FROM THE VAULT: Kentuckians get paid by the seat of their pants

Spirit of the Bluegrass

(SIMPSONVILLE, KENTUCKY)– Workers at Leggett and Platt make parts that put you in a state of recline–parts hidden under fabric and frames. But before they end up in your living room, the go through the test lab. For hours at a time, chair testers work by the seat of their pants, back and forth, up and down.

“People don’t realize how hard this job is,” said one of the testers.

The company has found a way to make sitting in a chair hard work, but it has cushy benefits.

” (You can ) eat a big greasy breakfast, bunch of eggs, a pack of hot dogs, and come to work and burn it all off in half a day.”

“We thought about putting a sign out advertising as a fitness center and see if we could get people to come in and test and pay us,” said supervisor Bill Bartlett.

This is serious business. Careful measurements get to the bottom of things and show how the chairs stand up to constant use.

Sitting down on the job is the only way to make money. Your chair handle is your time clock. You don’t get paid by the hour but by the cycle.

One thousand cycles equals ten dollars. And if they’re really rocking, these testers can do 25,000 cycles in three days. That’s the same as 25 years of normal use. Even though this sit-down job is a standup career choice, the testers use creative license when explaining to friends what they do.

One tester said ,”I tell them I supply for the research and development branch of Leggett and Platt– an independent supplier.”

Sometimes supervisors do have to wake up the testers and send them on their way.

So the company is always looking for laid-back people.

Machines do some testing but engineers say robots will never replace humans here. Only real people can tell the makers if the chairs bring comfort and joy.

Bartlett said, “If it becomes too hard to recline in the back or footrest or too hard to close, then it’s a failure, so, yes, they are taking care of the comfort of America.”

When you collapse into an easy chair at the end of your day, think of these guys.

They’ve put a lot of labor into your leisure.

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UPDATE: The Simpsonville plant closed in 2008, but Leggett and Platt says it still has at least one human tester on the payroll at a plant in Mississippi.

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