The BNY in the Inter-War Era                                                                Labor History
Preparing For War, 1937-1941, Part 3
Increasing the Size of the Workforce (with restrictions)
Obtaining a Larger Workforce I: Easing up Hiring Requirements
    Unclassified Appointments
    The Emergency Replacement List
    Hiring Temporaries
    IVb Temporaries
    Extending the Hiring and Retiring Ages
   Changes in Physical Requirements
   Probation and Promotion Rules Weakened
   The Personal Appeal to Bend the Rules
The Problem of Labor Migration and Poaching
A Competitor for Labor: The Draft
Finding the Labor on War's Eve
Obtaining a Larger Workforce II: Training and Job Reorganization
   More Apprentices
   In-Service Training
   The Helper-Trainee
   Further Training Developments
   The Mechanic-Learner
    Number of eligibles on selected New York Navy Yard registers, August 1941
    Percentage of navy yard workforce as temporaries, 1937-1941
    Peacetime Yard Training Programs, 1939 - 1941
    Apprentice Training, Selected Examples
    Trade Upgrading (from intermediate grade), some samples
    Percentages of Grades I, II, and III as a Part of the Non-IVb Workforce for Selected Dates
“Th[e] source of employees qualified in ... [skilled] trades has been about exhausted on the entire Atlantic coast.”  [Letter, Commandant, New York Navy Yard, to ASN(SED); 14 March 1939; RG181; NA-NY.]
Increasing the Size of the Workforce (with restrictions)
In 1937 the rolls of the Brooklyn Navy Yard leveled off at roughly twice the number working at the Yard five years earlier and in 1938 had even dropped.  Other navy yards experienced similar plateaus in the size of their workforces as Vinson-Trammell construction peaked.  This situation soon reversed itself with the authorization of the second and third Vinson bills of an enormous number of new warships and auxiliaries.  Obviously in order to build so many new vessels and crafts government and commercial shipbuilders need to hire many more people, but that in itself was not enough.  As it quickly became apparent, not enough trained workers existed in the country to meet the new demand.  Restrictions over qualifications limited the number of people who could be hired, and racial and gender discrimination furthered diminished the pool of applicants.  Shipyards soon realized they would have to revise their production methods if they were ever to meet their goals.  The navy yards, civil service, and the government responded in many ways.  In addition to increasing the hours of work, and curtailing leaves, they lowered the qualifications for applicants, introduced extensive worker-training, de-skilled jobs to make them easier to learn, and mandated anti-discrimination directives in hiring.  By 30 September 1941 the BNY’s workforce had already risen from 6880 to 22,652, the various hiring revisions being almost all in place by the time of the U.S. entry into the war.  And all this was accomplished simultaneously as the United States instituted, for the first time in its history, a peacetime draft.

While the merit system underlying the process for hiring was ideally suited for peacetime, when agencies could spend the better part of a year accumulating and testing applicants, in the run-up to war and in the war itself the great miracle of the public sector's production during World War II could not have occurred under such circumstances.  Much of the navy yard and armory work done during the years from 1939 to 1945 was accomplished by people whom a few years earlier would never have been considered capable of working in a shipyard, tank, or airplane factory.  (What this says about the merits of the merit system is a fascinating question.)

People eagerly sought jobs in the navy yards in the years immediately preceding the U.S. entry into the world war.  After the Germans invaded France in May 1940 Acting Navy Secretary Lewis Compton ordered all naval establishments to speed up defense preparations by enlarging the civilian workforce by 15,000 within three months and adding second and third shifts if need be.  Word spread quickly and within two days 7000 men submitted applications to the Brooklyn Navy Yard.  By 29 May, the Brooklyn Eagle said 32,000 people had come to the Yard, and by 11 June, 80,000, but few had the necessary qualifications and the huge crowd actually impaired the ability of the Yard to hire its planned increase of 2000 as quickly as it had wanted.  The crowd was so large that on 8 June 1940 the Commandant ordered the Labor Board, ID, and medical offices to open on Saturdays from then on to process applications. [BE, 21 May 1940; 22 May 1940; 29 May 1940; 11 June 1940. Memo, Commandant, to Public Works Officer, Labor Board, Medical Officer, Captain of the Yard, 31 May 1940; RG181; NA-NY.]

In October 1940, the Navy Secretary ordered once again that shore establishments leave “no stone ... unturned" in expediting national defense.  He told his commandants to search for all existing as well as possible future bottlenecks so that they could be corrected.  They had not only to increase the size of their drafting, engineering, and mechanical civilian forces, but as it was becoming harder to acquire enough workers with the required skills, their yards would have to train new workers as quickly as possible.  Their managers needed to pay particular attention to their machine tool requirements, making every effort to enable the machine tool industry to meet the extraordinary demands being placed upon it, especially as to the timely delivery of orders.  The Department ordered that administration be decentralized as much as possible to the local level and that unnecessary paper work and records be eliminated.  A lack of housing already interfered with the stations being able to raise their employment levels and correcting this was also added to the Commandants' tasks. [Commandant's Order No. 40-40, Supplement No. 14; to HDDO, [et al.]; 31 October 1940; RG181; NA-NY.]

As the final year of peace for the United States began, the need to speed up production became near obsessive.  On 7 January 1941, the Office of Production Management put out a plea for expediting all national defense work and a week later, Secretary Knox sent further instructions to the navy yards.  Passing on some of the powers given him in the omnibus act of June 1940, he told shore establishment commanding officers to take as much initiative as possible in corresponding with other yards and in contracting with local businesses for products and services.  They were also to expand the use of shifts and overtime.  And above all, commandants had to make their best effort by whatever means, written or oral, to guarantee that their workers would realize the need for putting in their “utmost effort” to “stimulate their enthusiastic cooperation in speeding up the Defense Program.” [“National Defense Shipbuilding Program - Expedition and Prosecution of Work,” Letter, Secretary of the Navy (Knox), to Commandants, all navy yards, 15 January 1941;RG181; NA-NY.]

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But, as we shall see at the end of the next section, along with all these efforts came new restrictions on the first-amendment rights of government workers.  This was accompanied by a heightened surveillance program by the government and its defense agencies as it avidly sought out "subversives," spies and saboteurs, in the years preceding America's entrance into World War II.

Obtaining a Larger Workforce I: Easing up Hiring Requirements
To get a large number of new people into the navy yards in as short an amount of time as possible required the Navy, government, and Civil Service to lower the various requirements, personal and legal, that had previously served as a barrier to navy yard employment.  The Civil Service was reluctant at first to go along but it became amenable to change when after the German invasion of France in May 1940, various Congressmen introduced bills to exempt the Navy and War Departments from the civil service altogether as a way to increase production quickly.  The Commission rethought its position and convinced them that hiring could be done expeditiously within the civil service system and the bills were withdrawn. [Fleming, “The Mobilization of Personnel for the Field Establishments of the War and Navy Departments, in White, Civil Service in Wartime (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1945).]

What follows is eight ways the government and these agencies made it easier for people to become government employees in the navy yards.

Unclassified Appointments
Once war began in Europe President Roosevelt issued a limited emergency proclamation, on 8 September 1939.  On 21 September, Roosevelt issued Executive Order 8257 allowing, in cases “in which it appears that a public exigency exists which is directly connected with the neutrality of the United States or the preparedness program of the Federal Government,” for the Civil Service to authorize hiring people for the duration of the national-defense program, without regards to competitive requirements, subject to the passing of an appropriate non-competitive test.  This authority was to be used only “under unusual and compelling circumstances,” and could not be used for positions paying less than $1260 yearly.  But most important, these hirees did not acquire classified status.  On 26 October 1940, Roosevelt issued Executive Order 8564 upgrading the previous order by stating that a “public exigency directly connected with the national defense program” existed. [“Executive Order 8257 of September 21 1939 authorizing appointments to meet public exigency, as amended by Executive Order 8564,” Circular Letter no. 258, sup. 2, from Second U.S.C.D., to Labor Boards [et al.], 26 October 1940; Circular Letter No. 258, sup. 2, from Second U.S.C.D., to Labor Boards [et al.], 26 October 1940; RG181; NA-NY. On the 1942 suspension of the hiring regulations, see “Regulations and procedures for effecting War Service appointments,” Circular letter, ASN, Ralph Bard, to AN&MCAC, 14 March 1942;  RG181; NA-NY; .]

The Emergency Replacement List
The administration also made it easier to maneuver ex-federal workers into defense-related agencies.  On 27 June 1940 with Executive Order 8458 the President created an Emergency Replacement List.  On it were placed federal employees who had at least six months service as of 1 January 1940 and who had been involuntarily separated for reasons other than for cause.  From this pool of laid-off workers the Navy and War Departments, and other government agencies involved in defense work, could make temporary appointments for the duration of the defense program.  In September 1940, the enacting date for previous termination was dropped back to 30 June 1939. [“Emergency Replacement list Regulations, Executive Order 8458 of June 27, 1940,” Circular letter no. 253, from 2nd U.S.C.S.D., to Labor Board [et al.], 19 July 1940; “Emergency List,” Circular Letter no. 253, sup. 5, to Labor Board [et al.], 13 September 1940. Both in RG181; NA-NY.]

Hiring Temporaries
Another way to bring on more people was to relax the restrictions on the appointment of people to temporary positions.  Misuse of this employment option had been common throughout the Thirties and had been an integral part of the recent hiring scandal in the Brooklyn Navy Yard.  The Department had spent much effort trying to curtail the use of temporaries, but now it opened the door wide for their use.  BNY management had all along found the hiring process tedious and counterproductive for the quick pursuance of their goals, and they grumbled about it consistently.  For instance, in November 1939, the New York Commandant complained to the Assistant Secretary that the mandatory discharge of temporaries within 30 days of the establishing of a register slowed down overall production.  Six months earlier the Yard needed to hire a significant number of shipfitter helpers [work on the North Carolina would have been considerably advanced by then].  Only a few of the men on the then-existing register reported when called, forcing the Yard to reopen the exam for the position.  The Yard hired the first 410 minimally-qualified applicants who responded, on a temporary basis.  Over the next few months 309 of these men received training in tack welding, and 122 in shipfitting.  Yet, when the register for the positions was recently finally posted, 265 of these workers failed to qualify.  While the shipfitting shop could fill their spots from the register, management in the shops thought that the 265 were working out fine and that letting them go would cause production delays.  Woodward asked for a change in the regulations to allow temporaries to be appointed from the pool in the likely order that they would be if rated, and more important, he asked that if anyone performed satisfactorily in any helper rating for three months that that person be considered qualified for the rating. [Letter, fCommandant, to ASN(SED), 22 November 1939; RG181; NA-NY.]

Other yards must have reported similar situations because the Department responded with an answer to all its units the following May.  After consultation with the Navy, the Civil Service released new regulations authorizing the retention of these [Regulation VIII(2)] temporary appointments for the duration of the emergency provided the Department certified that retaining the worker was in the public interest due to the training received and experience acquired in the interim.  This ruling came with the qualifications that, one, the appointment was only for the emergency; two, that the person must have a minimal qualification for the job; three, that the person maintained a temporary status; and four, that the job be maintained only for the duration of the life of the register, with the employee having to re-test on each new opening of the position. [“Extension in certain cases of temporary appointments authorized under Section 2 of Civil Service Rule VIII,” Circular Letter no. 241, from Second U.S.C.S.C. District, to Appointing Officers, Navy Department Activities, 11 June 1940; RG181; NA-NY.] However, as many positions had now become more or less open permanently, this new regulation for all intents and purposes kept a person once hired on steadily.  In retrospect, it seems obvious that provided a person had some minimal mechanical capability that he, and later, he or she should eventually acquire a minimal qualification for the job if given enough time and training [especially if that job was de-skilled--see next section below], and later as the war progressed this turned out to be the case.  As we see, the grounds for wartime work were already being laid.

A year later, Woodward's wish was granted in its entirety.  In April 1941, the Commission dropped the requirement that an applicant needed to achieve even a qualifying mark to be retained.  On the assumption that if a shore establishment wanted to keep a person on the job, and that person had acquired enough ability to satisfy the station's needs, and if the District Manager found the person to possess some minimal qualification for the position, the worker could now stay on as a temporary for the duration of the emergency. [Circular Letter, ASN (Piozet), to AN&MCAC, 13 May 1941; RG181; NA-NY. What constitutes “minimal qualification” will be discussed in the section below on training.]

This solution may have allowed navy yard to keep under-qualified workers on after a register was established, but what if the register failed to provide enough qualified workers?  In March 1941, the Civil Service granted authority to the Navy Department to bypass the register procedure altogether and appoint qualified people as they came in, again, as temporaries for the duration of the emergency.  The Department in turn passed on this authority to its shore establishments in May, with the warning that if they abused this power it would be withdrawn from the appointing officer. [Circular Letter, ASN, to AN&MCAC, 9 May 1941; RG181; NA-NY.]

Shortly thereafter, the Civil Service further ruled that if shore stations lacked qualified eligibles, temporaries could be appointed in the chronological order of the submission of their applications, provided they possessed a minimal qualification for the job.  But in order to reduce the chaos of replacing temporaries with permanents after the announcement of a register, which shore stations could still do if they preferred, the Department and the Commission agreed to make tentative ratings from the pile of applications after having accumulated enough of them, and hire temporaries in their relative order.  If a local labor board had too many applications to go through quickly, they could rank by perceived ability. [Circular letter, from the ASN (Piozet), to AN&MCAC, 25 June 1941;  ; E322/1941-42; RG181; NA-NY.]  So it appears that by the summer of 1941 that shore establishments had gained sole control over the hiring of their trade workers.  While they could hire through the established register procedure if they wished, they now had the options of hiring qualified applicants without ranking as "unclassifieds" or hire "unqualified" temporaries as they showed up at the Labor Board.

IVb Temporaries
The status of IVbs was different from that of the trades as their positions were individually allocated for by Congress and it was district civil service offices that rated their qualifications before sending applicants to shore establishments for interviews.  In the Brooklyn Navy Yard the IVbs had held their own in terms of numbers through the worse of the Depression, in part because the Yard had to maintain a certain level of administration no matter what, and in part due to the Yard's drafting and procurement offices being assigned the task of preparing plans and ordering parts for whole classes of vessels mostly built in other yards such as the new battleships authorized in the years 1937-1940.  Now, with even more work ahead of them, their employment levels too increased in the pre-war years at a rapid pace.

In these years, responsibility for the hiring of IVbs too moved almost entirely to each local shore establishment.  In late 1938, to allow IVbs to be hired as smoothly as possible, the Navy Department devolved responsibility for bringing on new IVbs in a temporary or probational capacity onto individual field offices.  Provided that an open position was identical to an approved older one, a local site could hire new people for it without Departmental approval.  The Department only required that a copy of the necessary records be sent to Washington afterward.  A little over a year into the emergency period, the Civil Service gave local commanding officers the power, for the duration of the emergency, to conduct non-competitive exams for promotion or change-in-status for IVbs, such as a move up from a lower-class grade to a higher within the same office or department or a change in status within the same office or department. [Circular Letter, Secretary of the Navy, to AN&MCAC, 9 November 1938; Circular Letter, Secretary of the Navy, to AN&MCAC, 16 December 1940. RG181; NA-NY.]

IVbs were subject to the other modifications in hiring mentioned above and by the summer of 1941 their status had become so complex that even the Civil Service Commission lost track of its exceptions, and on 26 July 1941 it issued a restriction in hiring IVb personnel.  The agency noted that it had allowed the Navy Department to make temporary appointments to any positions for which exams were pending, either of the open or definite closing-date type, and keep a temporary on who failed to qualify for a spot on the register, until a permanent replacement was found (23 July 1940).  Then, the Department received the right to retain for the duration temporaries who had failed their exams yet whom the local site wished to keep on in the public interest due to the training they had so far received (6 May 1941).  On review, the Commission realized that between the two revisions they had more or less granted the Department carte blanche to appoint whomever they wanted to any job and keep them on for the duration of the emergency.  This may have been permissible for the trade positions, but it was going too far for the fully-civil- service-integrated IVb positions, at least in peacetime, and so with the concurrence of the Navy Department the Commission revoked the first revision.  As the Navy could already appoint qualified eligibles in the absence of a register, this retraction forced questionable potential new IVbs to formally test for their jobs. [“Revoking authority previously given to the Navy Department to make temporary appointments in certain cases,” Commandant's Order no. 43-40, sup. 22, to HDDOeIVb personnel, 11 September 1941;  RG181; NA-NY. This is a copy of the Commission letter of 26 July 1941.]

Extending the Hiring and Retiring Ages
Another set of ways the Navy Department and Civil Service Commission devised to enlarge the  navy yard workforce relied on revising personal qualifications.  One way was simply to extend the maximum hiring age.  Back in 1930 the maximum hiring ages for civilian naval jobs had been capped by the Civil Service at the maximum age that would allow a worker to acquire a vested pension.  This qualification fell by the side in the years preceding the war.  In November 1937 the Navy found itself short of draftsmen in its east coast yards, especially in Philadelphia and New York, where intensive work was about to start on the two new battleships.  The Department received permission to raise the maximum hiring age for these positions to 60 years.  On 31 July 1939 the Assistant Secretary passed on the Civil Service’s permission to extend for one year the maximum age for hiring blacksmiths from 48 to 55, and similar extensions were granted in July, October, and December for pipe coverers, outside machinist, and iron chipper and caulkers.  A year later, the Civil Service raised the hiring age to the retirement age of 62 for machinists, toolmakers, loftsmen, shipfitters, shipwrights, coppersmiths, boilermakers, boatbuilders, steel molders, blacksmiths, caulker-chippers, lens and prism makers, anglesmiths, drillers, and pipe insulators. [NYT, 27 November 1937; Circular letters, ASN(SED), to AN&MCAC, 31 July 1939, 29 July 1939, 12 October 1939, 18 December 1939; Memo, Rossell, District Manager, Second U.S.C.S.D., to  O'Connor, Recorder, Labor Board, 16 July 1940. Both in RG181; NA-NY.]

The omnibus defense bill of June 1940 included a provision extending the retirement age to 71 and allowed for the re-employment of retired workers in defense-related agencies who had been separated for age or because of a disability.  It granted this authority retroactively from the declaration of the emergency by President Roosevelt on 8 September 1939.  In the case of the Navy Department, it allowed re-hires at the discretion of the Commanding Officer.  Such people had to be fit and able to do the work and be more valuable to the station than an inexperienced person.  In September 1941, the Department reclassified these positions as temporary.  [The provision of the law is summarized in: “Reemployment of Persons Heretofore or Hereafter Retired under the Civil Service Retirement Act,” Commandant's Order no. 46-40; to HDDOeCP, 1 August 1940; RG181; NA-NY. “Certification of eligibles who have reached the retirement age,” Commandant's Order no. 85-41, to HDDOeCP, 19 September 1941; RG181; NA-NY.  Once hired, the pension payments of the retirees were halted and they began payments into their account again.  The money could be withdrawn as a lump sum, with interest, upon the second retirement.]

In anticipation of the bill’s passing, the BNY in June 1940 of its retired and separated workers and found a potential pool of 171 people who qualified for possible reinstatement based on the law.  In January 1941 the New York Navy Yard's Labor Board sent letters to 18 of them asking them to come in for examination for possible rehiring.  The Yard recalled four machinists to duty by the end of the month and rejected five for various medical reasons.  Two retirees declined the opportunity and seven never replied to the request.  Obviously it was initially only a minor source of additional labor, but going forward it allowed navy yards to work their older employees another nine to ten years. [In the survey the Yard counted the retirees in each of the preceding ten years who were still as of June 1941 under 71 years old: CY40: 30; CY39: 8; CY38: 17; CY37: 20; CY36: 15; CY 35: 21; CY34: 21; CY33: 9; CY32: 20; CY31: 10; Letter, Commandant, to ASN(SED), 21 June 1940; Memo, Senior Member, Labor Board, Richey, to the Commandant, 7 February 1941; RG181; NA-NY.]

Changes in Physical Requirements
During these years the Civil Service also made a series of modifications in the minimal physical requirements that almost made the listing of physical requirements on a job announcement a non sequitur.  Early in 1939 the Commission permitted naval shore establishments to certify people from the reinstatement list as physically fit on their own accord if the yards' medical, safety, and administrative officers ruled they had the stamina to perform the work without being a hazard to themselves or others, to government property, or be more liable than other workers to suffer an accident causing an early retirement due to disability. [Commandant's Order No. 6-39, 10 January 1939, which copies a letter from the Secretary of the Navy of 3 January 1939, in turn passing along the Commission's ruling. RG181; NA-NY.]

In June 1940 the Commission expanded on this ruling, allowing the War and Navy Departments in cases of a labor shortage to hire those with remediable defects or diseases as long as the condition was corrected by the date of reporting to work.  It further permitted defense agencies to appoint people before having taken their physical, provided they successfully passed it soon thereafter.  Yet, not to lose someone already on the job, if the employee failed the physical for other than a transmissible disease, a temporary appointment of up to one year could still be approved.  If faced with a large number of applicants an agency was even authorized to conduct gang physicals with two or three doctors, much as if the applicants were military inductees. [The list of problems that did disqualify applicants was fairly serious: epilepsy; incurable venereal disease; advanced malignant tumors; insanity or advanced mental illness; chronic alcoholism; drug addiction; disabling paralysis; advanced heart disease; defective vision or eye disease; 'crippledness' advanced enough to impair work ability; the loss of two arms, two legs, or one of each--prosthetics were allowed if they did not hurt work production; the lack of 20/40 vision in at least one eye, with glasses; and a lack of hearing beyond twelve feet. “Physical requirements for positions in the War and Navy Departments,” Circular Letter no. 168, 2nd U.S.C.S.D., to Labor Board, Brooklyn, NY [et al.], 11 June 1940; LL/P14-2. “Physical Examination,” Circular Letter no. 243 - sup. 1, Rossell, District Manager, 2nd U.S.C.S.D., to Appointing Officers, National Defense Agencies, 27 July 1940; RG181; NA-NY.]

At the end of October 1941, the Commission went even farther and ruled that defense agencies could appoint people immediately to a temporary position even though they did not to meet the physical requirements of a position provided they did not have a contagious disease or present a potential hazard to other workers.  If the problem was corrected, the worker could advance to a probational position. During the war years government plants set up special jobs for people having various handicaps. [Circular letter, ASN (Piozet), to AN&MCAC, 24 October 1941; RG181; NA-NY.]

Probation and Promotion Rules Weakened
One side effect of the limited emergency was the short-circuiting of an attempt by the Civil Service to lengthen the probation period on new jobs.  In February 1939, in the interest of standardizing policy across all federal jobs on the matter, the Commission increased probation from six months (the period for most navy yard positions) to one year unless it otherwise specifically excepted a position.  A year could be a long time to have to prove oneself and upon its request the Commission permitted the Navy to promote people during the second half of their newly-enlongated probation period, normally an illegal procedure.  On the other side, under the new regulations workers could not be terminated for poor performance until they had served at least one month.  But the Navy argued that could prove to be too long a period if a worker proved incompetent or a hazard to others, and the Commission agreed that if this indeed was the case then a worker could be terminated at any time after being hired. [Circular Letter, Secretary of the Navy, to AN&MCAC, 11 February 1939; Circular letter, Secretary of the Navy, to AN&MCAC, 23 March 1939; RG181; NA-NY.]

The longer probation period lasted just short of two years.  On 7 November 1940, President Roosevelt issued executive order 8597, which reduced probation back to six months.  As of 15 January 1941 anyone with six months of service was considered to have passed probation.  The order also mandated that for the length of the emergency that the period for the submitting of efficiency ratings for trades workers be extended from quarter-annually to semi-annually. [Circular Letter, Secretary of the Navy, to AN&MCAC, 6 December 1940; Circular letter, ASN, to AN&MCAC, 20 December 1940; RG181; NA-NY.]

In February 1941 the Commission reduced the waiting time for promotions and reassignments even further.  For the duration of the emergency, in order to “eliminate unnecessary work where possible and further expedite personnel transactions,” it delegated to the Navy Department the right to promote and reassign classified workers in the field service after a minimum service of thirty days if they had previous training or service in their job.  This allowed commandants to fill new and additional positions already authorized, or vacant spots without consulting with the District Manager or having employees submit to exams.  In July this authority to promote on a CO's cognizance alone was extended to those appointed with temporary status under executive orders 8257, 8458, and 8564.  In effect, under the pressure of the emergency the Civil Service Commission had voluntarily converted itself to an archive of decisions made by other agencies, thereby relinquishing much of the power it had spent half a century acquiring in the name of good government. [Commandant's Order No. 43-40, sup. 21, to HDDO; copies letter, Secretary of the Navy, 28 July 1941; RG181; NA-NY.]

The Personal Appeal to Bend the Rules
It appears the the BNY never completely resolved the problem of hiring fraud as the matter came up again three years later, in the fall of 1941.  But this time the BNY no longer considered truthfulness in filling out job applications an issue of high priority.  In October, the Civil Service and the Navy Department presented the Yard the names of 18 employees, mostly hired in the last year, though one had been employed since 1935, who they wanted released due to "irregularities" in their applications, mostly for misstating their prior experience.  Yard management, though, did not want to lose their services.  In one group of nine workers presented together for expulsion, although the majority had modest efficiency ratings that placed them in the bottom half of their respective shops, the Commandant wanted to retain them because of  the labor shortages at the Yard.  On 16 October 1941, the Manager, Captain Broshek, called his counterpart in Washington to ask if the Commandant could rule on each case on its merits.  As it was, many exceptions to the normal hiring rules had already been made to boost the Yard's rolls, so why not permit another one?  Captain Atkins advised doing just that.  The Yard had ten days to release someone upon the presentation of evidence of a false application, which would give the it time to contact the local district manager of the civil service to ask for an abeyance until the Commission office in Washington could rule on the case.  The district manager had much discretion and unless the problem was “very flagrant,” Atkins felt that the appeal should result in allowing the Yard to keep the worker on, and that it was highly likely that a penalty less stringent than dismissal would result.  Given the situation, Atkins thought the Commission “will play ball with us on anything.”  This the Commandant did, and the district manager did put the case on hold while the Commandant asked the Department for formal approval to keep the delinquents on.  The files do not have the answer to his request but given Atkins's assurances it is likely the Yard received the answer it wanted.  [Transcript, Telephone conversation, Capt. Broshek, to Capt. L.M. Atkins, Shore Establishment, Washington; 16 October 1941; Letter, Commandant, to ASN(SED), 20 October 1941; RG181; NA-NY.]
The Problem of Labor Migration and Poaching
By the end of 1940 the shipbuilding industry faced a particularly sticky problem: the raiding of each other yards looking for skilled labor.  Existing shipyards were expanding and new ones being built from scratch and they all, especially the new private shipyards, needed all the skilled and supervisory help they could find.  The Navy Department called raiding counterproductive, taking the position that the defense industry effort should be mobilized “solely to promote the national purpose,” and that therefore, “the national interest must not be sacrificed, or even disrupted, for the sake of the private interest of particular individuals or groups of individuals, or even the interests of a newly established shipyard.”  In particular the Department railed against the practice of  “scamping,” or the stealing of key men, especially draftsmen, naval architects, engineers, and managerial personnel, by offering them higher pay or better housing.  The Department recognized that new shipyards needed a core of experienced personnel from older shipyards to get them up and running but it encouraged the old and new yards to negotiate with one another as well as with the Department for labor instead of raiding to obtain it.  In late 1940 the OPM set up the Shipbuilding Stabilization Conference in order to find a partial solution by leveling wages among the various private yards. [Letter, Secretary of the Navy (SED), to Commandants [et al.], 19 December 1940. Encloses copy of letter, SN Knox, to Private Shipbuilding Plants Engaged in Naval Construction, 31 October 1940: Bethlehem Steel Shipbuilding Div., NYC; NY Shipbuilding, Camden; Newport News, NN, VA; Consolidated Steel Corporation, Orange TX; LA Shipbuilding, San Pedro; Seattle Tacoma Shipbuilding, Seattle; Bath Iron Works, ME; Federal Shipbuilding, Kearney, NJ; Cramps Shipbuilding, Phil; Electric Boat, Groton; Manitowoc Shipbuilding, Manitowoc, WI; Ingalls Shipbuilding, Pascagoula, MISS. RG181; NA-NY. Black, Charlestown Navy Yard.]

Raiding proved to be a problem for all government agencies, and in October 1940 the Civil Service Commission ruled that government agencies could not accept applications from anyone in the private sector who worked in an industry vital to defense or from anyone employed in a national defense agency.  President Roosevelt reinforced this dictum on 27 May 1941 with executive order 8760, which forbade the Commission for the length of the emergency from giving exams to, or from certifying, anybody who had been employed by the federal government within three months of the exam date unless the first department gave permission, which could only be given if in the department's opinion the person could render better service in the new job.  In October 1941 the Navy Department reminded its commandants that they and the private shipyards needed to remain in steady communication with one another so they could rule appropriately on applications coming from people in other shipyards.  And to help prevent the raiding of navy yards the Department did what it could to encourage private yards to set up training programs. [Circular Letter, ASN, to AN&MCAC, 6 December 1940; Letter, Commandant, to the Manager, Second U.S.C.S.D., 27 January 1941; Letter, ASN, to Commandant, Navy Yard, New York, NY [et al.], 28 October 1941. RG181; NA-NY.]

Even so, sometimes the complaints coming into the Department accused navy yards of being the raiders.  When this occurred and it was not initially obvious what work a company did, which could be true for a small firm, the company was invited to send a representative to the navy yard, or other government defense plant and to prove that the company's work was mostly defense-related.  If successful, then the government plant would refuse future applicants from that company. [See the letter, from (Manager) Capt. J.J. Broshek, to William Elliott, president, Leslie and Elliott Co., Boiler Works, Paterson, NJ, 6 September 1941, outlining the procedure in responding to his raiding complaint filed with the Ordnance office of the War Department against the New York Navy Yard. RG181; NA-NY.]

A Competitor for Labor: The Draft
The hiring situation became particularly complicated after Congress passed the Selective Training and Service Act on 16 September 1940, instituting America's first peacetime draft.  The law required all men between 21 and 35 to register, and for 1.2 million of them to be drafted for a one year of service.  Not only did its passage serve to reduce the pool of labor from which shipyards drew upon, it also made inevitable the creation of a potentially enormous new group of veterans and the resultant problem of their re-entrance into a postwar U.S. economy.  As the Brooklyn Eagle pointed out, the failure to provide for employment for the veterans of the Great War had helped worsen the great unemployment rate after that conflict.  The new law sought to help correct for the errors of the last post-war period by guaranteeing that government workers who were drafted or who volunteered under the terms set out in the law would be restored to their old job or one of “like seniority, status, and pay.”  In addition, during the first year back on the job the restored person could be discharged only for cause.  In September 1941, the War Department announced that each local draft board would establish a re-employment committeeman to protect these rights for newly discharged soldiers.  And, so as not to dump a large number of veterans on the economy at once, the law mandated that soldiers and sailors be released from the services in stages.

The corresponding issue of draft exemptions later became an extremely important and delicate one, especially once America entered the war, but for the time being, government service did not exempt one from being drafted.  The law granted deferment only to those “whose employment in industry, agriculture or other occupations or employment ... is found ... to be necessary to the maintenance of the national health, safety, or interest,” this decision to be made by the local draft board.  Once begun, the draft obtained a momentum of its own and in October 1941, Congress extended it for another eighteen months. [An Act “To provide for the common defense by increasing the personnel of the armed forces of the the United States and providing for its training,” 16 September 1940, Public, no. 783; “Employees subject to registration under the Selective Training and Service Act of 1940 - time off for Registration,” Commandant's Instructions No 47-40, to HDDO, 11 October 1940; “General Information regarding Military Service,” Circular Letter, from ASN (Piozet, Director of Personnel), to AN&MCAC, 22 July 1941; encloses copy of Civil Service Circular #255, of 16 April 1941, outlining these regulations; RG181; NA-NY; BE, 3 September 1941; Black, Charlestown Navy Yard; Joint Resolution, “To extend the periods of service of persons in the military service, and for other purposes,” 18 August 1941, Public Law 213.]

Finding the Labor on War's Eve
It appears that the Brooklyn Navy Yard was able to hire enough people to meet its production needs, although the overall picture reflected an odd quilt of shortages and abundances in the trades as American entry into the war approached.  In March 1941, the Manager reported to Representative Carl Vinson that the New York Navy Yard had “comparatively little difficulty” maintaining an adequate workforce for constructing its battleships, though skilled machinists were difficult to find, in part due to the training program it instituted in 1939 (see below), and in part due to all the competing businesses of the large metropolitan labor market.  But this assessment was perhaps a bit optimistic.  In August 1941 as part of the effort to counter regional labor shortages, the Brooklyn commandant informed his colleague at the navy yard in Charleston as to which of the New York yard trades had a surfeit of names on their registers and so could possibly be available for transfer to the southern yard.  Some trades' registers contained a huge list of names, such as the 2500 for electricians, 1590 for drillers, and 4200 for the shipfitter helpers.  But registers for loftsmen, machinists, shipfitters, and shipwrights each held no names at all. [Letter, Manager, to Hon. Carl Vinson, Chairman, Committee on Naval Affairs, House of Representatives, 6 March 1941; NA-NY. Despatch, NYD New York, to NYD Charl, 9 August 1941; RG181; NA-NY. See here for figures.]

The Brooklyn yard also filled its rolls in the pre-war years by making liberal use of “temporary” workers.  Through 1937 and 1938 the proportion of temporaries among the trades was quite low, averaging one percent.  The Yard first started bringing more on in May 1939, and the percentage rose to 3.8 percent.  By June 1940, 15.7 percent of trade workers were temporaries.  The numbers then fell to almost none by August 1941, then rose slightly again, to 2.1 percent by the end of 1941.  Among the IVb workers, temporaries remained fairly steady in these years, except for some blips, averaging about 2.5 percent of the total force.  This could reflect that their numbers rose more slowly after 1939 in proportion to the whole workforce than did the trades.  But their employment levels, too, finally began increasing at a rapid pace, more than doubling between June 1940 and December 1941, and the proportion of temporaries among them rose too, reaching 11 percent by the latter date. [See  for figures.]


All the various stopgaps in finding labor became a moot point once the United States declared war.  In March 1942, under a presidential order the Civil Service in March 1942 did away with all its hiring requirements, declaring that the government was to hire all new employees from that point on “for the duration and six months,” and without having the right to acquire “classified” status. [Kammerer, Impact of War on Federal Personnel Administration, 1939-1945 (Lexington, U. of Kentucky Press, 1951); U.S.C.S.C., Annual Report, 1942; Black, Charlestown Navy Yard.]


Obtaining a Larger Workforce II: Training and Job Reorganization
It was one thing to want to quickly increase the size of the Brooklyn Navy Yard's workforce, and another to find the necessary skilled labor to do so.  Navy yards across the country did not suffer for a lack of applicants but they did suffer from a lack of qualified ones.  In the greater New York metropolitan area there were many defense industries and they and the Yard all competed for the available pool of existing skilled workers.  The Navy Department for its part laid much of the blame for the dearth of shipbuilding workers on Roosevelt’s more pacifistic predecessors, accusing them in 1938 of having fostered a “long period of stagnation in naval and merchant ship construction” that lasted from about 1922 to 1932, and which had “resulted in a definite shortage” in many skilled shipbuilding trades, such as naval architects, marine engineers, shipfitters, and coppersmiths.  And, it anticipated shortages in other trades shortly.  The New York Times, noting the difference in the type of ship that was built--the navy yards worked solely on navy vessels, the private yards on a mix of navy and maritime ships, forecast that the navy yards, now employing 62,000 civilians, would jump to an all-time-high peak of 100,000 in January 1942, 75 percent of whom would need to be skilled.  For the private shipyards, the newspaper projected a workforce of 110,000 in three years, of whom just 50 percent would be skilled.   [NYT, 14 December 1938; 12 August 1939.]

The shortage of skilled labor was national and affected other industries, such as machine-tools and the aircraft industry.  The Eagle found it ironic that in May 1940 that there could be such scarcity in a time of unemployment.  The editorial writer blamed the Brooklyn yard's lack of machinists, welders and shipfitters on local industries for not training enough people during the depression years, and on union restrictions on apprenticeship which “amount[ed] to the same thing.”  Training was needed immediately if defense industries were to expand. [BE, 29 May 1940.]

Various governmental entities, recognizing the problem, began programs to increase the supply of skilled labor.  In June 1940, Mayor LaGuardia announced a program, to be run by the city’s department of education, to train 10,000 people during July and August in various mechanical trades related to defense.  (At the time, New York City already had 55,494 students in New York City's twenty-four vocational high schools.)  Federal funding would pick up the $1 million tab and the courses would be open to men and women under thirty who had limited or no training in such work.  Instruction was to be provided in the basics of machine work, foundry work, welding, sheet metal, electrical, and repair work and the goal was to provide a solid platform for employers to build upon.  On 18 July 1940, the New York State Employment Service opened a central metal trades placement center in Manhattan, after having assembled records for 38,000 workers in 51 metal trades considered essential to defense industries.  It claimed that about 6500 of these people were actively seeking jobs. [BE, 23 June 1940; 18 July 1940.]

Over the next year the U.S. Office of Education helped fund public vocational schools nationally to increase their scope and their capacity to instruct in subjects relevant for defense-industry jobs.  These schools helped the inexperienced train for helper-trainee positions (see below) and experienced workers took courses to prepare for more advanced positions.  College-level courses were introduced into many technical schools, allowing engineers and other professionals to improve their skills.  Many navy civilian employees took these classes, and the Department authorized experienced workers to become part-time instructors, even to take leaves of up to one year to teach full-time if local needs called for it. [Circular Letter, ASN, to AN&MCAC, 1 May 1941; RG181; NA-NY.]

All these programs did their share in training people to work in defense industries but it was far from enough.  Defense agencies, such as the Navy Department, quickly realized that the only solution for their labor needs would be to train their own workers.  In the Brooklyn Navy Yard formal training to date had been limited to the apprentice school, a four-year program that educated young men in a trade with the further goal of preparing them to eventually assume supervisory positions, and helpers received on-the-job training if they desired to advance to a trade rating.

The Navy Department's solution to remedying the lack of skilled labor was of several parts: it increased the size of its apprentice schools; it instituted a job training program to strengthen the existing skills of its trade workers; it expedited training for applicants who lacked a trades background by splitting up and de-skilling some of these positions; and it substituted outright less or unskilled workers where possible (plus encouraging the private yards to do the same).  This training was under way before the war in Europe began and was well established by 7 December 1941. [On general background, see Kammerer, Impact of War.]

More Apprentices
One obvious remedy to the skilled-labor shortage was to increase the size of the apprentice school at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.  During the mid-1930s, its apprentice school had grown at a slower pace than the Yard's rolls, enlarging from 78 to 112 students.  In December 1938, the Secretary of the Navy authorized commandants to take on more apprentices than permitted under civil service regulations and sanctioned a period of study shorter than four years if training could be done without any sacrifice in trade or general knowledge, and allowed schools to give credit for relevant previous educational knowledge.  But along with the carrot the Department added a stick, announcing that as of the first of the year (1939) no new apprentices could enroll or current ones be allowed to continue unless they promised to stay on for a “reasonable” time after graduation.  Commandant Woodward notified the Assistant Secretary that he would begin to implement the new apprentice program as needed in terms of numbers and immediately in terms of academic qualifications but Charles Edison wrote back instructing him to raise the number of apprentices at once, as navy yards would need their labor in the years immediately ahead.  The BNY apprentice school enrollment increased to 188 by July 1940, and a few months later orders came down to enlarge the school even further.  By the end of December 1941 the school had 627 students.  Considering that the school groomed apprentices for management-level positions, the effect of enlarging the school most likely had an impact greater than the mere annual addition of another few hundred people to the yard's workforce. [Circular Letter, Secretary of the Navy, to Commandants of [navy yards], 21 December 1938; Letter, Commandant, to ASN, 13 January 1939; Letter, ASN(SED), to Commandant, 27 January 1939; Letter, Commandant, to Board of Education, 9 August 1941. All in: RG181; NA-NY.]
In-Service Training
In October 1938 the Assistant Secretary notified Commandant Woodward that the only long-term solution for obtaining enough skilled workers was for the BNY to train its own.  He wanted the Commandant's opinion about what the Navy Department called “in-service” training, as well as information on such specifics as which trades lacked personnel, what potential sources existed for recruits, and how the Yard could provide training without interfering with ongoing production.  The Commandant recommended an initial in-service training for 140 positions: 50 shipfitters, to be drawn from the shipfitter helper ranks; 60 electric welders, to be recruited out of the helper rankings in general; and the rest to be loftsmen and a few, specialized metal trades.  Woodward recommended that the shipfitters receive one year of training, and the welders three months.  It was a modest beginning to what would soon be a program training thousands of Yard workers.  As similar training was provided in naval sites nationally the Government had embarked on perhaps its largest vocational program for civilians to date. [Letter, ASN(SED), to Commandant, New York Navy Yard, 14 October 1938; Letter, Commandant, to ASN(SED), 2 November 1938. RG181; NA-NY.]

In January 1939, the Yard’s Manager sent instructions for in-service training to the Industrial Department, for implementation pending final approval by the Civil Service.  As part of the national naval program to meet present and anticipated shortages, Brooklyn and other navy yards would select a number of “suitable” helpers and mechanics to train in a very limited manner.  Yards had to restrict training solely to their individual needs, it was to be practical in nature, be performed by Yard employees, and be adapted to the needs of each trainee.  In the first weakening of trade restrictions, a helper now needed needed only a minimum of three months training for a position normally requiring an apprenticeship  in order to be promoted to a minimum-rating Grade III job, provided that the job’s register was empty.  Upon successful completion of a six-month probation, the promotion became permanent. [“Training of employees to meet shortage in shipbuilding labor,” Industrial Department Notice, from the Manager (C.A. Dunn), to the Industrial Department, 13 January 1939; RG181; NA-NY.]

Yard management then selected twenty-one workers to begin an intensive course in shipfitting that included only those academic subjects immediately relevant to the task, the Commandant noting in a memo to the Department that almost all of them already were taking courses at the public Brooklyn Technical High School.  Following suit, the Shipfitter shop chose 73 shipfitter helpers to train as tack welders, reserving the right to train them later in the full range of welding techniques, and ten shipfitters to learn the skills of being a loftsman. The process of deskilling mechanic positions was underway, eight months before the Second World War began. [Letter, Commandant, to ASN, 13 January 1939; Letter, ASN(SED), to Commandant, 27 January 1939; Letter, Commandant, to ASN(SED), 20 February 1939. RG181; NA-NY.]

The training program began just in time.  In March 1939, the Commandant informed the Department that many of the trade registers in the Shipfitters Shop, especially those for loftsmen and shipfitters, were empty, and it appeared that the source of outside qualified employees had “been about exhausted on the entire Atlantic coast.”  Once started, Yard-sponsored training expanded rapidly.  By 1 April 1939 the BNY reported 1687 workers in various types of training.  This consisted of 149 apprentices, 609 workers receiving in-service trades training, and 82 in in-service training for IVa positions.  In the Shipfitter's shop alone, another 835 employees were in a trade upgrading program and a dozen others were learning a new trade altogether (trade conversion).  Shops now gave instruction in chipping and caulking, drilling, gas cutting, and riveting, all hull-construction trades, and also to a few machinists and other assorted trades.  On 10 April 1939, the Navy Department officially approved in-service training in navy yards for trades with shortages, leaving the details to be worked out in conjunction with each yard's local civil service District Manager.  As part of the administrative setup, the Department created a Training Division within its new Division of Personnel Supervision and Management and appointed a civilian administrator to run it. [Letter, Commandant, to ASN(SED), 14 March 1939; Report, “Summary Sheet for Quarterly Ending March 1939, of Employee Training,” n.d..; Circular letter, Secretary of the Navy, to Commandant [s of all navy yards], 10 April 1939. RG181; NA-NY.]

Welding, in particular, drew the attention of Yard management.  In the years after the first world war this trade supplanted riveting as the primary means of fastening a warship together and navy yards now needed all the welders they could find.  In the spring of 1939, the Brooklyn Navy Yard faced a shortage of at least two hundred tack welders.  (Naval management made worse the shortage by claiming that “experience” had shown men over thirty to be incapable of acquiring proficiency in welding starting from scratch.)  Up to that point in time, management had drawn candidates from the helpers' pool in Shipfitting but by March all suitable workers had been drafted.  The Commandant asked the Department to allow the Yard to take potential tack welders straight from the shipfitter helper's register, train them as full welders, and if this proved insufficient, to draw recruits from helpers in other trades.  Said placements would be made only if the welder's register was exhausted.  The Yard presently had 900 applications for the position but expected only about one-half to qualify and only a fraction of those to show up if called due to the great demand for welders in the metropolitan area.  The shipfitter helpers' list however, just closing, had about 1500 names on it. [Circular letter, Secretary of the Navy, to AN&MCAC, 23 March 1939; Letter, Commandant, to the ASN(SED), 26 April 1939; LL/P11-1. RG181; NA-NY.]

But even this potential source of workers proved to be problematic.  In mid-May 1939, the chair of the Labor Board, T.B. Richey, notified the New York Civil Service District Manager that only about one-half of the applicants admitted to having the minimal qualifications.  From these, they called up about 150 and expected to run through them in a short time [still exercising his option to be picky].  The Yard would now leave the shipfitter helpers register open permanently and place successful applicants in both shipfitting and welding jobs.  A month later Richey notified the DM that projections for the next five years called for the Shipfitter Shop to hire an additional 1500 people.  He did not think enough in-shop helpers existed to meet the future need and that as it took at least one year to bring all Shop new-hires up to speed in the full range of shipfitting duties they were expected to master, he seconded the request that they be permitted to hire helpers in any trade.  By then, the number of shipfitter-helper applicants had dropped to about 500, but the Yard had 14,000 applications on file for all helper positions, of which approximately 6000 were under the desired age of thirty.  A look at the training reports that the Yard filed suggests that eventually the Yard did use the trade upgrading program, at least in part, to fulfill its welding needs, as while the reports for June 1939 and March 1940 show significant numbers of welders being trained, the position slips off future reports on Yard training.  [Letters, Senior Member, Labor Board (T.B. Richey), to the Manager, 2nd U.S. Civil Service District, NYC, 19 May 1939, 2 June 1939; RG181; NA-NY.]

The Helper-Trainee
Training alone, even if abridged, was not be enough to fill labor shortages in the navy yards. and in response the Navy Department took a new tack, the official downskilling of trade jobs.  On 15 June 1939, Acting Secretary Edison informed the Civil Service that the navy yards had more or less run out of help.  Almost all “suitable” people had been enrolled in in-service training, but they were just too few to meet production needs.  He estimated that the Navy needed 20,000 more civilian workers, 12,000 of whom would be Grade IIIs, by 1 January 1942, many of them in trades in which shortages already existed.  To help fill the gap the Department proposed creating the new Grade II position of helper-trainee, to be confined to those trades with present or expected shortages.  The Secretary recommended that applicants be between eighteen and thirty years old and that no veteran preference be given [which with the age restriction and the tiny size of the U.S. army in the inter-war years was not terribly important as the largest cohort of veterans, those from the Great War, would be too old to apply for this position].  Applicants needed two years of experience in a metal or wood trade or the equivalent instruction in a vocational school.

Apparently the Department and the Civil Service had already discussed the idea, as the following day the Commission authorized east coast district managers to open exams for the job.  It agreed to the Navy's recommended age limits but it retained veteran preference.  Wages were set the same as those for the helper position in which the helper-trainee was to be trained (except for helper trainee loftsmen and welders who received shipfitter helper pay).  On 5 July 1939 the New York Labor Board issued the first job announcement.  The applicant had to be male, a citizen, between eighteen and thirty, at least five feet tall and 100 pounds in weight, and physically fit (these latter two requirements could be waived for veterans), possessing good eyesight (with glasses) and good hearing.  Verified previous experience was the sole criteria for evaluation.  By the end of October 1939, 4700 people applied at the Labor Board for the new positions. [Letter, ASN(SED), to Commandant, Navy Yard, New York, NY, 17 July 1939; enclosure: Letter, Acting Secretary of the Navy to U.S.C.S.C., 15 June 1939; enclosure: Letter  Moyer, Exec. Director and Chief Examiner, C.S.C., to Manager, 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th Districts, 16 June 1939; Announcement No. 2-141, U.S.C.S.C., issued 5 July 1939, by Recorder, Labor Board, Navy Yard, Brooklyn, NY: “U.S.C.S.C., Announcement of Open Competitive Examination for the Position of HELPER TRAINEE - $4.896 to $5.088 a Day; (less 3.5% for retirement annuity)”; Letter, Commandant, to ASN(SED), 30 October 1939; All in: RG181; NA-NY.]

In April 1940, the Department expanded in-service training and the helper-trainee title to all shore establishments.  The Secretary laid out the criteria.  For in-service training, shore stations were to select Grade II and III workers who had achieved a minimum grade of 80 on their last efficiency rating and train them only to meet local needs and only if the training would materially increase their skill level.  If necessary, artisans could be trained in a related trade.  The “breaking-in” period for all new hires in trades without shortages was to be kept to a minimum.  If a trade had eligibles in the helpers' grade but not in the mechanic grade, a helper's probation could be reduced to six months [probation was then at one year], and the person be promoted to a Grade III position and serve another six-month probation.  Exams for all trades lacking eligible people were to be opened permanently and applicants processed as they showed up.  If  shortages persisted, the Civil Service could authorize certification from related trades, with the provision that if the person failed in the probationary period he would be returned to his original register without prejudice.  As to helper-trainees, after six months yards could promote them either to full helper or to the minimum Grade III rating, as ability dictated.  Their training was to be of a practical nature, geared for local needs, and taught by available employees using existing facilities.  And so, even though workers acquired or maintained a trade rating, its content could be remarkably diluted. [Circular Letter, ASN(SED), to [all] Commandant[s], 10 April 1940; RG181; NA-NY.]

The reports of the New York Navy Yard do not list enrollment numbers for helper-trainees.  Looking at the overall employment figures does give a clue though.  During 1939 the ranks of the Grade II workers at the Yard progressed slowly upward, more so proportionally than did the Grade IIIs.  From 31 December 1939 to 31 March 1940, the Yard added on a net total of just 72 helpers, or 3.5 percent, while the trades went up by 9.5 percent.  Then, over the next two quarters of 1940, at about the time the Yard's bureaucracy would have finally begun to actually bring on helper-trainees, 545 and 728 join the ranks, proportional increases of 25 and 28.7 percent respectively.  Over the same six months the IIIs' ranks grew by 16.9 and 21.3 percent. [Numbers.]

Further Training Developments
In May 1940 the Secretary alerted all shore commanders to the imminent passage of two major naval construction bills in Congress [Third Vinson and Stark] and that navy yards should prepare accordingly to start planning to expand their in-house training for tradesmen, and for the supervisory positions of leadingman and quarterman.  For the latter two jobs the Department suggested a minimal age of 25, the candidate to have completed an apprenticeship or its equivalent, and to have at least six months trades experience at his navy yard.  Applicants could be pulled off existing registers, but in a major diversion from practice, examiners did not need to determine if they possessed all the stated qualifications on the announcement but instead, they could determine if a person had the potential to be trained as a supervisor based on his personal skills.  Training could be given on work time if it did not interfere with production and would take three months. [Letter, Secretary of the Navy, to Commandants [navy yards et al.], 7 May 1940; Circular letter, Secretary of the Navy, to Commandant[s of navy yards], 29 May 1940; RG181; NA-NY.]

The Civil Service modified training requirements further during 1941.  In February, the Commission, responding to requests from shore establishments, eliminated the minimum efficiency rating of 80 as a prerequisite for training, leaving it to each facility to decide who would best profit from being selected.  In June 1941, it codified guidelines for the “lowering of examination requirements” for hiring in all defense-related federal agencies, basically applying to them the program the Navy had already worked out.  In passing on this information to local officials Secretary Knox boasted of the Navy’s progress in this very area over the previous two years, estimating that naval facilities presently provided training for about 22,000 people and that many more had previously benefitted from it earlier. [Circular Letter, Acting Secretary of the Navy, to AN&MCAC, 27 February 1941; Circular letter, Secretary of the Navy, to AN&MCAC, 24 June 1941. RG181; NA-NY.]

In his letter Secretary Knox reviewed and further revised the training program.  The purpose of training was solely to increase production, although individuals may well benefit from it “incidentally.”  Because of this, all training had to be done during working hours and at government expense, since generally the employee had no option of refusing training.  (At its inception some of in-service trainings were done after-hours.)  Shore stations should encourage individuals to attend night school and have advisors help people find appropriate courses, but such attendance was now to be considered a personal option and expense on the part of the employee.

In-service training had quickly evolved into a broad and expansive series of programs.  Navy yards and other stations now: instructed new hires in their duties; improved the proficiency of current workers by training workers in any special skills needed to keep up with progress in their trades in general; advanced employees to higher grade jobs in their trade; and trained people for transfers to positions in related trades that had shortages.  Yards now gave training in all positions to apprentices, workers in grades II and III, and to those who were or wanted to be shop supervisors, instructors, or inspectors, as well as in technical and scientific positions, office, clerical, and white-collar supervisory jobs.  While the government expected “high standards of ability, intelligence, conduct, loyalty, diligence and good manners” of its workers, it also recognized that since most new hires had little to no knowledge of naval and civil service regulations and of what was expected of them that their supervisors needed to train them appropriately and sympathetically.  Before they could release a new worker for unsatisfactory work, they had to prove that the fault was not one of poor management.  Further, the Department ordered that understudies be groomed for key positions so as to make for rapid replacements if necessary.  As Knox put it, the “systematic development of latent talent and ability and careful selection of employees for promotion, beginning in the lowest ranks and continuing to the highest, without giving undue weight to seniority of service, will produce employees qualified to fill administrative or minor supervisory positions as they become vacant.” [Circular letter, Secretary of the Navy, to AN&MCAC, 24 June 1941; EN2/A2-11; E322/1941-42; RG181; NA-NY.] The merit system as to hiring and promotion was now pretty much a dead issue.

The Commandant passed this information on to his subordinates noting that the New York yard had all the training programs already in place except for the various clerical and administrative ones, and they and the understudy training would soon be implemented.  To supervise the training programs the Yard brought a retired officer back on staff as the designated Yard Training Officer, under the direction of the Production Officer.  His duties also included advising Yard departments and divisions on training, preparing the many reports, and being the designated advisor for outside training courses. [Commandant's Instructions No. 43-41; toHDDOeCP; 6 August 1941; RG181; NA-NY.]

A short time later, in September 1941, an unnamed navy yard proposed creating a clerical training program, with a corresponding Clerk-Trainee rating, in response to clerical labor shortages.  Candidates would be drawn from the messenger register (CU grade) and paid at the junior messenger rate, and upon completion of six months' training be promoted to a clerical job (CU or CAF).  Asked for comment, Commandant Woodward objected, stating that messengers at the CU-2 rate in the BNY already received training in low-level office skills such as sorting, filing, and mail handling, which provided them with enough training to apply for low-level clerical positions.  The suggested position did not go through but in early December the Navy Department, reacting to a lack of stenographers in the field, and especially in Washington--the stenographer's exam had been open since May 1941--got Civil Service approval to fill open positions by either re-assigning anybody in a clerical position who appeared to have the ability, or by appointing people from other clerical registers. [“Filling low-grade clerical positions - War and Navy Departments,” Commandant's Order no. 43-40, sup. 23; to HDDOeIVb personnel, 12 September 1941; Circular letter, ASN (Piozet), to AN&MCAC, 6 December 1941. RG181; NA-NY.]

The Mechanic-Learner
By the fall of 1941 it became apparent that even the helper-trainee position was insufficient for meeting labor needs in the navy yards.  From its previous three years of experience it also had become clear to the Navy Department that jobs could be created that needed only a year or less of previous experience, or an appropriate vocational course given by the Office of Education.  The Department did not want to reduce the requirements for helper-trainee any further as it did not think the resultant position would merit Grade II pay.  Faced with the same problem, the War Department, with Civil Service approval, had established a new position, mechanic-learner, for people with little or no previous industrial experience.  Those in the position received a short and intensive training designed to give them a minimal competency to work in a trades shop.

At the end of September 1941, Assistant Secretary Bard notified the shore establishments that where local conditions warranted, they too could establish such a position.  Mechanic-learners would not be involved in ship construction but would assist mechanics in a learning capacity to perform miscellaneous manufacturing, testing, inspecting, and repair work.  The age of the applicants was limited to between 18 and 25, and no formal vocational education was required.  Instead, labor boards rated candidates on the basis of a mechanical aptitude test that the Civil Service created specifically for this purpose.  As these requirements were not different from those for a beginning apprentice, the Department decided to pay mechanic-learners the apprentice fourth-class rate [As of 10/41: 50¢/hour, vs. the 81¢/hour for most helpers].  Until a separate register was set up for them, navy yards certified them from the apprentice lists.  If he proved capable, the mechanic-learner could advance to the helper rating. The grade for this position is not mentioned but as fourth-class apprentice pay is even less than that of a laborer and given that the next step in advancement was to the helper level, it is fair to assume that they were listed for roll purposes anyway as Grade I.  The Yard's employment figures show a large jump in Grade I numbers near the end of 1941.

There were now four training programs at the navy yards: the apprentices, applicant age from 16-22, who received long-term training to become thoroughly competent in all elements of their trade and capable of advancement to supervisory positions; the helper-trainees, hiring age from 18-30, having two years of previous experience/training, to be given short-term, intensive training for specialized types of work in the trades, some of whom would qualify for advancement to trade status; the mechanic-learner, hiring age from 18-25, having mechanical aptitude but little to no previous experience/training, to receive short-term intensive training to qualify for advancement to the helper rating, and to be given further training, if warranted; and the in-service programs. [Circular Letter, ASN (Ralph Bard), to AN&MCAC, 29 September 1941; RG181; NA-NY.]

The BNY made great use of the training programs.  In the period from June 1939 through March 1941, from one-third to over four-tenths of the trades force at the Yard underwent some kind of vocational training. [For figures.]  But the labor situation for the future still seemed bleak.  Editorializing on this in June 1941 the Brooklyn Eagle again noted a continuing labor shortage that in certain skills like toolmaking, aircraft engine mechanics, millwrights, shipbuilding, and carpentry, was actually growing.  The editors noted that while the 12,500,000 unemployed of 1932 had now dropped to the 5,400,000, that of this remaining pool it was estimated that two million were “unemployable,” and that perhaps another 2.7 million worked on WPA projects.  The 700,000 left over did not leave much of a surplus for the growing defense industries and for the draft, the needs for both would only be increasing further. [BE, 29 June 1941.] The American government realized the problems in labor recruitment, as well as in producing goods and services and soon resolved them by converting much of American economy and society into a machine that could service the needs of war production.

Essential to revolutionizing production in these years was the deep involvement of the government and the Navy Department in re-organizing those processes of production in response to the shortage of trained workers.  Obviously, they retained and even educated a core of experienced trades and administrative workers who formed the backbone of the force that took the BNY through the war but they were far from enough.  The Navy Department first convinced the Civil Service to ease up on its hiring rules and then to all intents and purposes took over its role altogether in hiring, in the process putting the idea of merit in the hiring process on the top shelf for the war's duration [though it still used merit in ratings and the procedures based on them, such as promotions].  Where even after training navy yards lacked enough skilled trade workers navy yards used a division of labor process to divide complicated jobs into less-skilled jobs and, further, diluted even the trades by training workers only in the particular skills, out of the whole range of abilities a mechanic normally possessed, needed to get one particular job accomplished.  War production was a mighty labor and the government intervened in American society in every possible way to achieve its goals.

And also, as shall be shown in the next section, in order to provide the necessary labor that the government needed to run its war machine it finally drilled into the very bedrock of American culture when it confronted and overturned, if only temporarily, the unspoken assumptions of the Brooklyn Eagle's editorial writers as to what was thought to be appropriate sources of labor.

Number of eligibles on selected New York Navy Yard registers, August 1941:
Helper shipfitter*  4200
Electrician 2500
Driller  1590
Holder-on*  1250
Toolmaker   740
Rivet heater*   690
Helper molder*    384
Caulker/chipper iron   170
Helper coppersmith*    100
Anglesmith O. Fires      31
Loftsman       0
Machinist       0
Shipfitter       0
Shipwright       0
* Grade II

Source: Despatch, from NYD New York, to NYD Charl, 9 August 1941; RG181; NA-NY.

Percentage of navy yard workforce as temporaries, 1937-1941:
  # IVbs # Temp.     % # Trades  # Temp.     %
6/37   1035      52   5.0    6594      52    0.8
12/37   1142      26   2.3    6708      68   1.0
6/38   1257      28   2.2    5619      88   1.6
12/38   1425      27   1.9    5455      35   0.6
6/39   1465      89   6.1    7307     561   7.7
12/39   1548      54   3.5    8330   1084 13.0
6/40   1675      44   2.6  10,559   1662 15.7
12/40   2153      57   2.6  14,735    616  4.2
6/41   2577      84   3.6  17,381      48  0.3
12/41   3561    391 11.0  22,359    468  2.1
Source: “Monthly Report of Civil Personnel Statistics”; RG181; NA-NY.

Peacetime Yard Training Programs, 1939 - 1941
AT IST TC TUG IST4 Total %, non- IVb force
6/30/39    132      958        9    1326        82     2507    34.3
9/30/39    195      996        7    1471        92     2761    36.6
12/31/39    158    1060      15    1545        68     2846    34.2
3/31/40    191    1134      20    1852        68     3265    36.7
6/30/40    189    1538      22    2181        59     3999    37.9
9/30/40    353    1922     20    3322        83     5700    43.5
12/31/40    329    2062      38    3636        81     6146    41.7
3/31/41    438    2780      25    2121        53     5417    33.5
AT = Apprentice Training
IST = In-Service Training
TC = Trade Conversion
TUG = Trade up-Grading
IST4 = In-Service Training, Grade IV
[Percentages calculated from Yard rolls]

Apprentice Training, Selected Examples
Shipfitter Machinist Sheetmetal Electrician Shipwright Coppersmith
3/31/40      47      35       28       16       11
6/30/40      46      35       28       16       11
9/30/40      97      60       47       27       20
12/31/40      86      57       45       24       19
8/31/41      92      76       60       35                           30

Trade Upgrading (from intermediate grade), some samples:
E. Welder Shipfitter Driller Chip/Caulk Riveter
6/30/39 196 155 125 83
3/31/40 166 199 236 150 52
Electrician Plumber Rigger Painter Pipefitter Machinist Sheetmetal
6/30/40 70 53 78 97 153 407 236
9/30/40 65 77 74 159 235 659 304
12/31/40 260 84 244 262 703 422

Source for above three tables: Report, "Summary Sheet for Quarterly Ending [on date]"; RG181; NA-NY.

Percentages of Grades I, II, and III as a Part of the Non-IVb Workforce in the Brooklyn Navy Yard for Selected Dates
% G III % G II % G I
12/31/38     62.6    24.1     7.0
12/31/39     63.6    25.0     5.0
12/31/40     63.3    25.0     5.8
3/31/41     62.4    24.6     6.7
6/30/41     62.8    23.8     7.6
9/30/41      61.6    23.0     9.4
12/31/41     58.1    26.5     9.0
3/31/42     53.9    29.9   13.1
9/30/42     52.5    29.3   10.5

Source: Calculated from BNY Employment Figures.

    John R Stobo    ©    December 2004; February 2005