Green’s Dictionary of Slang

working stiff n.

also working joe, ...john, ...plug, work plug, ...stiff
[SE work + stiff n.1 (5d)/joe n.1 (1b)/John n. (1)/plug n.3 (4)]

1. an average, unexceptional working man.

[US]J. London Valley of the Moon (1914) 174: There was two kinds of us, the lions and the plugs. The plugs only worked, the lions only gobbled. [Ibid.] 175: Take that time I tackled the Niles Electric an’ see what a work-plug gets handed out to him.
[US]K. Mullen ‘Westernisms’ in AS I:3 151: ‘Skid-road’ is another word from the lumber industry. It has come to apply to any street where the ‘working stiff’ hangs out.
[US]G.H. Mullin Adventures of a Scholar Tramp 4: He would be a work-stiff no longer.
[US]W. Edge Main Stem 16: The telephone book is a dispenser of information to the bourgeoisie; the working plug has his own channels.
[US](con. 1900s–10s) Dos Passos 42nd Parallel in USA (1966) 324: Charley said that working stiffs ought to stick together for decent living conditions.
[US]Irwin Amer. Tramp and Und. Sl. 196: Working Plug.– A labourer or workman, one who ‘plugs along’ at his work with but little hope of advancement.
[US]N. Algren Neon Wilderness (1986) 67: A man’s got to quit it sometime, and when he’s thirty and a working stiff, then that’s as good a time as any.
[US]Lait & Mortimer USA Confidential 67: The working stiffs, who by entrenched unioneers are thought of and spoken of as ‘dogs,’ are kept in line.
[US]W. Brown Teen-Age Mafia 10: Would she give a working stiff like him a tumble.
[US]Ragen & Finston World’s Toughest Prison 823: working plug – A laborer or workman.
[NZ]R. Helmer Stag Party 145: The average working stiff has only a hour to an hour and a half to quench his thirst.
[US]C. Himes Rage in Harlem (1969) 25: The Theresa lobby was dead at that hour save for a few working-johns.
[US](con. 1920s) J. Thompson South of Heaven (1994) 27: The bosses are always high-pressuring the working stiffs.
[US]E. Bunker No Beast So Fierce 49: I wondered what would happen to her now that Joe was gone. Would she find some working stiff?
[US]S. Longstreet Straw Boss (1979) 229: I know the fucking the average working joe gets from his fat cat union international.
[US]J. Wambaugh Secrets of Harry Bright (1986) 235: An eclectic mix of professional, businessman and working stiff.
[US]T. Wolfe Bonfire of the Vanities 199: The guy was a working stiff who had heart.
[Can](con. 1920s) O.D. Brooks Legs 2: He was a bindle stiff, hated by every working stiff from L.A. to the big town because their bedrolls are always lousy.
[US]L. Stringer Grand Central Winter (1999) 234: Ordinary working stiffs, en route to dinner and the tube.
[US]G. Pelecanos Shame the Devil 233: Stefanos looked around the cafeteria, filled with old folks, working stiffs, and bus tourists.
[US]J. Ridley What Fire Cannot Burn 114: He was doing better than ninety-five per cent of the working stiffs in America.
[US]Codella and Bennett Alphaville (2011) 44: His father was a working stiff who died when Mark was young.

2. attrib. use of sense 1.

[US]C. Himes Crazy Kill 74: Slim black boy. Plays it cool. Working stiff jive. Don’t never flash.
[US]E. Weiner Drop Dead, My Lovely (2005) 125: I [...] traded working-stiff nods with the doorman.