The BNY in the Inter-War Era                                                                      Labor History
Preparing For War, 1937-1941, Part 2
Raises for IVbs
Chart: Distribution of Workers at Navy Yards and Stations as of 30 June 1941, Hours and Shifts

The half-dozen years preceding the U.S. entry into World War II were a booming time not only for navy yards but for the commercial shipbuilding business as well.  Add to this the aggressive organizing of CIO and AFL unions in the industry, and as a result, as the 1930s came to a close, the Navy Department found itself having, after a ten-year gap, to once more reconvene wage boards for its civilian trades workers.

Throughout the Thirties the Navy Department maintained the Wage Schedule of 1929 for its trades employees--although Congress and the President had modified it at several instances, first by instituting pay cuts in 1932 and 1933, and then in mid-decade not only restoring the cuts but, in effect, giving them a raise by mandating a five-day work week at the previous six-day-week scale.  As the Forties approached, it became clear that private-shipyard wages, long trailing those of the government's yards, had climbed up to levels now rivaling those of the navy yards, spurred on in large part especially on the east coast by the successful organizing of the IUMSWA, and agitation to reconvene local Wage Boards began.   So many petitions had come into the Department by June 1939 that the Assistant Secretary felt the need to inform workers that the information he had showed that it would not be until early 1940 that private wages for trades as a whole would catch up with those of the navy yards'; parity in a handful of individual trades was not enough to justify a convening of the boards. [Circular Letter,  ASN(SED), to AN&MCAC, 24 June 1939; copied in: Commandant's Instructions No. 44-39, to HDDOeCP, 28 June 1939; RG181; NA-NY. For a comparison of wages in navy yards and private shipyards in 1936, see "Earnings and Hours in Private Shipyards and Navy Yards," Monthly Labor Review (November 1938); "Annual Earnings in Navy and Private Shipyards," Monthly Labor Review (December 1938).]

In the meantime the Secretary advised that as ten years had passed since the last Wage Boards had sat, that it was likely that many current employees did not understand the workings of the procedure, and that contacts had been lost with local businesses.  He called for all interested parties to familiarize themselves with the complicated procedure and send in any suggestions as to revisions and simplifications of the regulations. [Circular Letter, Acting Secretary of the Navy, 15 August 1939; RG181; NA-NY.]

BNY Commandant Woodward had already passed on some thoughts he had on the subject.  First, and perhaps wisely, he suggested that local boards only collect local wage information and not make their own wage recommendations, as the procedure left final wage determination to the Department.  Less wisely, he did not want worker representatives to accompany Board members on their visits to local businesses unless their data and the Yard's on a particular business substantially disagreed with each other. He wished to avoid dealing with competing claims among various workers' groups [read AFL/CIO quarrels] in the Yard and he thought that business managers would be reluctant to reveal wage data in front of workers.  The Commandant also repeated the old argument that city building-trades jobs [the one trade area where wages had maintained parity or superiority to navy yards throughout the Depression] not be considered as comparable per the Wage law.  He further advised against a Department suggestion to bypass the Board and raise wages significantly for shipfitters and loftsmen as a means of more quickly countering the current shortage of workers in those trades. [Letters, Commandant, to ASN(SED), 14 July 1939, 20 September 1939; RG181; NA-NY.]

On 13 January 1940, Secretary Edison announced that local wage boards were to convene no later than 15 February to begin their investigation and "recommend rates of wages for the Naval and Marine Corps activities within the[ir] purview."  [Local wage boards generally (but not always) covered a naval district.  The Board for the Brooklyn Navy Yard, for instance, determined wages just not for the Yard but for civilian trades workers in all Third Naval District shore units, from the submarine base in New London, Connecticut, to naval depots in New Jersey, and the Clothing and Supply depots in Brooklyn.]  The instructions mandated a board consisting of a civilian recorder and at least three naval officers to be chosen from each local station, the senior member of which had to hold at least the rank of Commander.  Which local businesses should be investigated was somewhat ambiguously defined to be those doing "comparable" work to that of navy yards and stations, with "similar processes, appliances, tools and skills of workmanship."  Within twelve weeks of its start each local board and Commandant was to file a wage recommendation report with the Department and post a full copy of the packet on shop bulletin boards.  It then befell the national wage board in Washington to collate the local reports, hold its own hearings and write its own report to the Secretary, who then made a final determination of wages. [Circular Letter, Secretary of the Navy, to AN&MCAC, 13 January 1940; RG181; NA-NY.]

The 1940 Wage Board procedure proved to be an exercise in futility.

Commandant Woodward instituted the wage board at the BNY on 7 February 1940 and began hearings so that the trades could submit their wage data.  Now that the navy yards worked a forty-hour week for what was once forty-eight hours of wage, the local board [as elsewhere in other navy yards] first adjusted the base hourly rates upwards appropriately, wages being recalculated to the tenth of a cent in most cases.  The New York Wage Board conducted about 575 investigations and collected wage data from private shipyards in the Third District, collectively employing over 11,000 people.  As in the past, they were instructed not to consider building and construction industries, public utility companies, and specialty firms [host to strong unions] performing "comparable work," and could their wage data if they could not acquire the necessary wage figures for a from other firms.  By mid-May 1940, the board finished its task and on 24 May the Commandant shipped all the material together with his report to the Secretary of the Navy.  His recommended wage schedule was quite modest. ["Wage Board - Selection of Committees for Hearings Before," Commandant's Notice, to Civilian Employees, Classification Groups I, II, III, IV(a) of the Naval Establishment at: Navy Yard, NY [and all other places in 3ND], 7 February 1940; "Report of Wage Board," from Commandant, to Secretary of the Navy, 24 May 1940. RG181; NA-NY.]

The national wage board was composed of three groups: for the Navy, a group of naval officers; for organized labor, the Treasurer of the AFL's Metal Trade Department, and now for the fist time, representing the CIO, the president of the UFWA; and, representing the "public interest," a civilian employee of the Navy Department.  This Board met over the summer and fall of 1940, heard witnesses, deliberated, and submitted its report to the Secretary of the Navy.  Labor organizations aggressively pursued generous raises at these hearings, AFL and CIO spokesmen asking for an increase of 20 percent for the 100,000 workers of the country's eleven navy yards.  N. P. Alifas, president of the federal-worker IAM [International Association of Machinists.] District 44, reminded the Board that his workers took wage reductions in the first half of the 1930s, and Marion Hedges of the IBEW asked that electricians' wages be pegged to those of construction electrical workers working in the vicinity of each navy yard.  On the CIO side, Henry Rhine, national organizer for the United Federal Workers of America, said navy yard employees had spoken to him of the general wage increases in private industries in the past few years, and Philip Van Gelder of the IUMSWA told the Board that wages in private shipyards in the Philadelphia-Camden area now exceeded those in navy yards. [NYT, 14 June 1940.]

On 7 November, Commandant Woodward released the results for the New York Navy Yard, to take effect on 18 November 1940.  Many workers saw the results as a poor joke.  While a bit more generous than the New York Wage Board in the number of raises awarded, those given by the Secretary were minuscule, often just tenths of one cent per hour, the basic principle seemingly being to round wages up to the nearest full cent.  The Brooklyn Eagle noted the pattern at once and even the Manager, Captain Broshek, admitted that such seemed to be the case.  Nationally, aggregate pay raises worth $1 million were distributed to about 15,000 eligible navy yard workers (a $66.67 yearly average increase, or $l.28/week ). ["Schedule of Wages Groups I, II, III, IV(a)," Commandant's Instructions No. 62-40, to HDDO, 7 November 1940; RG181; NA-NY. BE, 7 November 1940.]

Complaints came in furiously and not only from New York, as the Secretary proved miserly with all his charges.  In early December, James Forrestal, the Under Secretary of the Navy, made matters worse when in responding to James Skelton, Chairman of the Brooklyn Navy Yard Wage Committee, said in a rather patronizing manner that the Department had received "expressions of satisfaction," as well as criticism.  "All things considered," it must be remembered, he continued, that navy yard employees had been protected from Depression wage fluctuations [omitting the 1932-34 period] and that the reviews by the local and national wage boards appeared to have confirmed the "view" that  the average wages in commercial plants still lagged behind those of naval stations.  Besides, he also pointed out, a civilian and representatives from the AFL and CIO both had sat on the national wage board and had given their approval to the schedule. [Letter, Forrestal, to Skelton, 7 December 1940; copy enclosed in: Letter, Commandant, to Secretary of the Navy, 11 December 1940; RG181; NA-NY; Black, Charlestown Navy Yard.]

Such throw-away comments did not stifle labor's disbelief in the verisimilitude of the new Schedule.  The anger over the raises took its toll on the two union representatives who sat on the national board: both resigned from their union posts shortly thereafter.  The Secretary, in an attempt to appease workers and their unions, called hearings in Washington in early 1941 to allow all interested labor organizations and navy yard committees to express themselves on the matter.  But after listening and considering what the plaintiffs had to say, Knox ruled against them on 16 April 1941 saying that they had given him no justification for modifying navy yard wages. [Letter, Secretary of the Navy Knox, to Commandants, all navy yards [et al.], Labor Organizations Concerned, 16 April 1941; RG181; NA-NY.]

This was far from the end of it.  Meanwhile, in the commercial shipbuilding sector it had become obvious to the federal government by late 1940 that problems involving labor migration and coordinating supplies among the shipyards had become severe enough to justify its intervention.  Repeating the procedure of the previous war, Sidney Hillman set up the Shipbuilding Stabilization Committee on 27 November 1940, consisting of representatives of the OPM [Office of Production Management], the Navy, the Maritime Commission, the shipbuilding industry, and AFL and CIO officials, to begin negotiations to establish four zonal wage standards.  The goal of the Navy Department and the Maritime Commission--the govermental sponsor of transport-ship building--was to set a maximum rate of pay and overtime on cost-plus-fee contracts (above which private companies would have to pay out of their own pockets), and to set a specific escalator clause for wages in fixed-price contracts.  In a bow to political realities, Secretary Knox conceded that once the Zone Stabilization Conference finished its business, navy civilian wages would be reviewed. [Despatch, Assistant Secretary of the Navy Ralph Bard, and Emory S. Lane, Chairman, Maritime Commission, to all East Coast shipyards, all Gulf shipyards, all Great Lakes shipyards, copy to Commandants Naval Districts, 12 June 1941. Letter, Secretary of the Navy, to AN&MCAC, 11 June 1941; copied in: "Wages of Employees in the Naval Establishment," Commandant's Notice, to HDDO, 13 June 1941. Both in RG181; NA-NY. Information in this paragraph and the next on the Shipbuilding Stabilization Committee's procedure is from Frederic C. Lane, Ships for Victory: A History of Shipbuilding under the U.S. Maritime Commission in World War II (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1951).]

The East Coast Zone Stabilization Committee completed its work on 18 June 1941, establishing a base pay for mechanics at $1.12 an hour, a quite generous hike of up to twelve cents an hour for many IUMSWA-contract-covered workers, and it was a cent or two higher than the maximum wage for some Brooklyn Navy Yard employees such as the machinists and painters.  As promised, the Navy Department reviewed navy yard wages in light of the results and released a new wage schedule in mid-October, to take effect on 31 October 1941.  The new Wage Schedule reflected the awards given to the private-sector shipworkers, giving significant raises to many civilian workers, in some positions up to ten per cent.  In each Grade III trade the Department set identical pay rates for all east coast navy yards (Portsmouth, Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Washington, Norfolk, and Charleston, plus the Newport torpedo station) in order to discourage labor migration up and down the Atlantic seaboard.  For helpers, whose services were more easily replaced, the Department allowed some regional variance in their rates, permitting the Norfolk and Charleston yards to pay ten cents an hour less for helpers than that which Northern yards paid.  The regional differences for laborers' wages were quite pronounced: the unskilled workers receiving 78 cents an hour in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Portsmouth, and Newport, 72 cents in Washington, 62 cents in Norfolk, and a lowly 54 cents for the yard in South Carolina, two-thirds the rate paid in the North (a gap larger than the NIRA-code regional minimum wages of seven years earlier).  The trades gained nicely by the new schedule although some building trades' rates, like those for electricians and plumbers did not advance.  Apprentices as well as most helpers received significant pay boosts and  laborers in the Brooklyn Navy Yard received a rather generous six-cent raise.  [Letter, ASN, to AN&MCAC in the First, Third, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth Naval Districts and on the Potomac and Severn Rivers, 13 October 1941. Abridged in: "Amendment to Current Schedule of Wages," Commandant's Instructions no. 62-40, sup. 4, to HDDO, 16 October 1941;  RG181; NA-NY.]

This leveling of the wages among the navy yards meant though that the workers in some navy yards received larger raises than did those in others.  Philadelphia's trades, for instance, made out better than Brooklyn's trades, who had the highest wages on the east coast, and in response AFL president William Green had filed a complaint with the Department.  But in a conversation a short time later with Captain Broshek [BNY's Manager], Captain Atkins [of the Shore Establishments Division] thought Green's action to be merely "window dressing," something to smooth out irritated feelings among some of his constituents, because all along labor organizations had pushed for standardizing east coast wages. However, he did let Broshek know of the Department's willingness to listen, without any guarentees of couse, to any appeals that the BNY might wish to make on increasing individual trade rates. [NYT, 8 November 1940. Transcript, telephone conversation, Capt. Broshek, to Capt. L.M. Atkins, Shore Establishments, Washington; 16 October 1941; RG181; NA-NY.]

The Navy Department kept its navy yard wage rates linked to those of the Zone Stabilization Agreements during the following year.  In June 1942 the National Shipbuilding Conference raised private shipyard rates and the Navy Department in turn passed along small increases to navy yard employees, boosting the average mechanic rate, such as for a machinist or a shipfitter from $1.18 an hour to $1.20.  After President Roosevelt instituted a wage freeze in October 1942, the Navy switched to using wage surveys conducted either by the Bureau of Labor Statistics or itself to determine wages, such determinations being subject to approval by the National War Labor Board. The Department granted two war-time schedules based on this method, in November 1943 and October 1944. [NYT, 1 July 1942; "Amendment to the Current Schedule of Wages," Commandant's Instructions No. 62-40, Supplement no. 6, to HDDO, 3 July 1940; copying Letter ASN, to All Naval, Marine Corps and Coast Guard Activities concerned, 26 June 1942; RG181; NA-NY.  "Determination of Wage Rates for Mechanical and Laboring Positions in the Federal Service," Monthly Labor Review (November 1944); McPherson and Watts, "Fixing Wages and Salaries of Navy Civilian Employees in Shore Establishments, 1862-1945," (Navy Department, Records Administration Division, May 1945).]


Raises for IVbs
For the clerical and other IVb positions the hodge-podge method of acquiring and distributing money for administrative promotions (raises) remained in effect, and by the end of the decade even the Navy Department had noted what could only be considered favoritism in the dispersal of these funds.  To briefly recap, on 1 September 1935 the Department completed the postponed final classifications of shore establishment positions mandated under the Brookhart Salary Act.  The Department then asked its field stations not to submit recommendations for raises for the same workers for two successive years if other workers with satisfactory ratings had received none.  But this coaxing proved  inadequate and in July 1939 the Department required shore stations to submit written statements as to why they were denying raises to those who qualified (those with a minimum efficiency rating of 80 and not at the top level of their grade), but who had not received one since 1935. [Circular letter, Secretary of the Navy, to AN&MCAC, 1 July 1939; Commandant's Instructions No. 37-39 (revised), to HDDOeCP, 18 July 1939; RG181; NA-NY.]

But this still was not enough.  In April 1940 an irritated representative from the American Federation of Government Employees, a union of mostly white-collar workers, complained to the Brooklyn commandant that some IVbs in the Yard had not received a raise for over seven years.  Two months later, Commandant Woodward reemphasized the matter in his annual instructions to Yard management about compiling recommendations for raises.  Apparently, neither he nor the Department could, or would, simply order such recommendations be made. [Letter, Dunitz, Corresponding Secretary, AFGE, NY Naval District Lodge No. 36, to Commandant, U.S. Navy Yard, Brooklyn, NY, 22 April 1940; Commandant's Instructions No. 31-40, to HDDOeCP, 26 June 1940. RG181; NA-NY.]

In its last peacetime appropriations for the navy, the one for fiscal year 1941 (1 July 1940-30 June 1941), Congress made no specific provision for IVb raises in general but instead codified the standing proceeding of having the Budget Bureau determine what money, acquired from turnovers, vacancies and such, was available for raises.  But Congress this time included strict instructions for distributing the money, which  the Bureau calculated that year to be about $221,000.  Provided that an employee qualified, the bill granted all senior employees (salary $3200 and up) denied a raise since June 1935, and all lower grade workers denied one since June 1937, a one-step increase.  There was one restriction: employees with ratings from 80 to 85.9 could receive a raise only if the new salary did not elevate them above the mid-range for their positions. [Circular letter, Secretary of the Navy, to AN&MCAC, 30 August 1940; RG181; NA-NY; Black, Charlestown Navy Yard.]

The labor needs of the Brooklyn Navy Yard as well as other government defense agencies could not be met by increased hiring and training alone [see part 3].  During the years when the war was still a European one the federal government and the Navy Department slowly established a production schedule that by 7 December 1941 had navy yards on a three-shift, seven-day schedule, and which relied on enforced overtime.

With war in Europe imminent in the summer of 1939, the size of the American fleet worried many people, one of whom as we have seen was Commandant Woodward.  While 106 new naval vessels [including 4 carriers, 8 heavy cruisers, 9 light cruisers, 27 destroyers, and 21 submarines] had been placed in commission since March 1933, it seemed readily apparent to some obervers that summer that more ships were needed and as quickly as possible.  Of the warships then under construction [8 battleships, 2 carriers, 6 light cruisers, 38 destroyers, 20 submarines, 8 torpedo boats, 4 sub chasers, and a score of auxiliary craft] special concern was given as to when the new battleships would be completed.  The article in the New York Times giving these figures noted that if navy yards went to twenty-four hour schedules they could quickly increase their collective workforce from 62,000 to 100,000 people.  Double shifts had already been implemented at six government arsenals as well as at the Washington Naval Gun Factory [aka the Washington Navy Yard]. [NYT, 25 August 1939.]

The first change in hours came with the President's declaration of a limited national emergency in September 1939.  To help enforce the country's neutrality, the navy began patrols off the east coast.  To do so required the rapid re-commissioning, overhaul, and conversion of many vessels, most noticeably the World War I destroyers.  In order to get enough vessels into the Atlantic quickly the Navy Department, which had up to then severely limited the use of overtime, now authorized its shore establishments to work their per diems more than forty hours per week on a regluar basis,  including Sundays.  The work proceeded speedily enough that by the end of the December the Department rescinded the extra hours. [Letter Secretary of the Navy to AN&MCAC, 11 December 1939; copied as: “Cessation of over-time and Sunday work,” Commandant's Order no. 11-39, Sup. 3, to HDDO, 13 December 1939; RG181; NA-NY.]

On 16 May 1940, as part of the naval building program begun that spring, President Roosevelt authorized a change in policy as to the length of the work week.  Although the Navy Department preferred its shore stations to put on extra shifts rather than resort to overtime, the Navy Department granted authority for its civilian employees to work up to 48 hours per week, but for no more than eight hours in any one day except for emergencies.  This new policy established Sunday as a work day--though its use was to be kept to a minimum, and overtime had to be paid where entitled by law.  Local shore stations now could arrange shifts and start times to meet their own needs.  A short time later, the June 1940 omnibus bill formally set the work week of the IVbs at forty hours per week, apparently restoring to them their lost hour of pay.  Since the last change in hours, in 1936, IVbs had worked a forty-hour week but for thirty-nine hours pay and they had been sore about it since.  However, the law only granted overtime pay to the trades, and to the professional, sub-professional, and supervisory groups in the IVb class, leaving the clerical grades out in the cold. [Letter, Secretary of the Navy, to Commandants [of all Navy Yards, et al.], 21 May 1940; Letter Secretary of the Navy to AN&MCAC, 29 August 1939; copied as: “Hours of Work,” Commandant's Order no. 11-39, sup.1, 31 August 1939; RG181; NA-NY. Public, no. 671, 28 June 1940, section 5(a).]

It seems that shore units took the ability to work their people longer hours too far, as the Department sent out several memos over the summer of 1940 modifying and explicating its orders.  The Navy told its yards not to abuse their workers under the new regulations, and restricted the percentage of workers who could perform overtime in a navy yard to a maximum of 10 percent unless the Department approved otherwise.  The Department further reminded commanding officers that multiple-shift work was preferred to overtime, that Sunday work should be kept to a minimum, and that IVbs not legally entitled to overtime pay should be required to work it only sparingly.  Finally, in mid-September 1940, the Department issued specific orders restricting the use of overtime to meeting ship completion dates and in cases where a labor shortage in a trade existed, and further instructed commandants not to use overtime as an instrument of favoritism by providing individual employees with additional wages.  But considering the general labor shortages, the warning could not have meant much for most navy yards.  In the Brooklyn Navy Yard, for example, the New York Times reported in August 1940 that of its then-15,000 employees that the 7000 working on the three battleships already were on a six-day week.  This was not production to be halted. [“Expediting National Defense,” Commandant's Order no. 40-40, sup. 3, to HDDO, 14 June 1940; “Expediting National Defense,” Commandant's Order no. 40-40, sup. 9, to HDDO, 9 August 1940; Commandant's Order no. 40-40, sup. 11; 4 September 1940; “Overtime,” Commandant's Order no. 40-40, sup. 12, to HDDOeCP, 12 September 1940. All in; RG181; NA-NY; NYT, 21 August 1940.]

The needs of production finally overcame the directive to minimize overtime.  In June 1940, Commandant Woodward had already requested permission from the Department to work at least 75 percent of his trade workers and laborers on a forty-eight-hour week in order to meet completion dates on construction, overhauls and conversions.  Yard management was doing all it could to train new workers but there was just not enough qualified people to allow for extra shifts, except for a few specialized shops like the Ordnance Machine Shop, which had to work a six-day, three-shift week if it was to complete its work over the next year.  The Brooklyn commandant was far from alone in his request, and on 15 January 1941 the Navy Department, citing the “urgent necessity of prosecuting the defense program with utmost vigor,” authorized navy yards to establish a six-day, forty-eight-hour work week for all those directly concerned with expediting the defense program or in supplying services to it, with the emphasis to be placed on building up the evening and night shifts.  The sixth day was to be paid at overtime rates.  The Department still requested that Sunday work be kept to a minimum, but also gave yards permission to work people more than 48 hours per week when necessary.  Sunday, even if in a limited fashion at first, became another regular day of work for navy yards.  The files contain reports on work to be done on the weekends in the Brooklyn yard, and on Sundays in 1941, anywhere from a few hundred to 5000-7000 came in.  The directive permitted IVbs not entitled to overtime to continue to be worked more than forty hours, but only until navy yards hired enough new people to provide their yard an equitably-staffed six-day week of overlapping five-day shifts. [Letter, Commandant, to ASN(SED), 19 June 1940; Despatch,  Secretary of the Navy, to Commandants of all navy yards, 15 January 1941; “National Defense Shipbuilding Program - Hours of Work,” Commandant's Order no. 17-41, to HDDO, 3 February 1941; RG181; NA-NY.  On schedule Sunday assignments in 1941, see the corresponding: Memo from the Production Officer, to All Officers, Production Division; subject: Work on Saturday and Sunday, [date]; RG181; NA-NY.]

Those IVbs not entitled to overtime pay were, needless to say, annoyed and complained mightily about having to contribute their labor gratis.  For example, in mid-January 1941 the New York Navy Yard Civil Service Association petitioned the Secretary by telegram on the subject.  In reply, the Director of Shore Establishments said it was a legal matter that only Congress could resolve.  It was such an obvious injustice, and on 30 July 1941 the President issued an executive order (number 8837) authorizing overtime for those not then entitled to it provided their services were “essential and directly connected with the expeditious prosecution” of the work at hand.  The IVb work week remained a forty-hour week but the Department gave shore units authority to work them forty-eight hours per week if needed for defense work and even more in emergency situations. [Letter, Fisher, Director of Shore Establishments, to Navy Yard Civil Service Association, 21 January 1941; “Overtime compensation for certain per annum employees of the field services of the Navy Department,” Commandant's Order no. 17-41, sup. 4, to HDDOeCP, 6 August 1941; RG181; NA-NY.]

In the summer of 1941, Secretary Knox ordered navy yards to increase production and to bring their work schedules into conformity with one another.  While he complemented the commandants on the rapid progress of their work to date, he could not but notice that the use of shifts and overtime varied greatly from yard to yard.  In the New York Navy Yard, for instance, 4794 of its non-IVb workers worked 40-hour weeks (27.7%), 5524 worked 48-hour weeks (32.3%), and 6848 worked more than 48 hours (40%).  Eighty-one percent of the Yard's workforce worked the day shift, while 12 percent worked the second, and 7 percent the third.  But in other navy yards the percentage of workers on a forty-hour week ranged from none for Boston to 40 percent at Puget Sound.  Portsmouth had no one working more than 48 hours, while Norfolk had 52% of its workers doing so.  The day shift still dominated navy yards except for Boston, which had just 55% of its force working days.  While acknowledging local variations such as the size of the job market and housing availability, Knox still officially prodded the navy yards to do several things: to run their day shift at full capacity, and then increase the other two shifts so that together they would approximate the day shift in terms of production; to aim to place about 80 percent or more of their workers on six-day, 48-hour shifts spread over a seven-day week, and reduce to less than 10 percent those working less than 48 hours.  The Secretary instructed commandants to take the initiative in putting these schedules into effect and to pay particular attention to doing everything in their power to eliminate any bottlenecks in the way of production. [“Expediting National Defense,” Letter, Secretary of the Navy, to Commandants, navy yards [et al.], 24 July 1941; RG181; NA-NY.]

Working staggered shifts in peacetime did not please BNY workers and they grumbled about it constantly even going so far as visiting the Navy Department in October 1941 to make their displeasure known.  They preferred to work three shifts a day on a five-day per week if at all possible.  But by now such protests were fruitless.  By the end of 1941, three weeks after war was declared, of the BNY's 20,771 trades workers, 20.2 percent worked a seven-day week of 56 hours, and a further 20.4 percent actually put in a 61-hour work week, working nine hours a day Monday through Friday plus eight hours on the weekend. [Letter, ASN (SED), to Commandant, Navy Yard, NY, 2 October 1941;Memo, Production Officer, to Accounting Officer, 30 December 1941. Both in RG181; NA-NY.]   If there was a civilian equivalent to serving in the armed forces, working in the navy yards should certainly qualify.

The urgent need to push navy yard work impinged even on the policy regarding annual leaves for employees.  Since 1936 navy civilian employees accrued annual leave (vacation) at a rate of 21/6 days per month, cumulative to sixty days, and sick leave at the rate of 11/4 days per month, cumulative to ninety days.  In May 1938, in a decision that vexed workers, the Attorney-General, responding to a request by the Secretary of the Navy for interpretation of the language of the regulations, ruled that the law mandated that all Sundays, holidays, and other non-work days occurring within a sick or annual leave should be charged to the employees' respective leave accounts.  Congress remedied this situation on 2 March 1940 with a law authorizing President Roosevelt to promulgate by executive order new rules on leave, which he did on 29 March 1940.  Accrual rights remained the same but the new regulations now charged leave time only to the days a person would otherwise actually have worked within a leave.  The executive order contained another sentence concerning vacations that would lay the basis for future developments: “Leave shall be granted at such time or times as may be deemed to be in the public interest.” [For the previous regulations, see: Act, “To Standardize Sick Leave and Extend It to All Civilian Employees,” 14 March 1936, Public. 472, and the similar one passed the same day for annual leave; “Information for new Employees - Group IV(b),” United States Navy Yard, NY, NY; 21 April 1938; RG181; NA-NY; U.S.C.S.C., Annual Report, Fiscal Year 1936. The Attorney-General's decision is copied in: Circular Letter, Secretary of the Navy, to AN&MCAC, 18 May 1938; RG181; NA-NY. For the new regulations, see: Act, “To Amend the Annual and Sick Leave Acts of March 14, 1936,” 2 March 1940, Public, no.  419; “Leave Regulations,” Commandant's Order No. 34-40, sup. 3, to HDDOeCP, 11 April 1940; RG181; NA-NY. Sick leave was also liberal for its time.  While sick leave was supposed to be used only for illnesses or injuries that “incapacitate,” or if a worker was contagious and presented a risk to others, it could also be used for pregnancy, or to give aid to an immediate ill family member.]

Modifications in the annual leave policy soon came.  By the beginning of 1941 BNY management concluded that issuing leave in allotments of one to a few days disrupted production.  Finding replacements for such short periods was time-consuming and leaving the job open accomplished nothing in the way of production.  In February the Commandant issued orders, that as to ensure the greatest efficiency the Yard would grant leave with or without pay for periods of not less than one week and only at times when the worker's services could be spared. ["National Defense Shipbuilding Program - Leave,” Commandant's Order 17-41, sup. 2, to All Concerned, 17 February 1941; RG181; NA-NY.]

On the national level the government was finding that the loss of work time to annual leave was becoming a luxury it might no longer be able to afford.  The omnibus defense bill of 28 June 1940 had permitted navy employees for the duration of the emergency who performed "necessary" work to stay on the job and still receive leave pay, i.e., receive double-pay; but the Secretary had put off implementing that policy.  On 5 July 1941, President Roosevelt issued executive order 8817, once again changing leave policy.  The new regulations codified for all federal employees five days/one week as the minimum amount of leave that could be granted.  But in the most important modification of the June 1940 law, the order stated that if an employee applied for leave and the official in charge determined the person could not be spared then or at any other time in the calendar year as the absence would be detrimental to the national defense, the employee was to be compensated only for that part of accrued leave applied for which otherwise would be forfeited. [In other words, no double-pay for working during one's vacation until the limit was reached.]  The kicker to this was that federal workers did not risk forfeiting vacation pay until they had accumulated sixty days worth.  Recognizing that making people work two and one-quarter years without vacation or vacation pay was not a great morale booster, and in order not to encourage defections, the rule contained its own loophole entitling those workers performing “services of a character in demand by private industries,” and who had fewer than 60 days accrued, to compensation in lieu of leave denied them in any one calendar year--the right granted them in the 1940 law, but at a stingier rate.  Per annums would be compensated at 1/360 of their annual pay for each day worked in lieu of leave [not at 1/313 or 1/261 even if they worked less than a seven-day week].  In the letter to the shore establishments transmitting the new rules Secretary Knox added that stations should apply the new policy sparingly as the Department felt it desirable that its employees “refresh themselves physically and mentally” through vacations.  Unless defense needs proved more urgent, every effort was to be made to permit all employees use of their annual leave.  [Circular letter,ASN, to AN&MCAC, 24 September 1940; “Employment of civil employees in field service during time they would be on vacation,” Commandant's Order no. 53-40, sup. 1; to HDDOeCP, 25 July 1941; copy of letter from Secretary of the Navy, of 16 July 1941; RG181; NA-NY.]

Chart: Distribution of Workers at Navy Yards and Stations as of 30 June 1941, Hours and Shifts;  IVb not included.
Navy Yard Total # Workers # 40 Hr Wk % # 48 Hr Wk % # over 48 Hr % % 1st shift % 2nd shift % 3rd shift
Ports.     7556   1747 23    5809 77       0  0 72 16 12
Boston  15,000        0  0    9100 61  5900 39 55 35 10
N. Y.  17,166   4794 28    5524 32  6848 40 81 12   7
Phil.  18,611   2312 12 11,909 64  4390 24 73 21   6
Wash  14,258   3063 22 10,593 74    602  4 71 18 11
Norfolk  18,749   2863 15    6180 33  9706 52 73 20   7
Charl.     7331   1109 15    3206 44  3016 41 73 18   9
Mare I.  16,307     388   2 14,265 88  1654 10 75 18   7
Puget  11,970   4741 40    6568 55    661  5 78 17   5
Pearl     6306   1096 18    3107 49  2103 33 78 15   7
Source: “Expediting National Defense,” Letter, Secretary of the Navy, to Commandants, navy yards [et al.], 24 July 1941; RG181; NA-NY.

Navy Yards:
Portsmouth, NH [Kittery, ME]
Boston [Charleston, MA]
New York [Brooklyn]
Norfolk [Portsmouth, VA]
Charleston, SC
Mare Island [Vallejo, CA]
Puget Sound [Bremerton, WA]
Pearl Harbor [Hawaii Terr.]

           John R Stobo    ©    November 2004