What Does “Featherbedding” Mean and Where Did the Word For a Pointless Easy Job Come From?

About sixty years ago, when a group of railroad men complained about being unable to sleep on their hard bunks, the boss replied,

“What do you want, feather beds?”

At the time a feather bed was the warmest and coziest place to curl up and sleep.

So companies began calling the union practice of creating unnecessary soft jobs requiring little or no work, for members who would otherwise be laid off, “featherbedding.”