctors said I was disabled and they still had to have a hearing on me. Because you see, it was on the inside of me, my lungs and all. I tell them, I says, "I can't breathe and can't work." They'd look at me like I was a fool, trying to get something for nothing. I had to go to court to get it. I got my social security started and my veterans started. I still wasn't getting any better. Kept rocking along there, my wife called the Lung Association. They referred us to the Brown Lung Association. That's the first time I've ever heard of the Brown Lung Association. I went to have a screening clinic that day. I went over there and blowed through that spirometer and I didn't have but fifty-seven per cent breathing capacity. My wife, she used to work with Mr. Clark there, she knew him, so we joined it. Seeing what good work they was doing, and we just joined it and went around to see what they was doing. Since they was doing good work and checking people's breathing and getting people aware of what kinds of hazards they been a-working in and what they'd been exposed to all these years. There's nobody told them nothing about it, and the Brown Lung brought it out in the open. It started in 1975 in Columbia. It got five chapters in South Carolina and seven chapters in North Carolina. They started some new chapters in Virginia and some in Georgia.
ALLEN TULLOS:
What was the result of your particular case after you had had the lung test?
PAUL CLINE:
I got to talking to staff worker. She referred me to a lawyer-Don Morehead. I went over there, he said, "Sure, you've got a case, of course, we've had some laws changed in South Carolina. "-Workmen's Compensation Law. Brown Lung had some influence to do it, I don't say they done it by theirself. They kept putting pressure on them and they done away with the medical panels there in Columbia. Used to, if you had a lawyer that wanted Workmen's Compensation, you go over to the medical panel. There would be one doctor, one commissioner for you, one for the company, one for the insurance company. It's no way possible you had a chance to win. A lawyer couldn't even cross-examine a doctor, but all that's changed now. That's the reason my case went through. It rocked long, and I had a deposition about it. I told them how I got brown lung. I went to Dr. Plumber at Emory University, my wife both, cost us five hundred dollars. We had to pay that out of our pocket. It should've been come out of the company's pocket. They should of had to pay it. The burden of proof's on us to prove that we sick, and we're already sick. You don't have to do that, you can do that by just looking at us with our breathing. The burden of proof's on us, but it should be on the mill. They should have to foot the bill for examinations. The Liberty Mutual after that, three weeks later, they sent me to Dr. Harris, their doctor. I never did have no better examination, no harder examination when I went in service. I told him, "There's no need to check my knees and feet and everything. Right up here is what the matter with my lung." See, they trying to find something else wrong with you so they could lay it on that. They didn't want to come up and say you had byssinosis. I couldn't get him to admit that. But this other doctor done had it. I told him, "Dr. Harris, a specialist down at Emory University-that's a famous university-he said I had byssinosis number 3" and he couldn't even find out the asbestos in my lung. "After fifteen years, you say that stuff's out in three weeks?" His mouth flew open, the nurse's mouth flew open. He said, "I'll tell you what I'll do, Mr. Cline. I'm going to have somebody else to read them x-rays." That caught him right there, he was the expert. He supposed to been a expert on that. I just called his hand. The man that tell me asbestos been in my lungs fifteen years, and three weeks ago it was still in there, and he said it was out in three weeks. I said, "I hope you're right. I hope there ain't nothing wrong in there." But see, he was company doctor. There's no way in the world he would give me a good recommendation or a good report because they don't pay him for that. They pay him to find out things besides byssinosis. If you had a broke toe or anything like that, he might put that down, or a tumor on the brain or something. He'd be glad to put that down.
ALLEN TULLOS:
How did that all turn out?
PAUL CLINE:
I didn't even look at the . . . He said I did have a bad breathing problem. I said, "I could have told you that before I come up here." They run me through the whole rigomorole of stuff. What they done is try to get the blood out of my arteries. Both of them blue and black. They like to never found them veins in there. They had to go get an old intern from the hospital. Some of the people in our association, women, these ladies, they have to go to bed to take an examination. They do everything they can to try to discourage you to go through all that stuff. People's already sick and old and nervous and to have to go through something like that is a shame and a disgrace. A big corporation, as much money as they have and as loyal workers as we was to the company that they treat them . . . When we come from the farm-I told you we farmed before we went-we had an old mule one time. It got old and got to where it couldn't pull a plow good. So my neighbor says, "Why don't you send him to the glue factory." My daddy said, "That mule has made us a living for several years. I'm going turn him out in the pasture and let him live the rest of his life in peace." That's better than the mill do, they'll turn you out with nothing. They don't even think that you're worth, think you're like cattle. They'll turn you out with nothing, won't take care of you. There's lot of people don't even have a pension. They just started this pension here a few years back. The only reason they done that to keep the union away from them. But one of these days, they going to reap what they sow. Their past sins is finding them out because they're cleaning the water houses and the canteens up better than what they used to be. They used to be so nasty you couldn't get in there. They got them all spic and span. Then, if you got a birthday coming around, bunch of them in the same month, they'd give you a little cup of coffee and a little cake with a candle on it, and the second hands sing "Happy Birthday" to you. Instead of giving you money in your paycheck and giving you some Workmen's Compensation when you're sick, they do something like that. They pat you on the back as long as you're able to work, when you ain't able to work, they kick you out. That's a fact. It's been that way ever since there's been a cotton mill. If you don't produce, you don't stay in there. All the people that I know and everybody that you can find out is loyal to a company-stand up for them. But whenever you want them to stand up for you, they're not around. We got people running around here with J. P. Stevens stickers on, "Stand up for Stevens." I got news for them people, I stood up with them for nearly forty years and look what I got-case of byssinosis and twenty-two dollars a month.
ALLEN TULLOS:
Did you get a settlement out of that?
PAUL CLINE:
I got a settlement out of that. I settled out of court. But I didn't know how long I'd live because they'd keep putting it off. Another thing that the Brown Lung is trying to do is speed up the cases because people is dying. We had two people to die here in the last three or four weeks in our association down in Columbia. All the money in the world won't bring my lungs back. My lungs are just about gone. I don't know how long I'll live, nobody knows how long they'll live far as that goes, but the future generation down the line is what we want to do. I got people coming in there, grandson, and other people got people going to work. That's honest work. Mill work's all right. I've been proud to be a mill worker, but I didn't know that they's doing us that way. I was loyal to them, worked overtime for them, but when I got disabled, they wanted to kick me out with no pension, nothing. I was just lucky to get that twenty-two dollars a month. They didn't tell me it was a hazard to my health. I don't want the future generation to come up with something like this. I'd heap rather buy clothes here made in America, than go over here to Korea, China, or Japan. I don't want to see nobody lose their job, but they create their own unemployment. They'll go overseas and buy this high speed machinery and put in these mills. The people are getting old, and these machines are speeded up and used. They'll cut out, and if you can't run them, they'll lay you off and try to get some new people in there. They're going to get sick on down the road just like us if they don't clean them up. They'll lay off a bunch of people that ain't able. After you get a little bit of age on you, you slow down. When I went to work, they had a "E" Model loom. They advanced to XD's and XK's and things, more speeded up, more advanced. That's good, I like to see people and technology advance. They went to the moon, I's glad they could do that, but the company says it can't clean up because it's too much. But we got a chart here. In 1978, it cost 4.2 million dollars for people to be out of work, disabled. That's in 1978, that's what cost the tax payers. That should be the mill's duty. They'll tell you, there's a lot of people in the association, when they get to where they can't work, can't hold a job, they'll say, "Why don't you quit and get on social security?" See, they don't have to foot that bill. They take that out of your ticket. They'll get you on social security. You're expendable, see. The machine is worth more than you are.
ALLEN TULLOS:
You think it's been that way?
PAUL CLINE:
Been that way ever since there's been a mill been built. On down the line, as my father worked in the mill.