Labor History                                                                     The BNY in the Inter-War Era
Preparing For War, 1937-1941, Part 4
Obtaining A Larger Workforce III: Bringing in Women and Minorities
    The Subject of Women Workers Is Broached
    The Anti-Discrimination Directive
    African-American Workers at the Brooklyn Navy Yard
Policing the Workforce: Weeding Out the "Subversives"
    The Hatch Act
    Security Tightens
    The Case of F.A.E.C.T.
    Communism and the Brooklyn Navy Yard
    Numbers of Women Workers in the Brooklyn Navy Yard
    Job Titles of African-American Workers in the BNY, 3 October 1941

Obtaining A Larger Workforce III: Bringing in Women and Minorities
The inevitable finally happened.  Confronted with the growing shortage of labor, the government, businesses, unions, and the public as a whole finally had to confront the fact that the lack of skilled workers was actually a lack of white, male trade workers.  Due to the sheer necessity of the situation and also to political pressure, old norms, official and not, as to whom could perform a trade were now put aside.  The ongoing programs of training and job de-skilling, already well advanced, made the integration of these new and mostly semi- or unskilled labor into the defense workforce an easier task.

The Subject of Women Workers Is Broached
In June 1941, some five months before Pearl Harbor brought the need to do so glaringly clear, the Civil Service first brought up the idea of hiring women to meet local labor shortages of men in federal defense plants.  In the Commission's words:

“For some occupations in which it has been customary to employ men but in which women might be used, appointing officers should be requested to consider the possibility of using women whenever it is evident that personnel must be trained.  It is believed that women will be as adaptable to training as men, and at the same time, the recruiting problem would be lessened to some extent as the recruitment of women trainees could, no doubt, be accomplished more quickly. In any event, all possible sources of supply should be considered and the most expedient means of making suitable personnel available should be followed.” [Copied in: Circular letter, from ASN, to AN&MCAC, 17 June 1941; RG181; NA-NY.]
In early September 1941, Charles Piozet, the Navy's Director of Personnel, decided the time had come for the Department.  He sent a memo to the shore establishments in which he passed along data that his office had collected, coupled with his recommendations.  According to the national Bureau of Employment Security, local labor pools in some parts of the country had been tapped out completely.  Central and northwestern Connecticut, parts of Louisiana, central Massachusetts, the Baltimore area, parts of Pennsylvania, and in the area around Dunkirk, New York, had all run out of labor [that is, male labor].  In response to labor shortages some defense companies already were hiring women.  Lockheed-Vega had 4000-6000 women performing light assembly and machine work, and businesses in the Cleveland area were exploring pre-employment vocational training for women in machine shop practice, drafting and patternmaking.  Sidney Hillman, the assistant director of the OPM, had written to nearly 200 defense contractors asking them to bring on women at the same wages, hours, and working conditions as men, thereby reducing the need for companies to canvass for labor out of town, with the resultant housing and moving difficulties that that entailed.  He further assured businesses that surveys conducted in the aircraft industry showed women to be competent in many aspects of the construction of warplanes.  Considering all this, Piozet now “urged” naval appointing officers to hire women where labor shortages existed, if at all possible, and to give them appropriate training, which could include pre-employment vocational schooling. [Circular letter, ASN (Charles Piozet, Director of Personnel), to AN&MCAC, 9 September 1941; RG181; NA-NY.]

As to the Brooklyn Navy Yard, it had always had a small percentage of female workers.  They worked in IVb jobs, and in the one industrial shop that employed women, the flag loft.  This ratio stayed relatively constant for the period of June 1937 through June 1940, at about 2.5 percent of the total work force, this as the Yard's overall workforce grew rapidly in the latter half of that period.  For instance, early in the 1930s, the flag shop was home to just twelve sewers.  By the summer of 1940 the shop employed 57, turning out some 500 flags and pennants of all sizes per day.  (It and a similar shop at the Mare Island Navy Yard were able to meet all the Navy's flag and pennant needs.)  Then, in the year before Pearl Harbor the overall percentage of women workers at the BNY rose to 3.0; in terms of change of percentage, a 20 percent rise.  This would seem to suggest that some small moves had already been made in the Yard toward bringing in more women to work. [BE, 7 July 1940. See  figures.]

The Brooklyn Navy Yard went on to hire its first women in industrial jobs in August 1942.  When openings for women in helper-trainee positions were announced the preceding winter, 20,000 applied.  Of these the Yard examined 6000 and found 3000 to be qualified.  The Labor Board then called in two hundred, sending about one-half to the shipfitters' shop.  It was front-page news in the newspapers when it was announced a short time later.  Of the first 125 hired, twelve were African-American women.  But this would be the only group so hired as shortly after the registers were announced, the navy yards began hiring all its new workers as “temporaries” for the duration and six months, which also meant female production workers were let go after the war ended.  As of January 1945 the navy yard had 4657 women in production work.  Also, of note is that the Brooklyn yard, in the middle of the nation's largest labor market, hired the fewest women as a percentage of its total workforce. [NYT, 14 September 1942; 20 September 1942; Arnold Sparr, “Looking for Rosie: Women Defense Workers in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, 1942-1946,” New York History (July 2000). A FEPC case file of May 1944 lists 6969 women working in the navy yard; so the number of women in the IVb classification rose substantially too. Case File 2-GR-383; Closed Cases - Brooklyn Navy Yard; Regional Files II; RG228, Records of the Committee on Fair Employment Practice; NA-NY. In March 1943, the BNY had the second-smallest percentage of women (42.6) among its IVb staff in navy yards, and the smallest (3.4) among its production force. Mare Island had the highest percentage in each category: 84.8, and 13.1. Black, Charlestown Navy Yard. On women workers in the private shipyards in World War II, see: Kesselman, Fleeting Opportunities: Women Shipyard Workers in Portland and Vancouver During World War II and Reconversion (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1990); Deborah Ann Hirshfield, “Rosie Also Welded: Women and Technology in Shipbuilding During World War II (Ph.D. diss., U. of California, Irvine, 1987); Xiaojian Zhao, “Women and Defense Industries in World War II (Ph.D. diss., U. of California, Berkeley, 1993); Katherine Archibald, Wartime Shipyard: A Study in Social Disunity (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1947); Augusta H. Clawson, Shipyard Diary of a Woman Welder (New York: Penguin Books, 1944). Also, although it does not mention shipbuilding, see Ruth Milkman, Gender at Work: The Dynamics of Job Segregation by Sex during World War II (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1987).]

The Anti-Discrimination Directive
There was still one other pool of labor left untapped, or underutilized, for the defense agencies: minority Americans.  But tapping into this source resulted as much from political pressure as from the needs of production.  War preparations led to renewed demands from many Americans, and especially from black Americans, for an end to discrimination in hiring, job assignments, and promotions.  The number of black Americans in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, for instance, had been small up to now, mostly concentrated in a few trades, with minuscule numbers in the supervisory ranks or white-collar positions. [See next section. Members of minority religions, particularly Jews, too had their own set of grievances concerning discrimination in the workplace.]

The pressure to integrate the defense industry was intense during the emergency period, especially in government agencies, and early in 1941 the Civil Service Commission removed photographs and all references to race from its declaration-of-appointee forms.  But not to let the matter go, the agency then went on to caution interviewers that they now had to be especially watchful for impersonators who might try to take advantage of the new regulation. [Circular Letter, ASN (Piozet), to AN&MCAC, 23 January 1941, copying C.S.C. letter no. 248 of 10 January 1941 on topic; RG181; NA-NY.]

By far, the greatest anti-discrimination measure of this pre-war period came with President Roosevelt’s issuing of Executive Order 8802 on 25 June 1941, titled “Reaffirming policy of full participation in the defense program by all persons, regardless of race, creed, color, or national origin, and directing certain action in furtherance of said policy.”  The order declared that successfully defending the “democratic way of life” required the support of all Americans, and that there was evidence that available and needed workers had been turned away from defense jobs solely for discriminatory reasons.  This was a detrimental influence on theirs and the country's morale and it impaired defense production.  Therefore, Roosevelt “reaffirmed” that federal policy forbade discrimination in employing workers in government or defense industries for reasons of race, creed, color, or national origin [RCCNO], and therefore it was the duty of employers and labor organizations to provide for the “full and equitable participation of all workers in defense industries.”  The proclamation ordered all government agencies that gave training in defense production to take “special measures” to assure that their programs did not discriminate for RCCNO and a non-discrimination clause was placed into all government contracts with the private sector.  To administer the policy, the order established a Committee on Fair Employment Practice, consisting of a chairman and four presidential appointees, within the Office of Production Management.  The Committee's task was to receive, investigate, and remedy complaints, as well as suggest further means of achieving its goals. [“Fair Employment Practice,” Commandant's Order no. 64-71, sup 3, to HDDO, 29 October 1941, copying letter from Secretary of the Navy to AN&MCAC of 21 October; RG181; NA-NY.  The agency was shortly renamed FEPC. See:  Kersten, Race, Jobs and the war: The FEPC in the Midwest, 1941-1946 (Urbana: U. of Illinois Press, 2000); Moreno, “Fair Employment: Law and Policy, 1933-1972” (Ph.D. diss., University of Maryland, 1994); Garfinkel, When Negroes March: The March on Washington Movement in the Organization Politics for FEPC (New York: Atheneum, 1959); Kesselman, The Social Politics of FEPC  (U. of North Carolina Press, 1948); Ruchames, Race, Jobs, and Politics: The Story of the FEPC (New York: Columbia University Press, 1953); Kennedy, Freedom From Fear; Reed, “Black Workers, Defense Industries, and Federal Agencies in Pennsylvania, 1941-1945” Labor History (Summer 1986); Harris, “Federal Intervention in Union Discrimination: FEPC and West Coast Shipyards During World War II” Labor History (Summer 1981). On the trade unions' abysmal integration record in this era, and particularly the machinists and boilermakers and their dealings with the FEPC, see Hill, Black Labor and the American Legal System: Race, Work, and the Law (Madison: U. of Wisconsin Press, 1985); Rubin, The Negro in the Shipbuilding Industry (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania).]

Soon after, the Navy Department issued orders implementing the new decree.  The Bureau of Yards and Docks, responsible for the physical growth and maintenance of shore establishments, promptly issued regulations inserting the non-discrimination clause in all bid statements from outside contractors.  The Department directed shore establishment hiring offices to remove any references to race or color on employment forms.  And, most likely so as not to be caught off-guard, the Secretary issued orders in October that all complaints “alleging discrimination,” should be sent first to the Department, which would allow it to devise a response, and the Navy in turn would forward it and its remedy to the FEPC, although this was not called for in the FEPC's regulations.  It would also investigate any complaints the FEPC in turn sent in to it. [Circular Letter, Chief of Bureau of Yards and Docks, to Commandant, Navy Yard, NY, 5 July 1941; Commandant's Order no 64-71, sup 3, to HDDO, 29 October 1941. RG181; NA-NY.  According to Black, though, the Navy Department made no effort to recruit black workers. Charlestown Navy Yard. From 1943 to 1945, 83 FEPC cases were filed involving the Brooklyn Navy Yard: 44 by black men; 18 by black women; 19 from Jewish men; and two others. Of these, 54 were dismissed by the FEPC on their merits; 7 were withdrawn by the complainants, and 22 were deemed by the complainant to be satisfactorily adjusted. Closed Cases - Brooklyn Navy Yard; Regional Files II; RG228, Records of the Committee on Fair Employment Practice; NA-NY.]
African-American Workers at the Brooklyn Navy Yard
Up to this point in time the black presence at the Yard was a small one.  The Roosevelt administration did pay some attention to its black workforce and in February 1934 it ordered the Navy Department to conduct a census of them.  The Brooklyn yard's reply is below.  I have added in the percentage figures.  As can be seen, "group" is inversely proportional to race, and there is no African-American representation in managerial levels at all. [Circular Letter, Acting Secretary of the Navy, to AN&MCAC, 19 February 1934. Table in: Letter, Commandant, to the Acting Secretary of the Navy, 27 February 1934; RG181; NA-NY]

Number of African-American Workers in BNY, 31 January 1934

# A.-A. Workers % of Group
Group I 119 32.6
Group II   49   7.7
Group III   62   3.1
Group IVa    -     -
Group IVb   17   2.2
Total 247   6.2 [total Yard]

The proportion of black workers in the BNY did not improve by the end of the decade, in fact it worsened.  As of 30 November 1940, although the total number of black navy yard workers had increased by about eighty percent, their relative proportion of the entire force had actually decreased by half. The percentages have been added in by me. [“Advisory commission of the Council of National Defense requests information regarding the Employment of Negroes under the Naval Establishment,” Letter, Commandant to ASN(SED), 30 November 1940; RG181; NA-NY.]

Number of African-American Workers in BNY, 30 November 1940

# A.-A. Workers # Workers % of Total
IVa    2     484    .4
IVb   26   1933   1.3
III 202   8053   2.5
II 175   4103   4.3
I   35     133 26.3
Apprentices    5     343   1.6

445 15,049   3.0

Over the next year there was a slight increase in the percentage rate.  In response to another request for a census of its black workers, this time from the FEPC, the BNY appended the job titles letting us see where they worked. [“The President's Committee of Fair Employment Practice requests information regarding racial employment in the navy yards,” Letter, Commandant, to Secretary of the Navy, 3 October 1941; RG181; NA-NY.]

Number of African-American Workers in BNY, 3 October 1941

# A.-A. Workers # Workers % of Total
IVa    6     662    .9
IVb   44   3136   1.4
III 308 12,031   2.6
II 397   6228   6.4
I   41     112 36.6
Apprentices    4     483     .8

800 22,652   3.5

For the job-title breakdown, click here.

In some ways, the FEPC's existence may actually have taken off some of the public heat on the navy yards as to their percentage of black workers.  In November 1941, a black newspaper, the Pittsburgh Courier, contacted the BNY requested permission to send a reporter and photographer to the Yard to do a story about "Negroes in defense work"and take pictures of negro crews at work.  The Commandant denied the photographer access to the Yard saying that visitors were allowed in only under the most restrictive conditions.  However, he would be pleased to pass on any information that he could reasonably release.  He could say, for instance, that the navy yard did not use racial crews, that all workers employed under civil service regulations were paid at the same rate, and that the Yard permitted no prejudice in job assignments.  The manager of the newspaper wrote back asking for the numbers of black workers in the Yard and what types of jobs they performed.  The paper's manager wished the Yard to know that they wanted to write an article to help “align Negro leaders behind the president's foreign policy,” and that all the information the Yard could provide would be helpful in this effort.  The Commandant replied that as of 25 June 1941 the BNY employed 750 black workers, out of about 20,000, in 52 occupations.  However, since the above date, the recording of employees by race had been discontinued per FEPC policy. [Letter,  Rouzeau, Manager, The Pittsburgh Courier, New York Office, to Admiral Adolphus Andrews, Commandant, Third Naval District, 21 November 1941; Reply, Commandant Marquart, 29 November 1941; Letter, Rouzeau, to Marquart; 4 December 1941; Reply,  Marquart, 20 December 1941; RG181; NA-NY.]   We do not have a further response to know whether or not the Courier's editors bought this fiction or not.  Obviously, as have seen above, in response to the FEPC request three months later, the government had no problem coming up with a censuse of its black workers in the BNY.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

The number of black and other minority workers in the navy yard grew during the war to about 5500, but they were part of the duration-and-six-months temporary force and most of them were let go with all the others at war's end.  By 1948 the proportion of minority workers at the Yard had dropped to about two per cent.  However, World War II housing needs for defense workers such as those who worked in the BNY appears to have solidified the African-American presence in Bedford-Stuyvesant that developed in these very years, although much of this evidence presently remains anecdotal.  The BNY had a great need for labor in the war and this attracted large numbers of black workers, many of whom moved into the hundreds of rooming establishments that landlords subdivided out of the older houses in the neighborhood.  With this large neighborhood presence, their numbers again rose in the navy yard until by the time of the announcement of the Yard's closing in 1964 black workers composed about nineteen per cent of the workforce. [As of March 1944, African-Americans constituted 15.7% of the Navy's field service. Kammerer, Impact of War. Also see Rubin, The Negro in the Shipbuilding Industry. A FEPC case file lists 5469 “non-white” workers at the Brooklyn Navy Yard as of May 1944. Case File 2-GR-383;  Closed Cases - Brooklyn Navy Yard; Regional Files II; RG228, Records of the Committee on Fair Employment Practice; NA-NY. Mary H. Manoni claims a causal relationship, although without documentation, between the great demand for labor at the BNY and the influx of African-Americans into Bedford-Stuyvesant, in Bedford-Stuyvesant: The Anatomy of a Central City (Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1973).  This passage has been quoted by Ruth Seiden Miller in her edited book, Brooklyn USA: The Fourth Largest City in America (New York: Brooklyn College Press, 1979).  The information about the rooming houses comes from: Pete Hamill, “Brooklyn: The Sane Alternative,” New York, 14 July 1969, and an article in the New York Times, 30 July, 1995, entitled “New York, 1945,” by Sam Roberts, based on information he received from Frank Vardi, a demographer with the New York City Planning Office.  One history of African-American Brooklyn, however, does not mention the BNY connection, instead, focusing on the role of real estate speculation in the “ghettoizing” of Bedford-Stuyvesant (The two points are perhaps related).  See: Harold X. Connolly, A Ghetto Grows in Brooklyn (New York: New York University Press, 1977). For a history of black Brooklynites, see Craig Steven Wilder, A Covenant With Color: Race and the History of Brooklyn (New York:  Columbia University Press, 2000). The nineteen percent figure is given by NYC Commissioner of Commerce Louis Broido in a letter to the New York Times, 14 MAy 1964.]

Policing the Workforce: Weeding Out the "Subversives"
Simultaneously, while the government, Civil Service Commission, and the Navy Department were making every attempt to expand the workforce in the BNY and other government-owned war plants, another vital imperative was in play in these and the war years, the crusade begun by Congress and the Civil Service to prevent or eliminate alleged political involvement in general by federal employees.  Especially for defense agencies this campaign quickly evolved into a hunt for those individuals thought hostile to the United States and its interests and who would most likely or potentially be spies or saboteurs.  In particular the authorities paid the greatest attention to those they suspected of being nazis, fascists, or communists.

The Hatch Act
The rush to circumscribe the first-amendment rights of government employees began when various individuals and groups made two sets of accusations: one held that outside agitators were responsible for the wave of labor agitation in the federal service in the late 1930s, which included strikes in WPA projects; the second that certain politicians of had used WPA employees as campaign workers in the 1938 elections.  In response,  Congress passed a major revision of the Civil Service Act in the summer of 1939, titled, “To Prevent Pernicious Political Activities,” and which quickly became popularly known as the Hatch Act, after its chief senatorial sponsor.  In general, the law forbade employees in the executive branch, including agencies like the WPA (with some exceptions) from taking any “active” part in political campaigns or in their management, although they did retain the right to vote and express their political opinions as they chose.  Before, such political participation had merely been a violation of civil service regulations; now it became an illegal activity. [Circular letter, Acting Secretary of the Navy, to AN&MCAC, 8 December 1939, enclosing copy of Attorney General's Circular 3301 of 26 October 1939; Commandant's Order No 33-40; to HDDOeCP, 26 February 1940; RG181; NA-NY.  The citation for the Hatch Act is: An Act, “To Prevent Pernicious Political Activities,” 2 August 1939, Public, no.  252.]

By the end of the year, the Attorney-General, Frank Murray, made a series of rulings that converted one of the Act's major clauses, section 9, into a series of orders for promulgation throughout the executive service.  While the civil service act barred overt political involvement in general such as the holding of most political offices, the new prohibitions were quite specific: holding office in a political party or club; attending political conventions as a delegate; serving on political party committees; distributing buttons or literature in support of a party or candidate, and similar activities; being a candidate for most offices; and, soliciting funds for a political organization or campaign funds or receiving such for such purposes.  Being a party or club member was permitted as was attending meetings and conventions on one's own and participating in activities not connected with a candidate or a campaign.  A federal employee was allowed to hold some political positions such as justice of the peace, notary public, or sit on boards of education.  By early 1940 the prohibitions were extended to having editorial or managerial connections with a political newspaper, participating in a political musical group, and marching in a political parade.  (This might have made illegal the participation of government employees in the NRA parade six years earlier).  These were significant changes as the intent of the original non-political involvement clauses of the civil service act was to protect civil servants from political harassment by their superiors or sponsors. [Gall, “The CIO and the Hatch Act: The Roosevelt Court and the Divided New Deal Legacy of the 1940s,” Labor's Heritage 7 (1995); Kennedy, Freedom From Fear; Ziskind, One Thousand Strikes of Government Employees (New York: Columbia University Press, 1940); Kammerer, Impact of War; Spero, Government as Employer; Van Riper, History of the Civil Service. A “second” Hatch Act was passed on 19 July 1940 extending the prohibitions to all state and local agencies whose activities were financed in whole or part by Federal grants or loans.  U.S.C.S.C., History of the Federal Civil Service: 1789 to the Present (Washington; GPO, 1941).]

Once instituted, the Commission now found itself having to make ever more specific Hatch interpretations.  For instance, in October 1940 it found itself intruding directly into the private lives of federal employees when it ruled that although it was inappropriate for public servants to make any kind of partisan display while “conducting the public business” they could place a political picture in a home window, wear a political badge or button outside of work, or place a political sticker on their car where it was otherwise legal. [“Statement of U.S.C.S.C. concerning certain rights of Government employees under the Hatch Act and other legislation affecting their political activities,” Commandant's Order No. 33-40, sup. 1, to HDDOeCP, 4 November 1940; RG181; NA-NY.]

Perhaps even more notable, or infamous, than section 9 of the Hatch Act as a whole was its section 9A, which totally prohibited government employees from having “membership in any political party or organization which advocates the overthrow of our constitutional form of government in the United States.”  Agencies could not hire, and if already employed had to fire, members of any of these groups, such as the communist party, Nazi party, German bund, or any other communist or fascist organization.  Membership in them was held to be in direct conflict with the oath each new federal hiree took to “support and defend” the US constitution against all foreign and domestic enemies. [Circular Letter, Secretary of the Navy, to AN&MCAC, 16 October 1940, enclosing copy of C.S.C. Departmental circular of 20 June 1940; RG181; NA-NY.]

Security Tightens
The principle now established, the Civil Service Commission and Congress created other regulations and laws to make it easier for government agencies to discover disloyal people either already employed, or of the hiring lists. (This was not the first time that the government had taken such action, although it was the first time it had done so while not officially at war.  In the first world war President Wilson issued an executive order that allowed for government workers to be removed for conduct, their alleged sympathies, and their utterances, in an informal and secret process. [Van Riper, History of the United States Civil Service (Evanston, IL: Row, Peterson and Company, 1958).])  In June 1940, the Commission allowed the Navy Department to substitute IVb policies for those normally used for hiring trades workers.  Up to now, examining applicants for the blue-collar positions in navy yards was done in-house with eligibles being taken straight off the registers in their order of ranking, whereas testing for IVb positions was done in local Civil Service offices.  As navy yards had no input in this qualifying stage, the local district office sent over the top three persons from its register for each open position so that the hiring officer had some choice, though limited to the three, in whom the yard hired.  Navy yards could now reject candidates without having to give specific reasons.  The local unit had only to send rejected applications to the Department for review.  In July 1941 this oversight process was transferred to the Commission's District Managers. [Circular Letter, ASN (Piozet), to AN&MCAC, 8 July 1941; RG181; NA-NY.]

In July 1940 the Civil Service sent out a revised circular to federal agencies listing the legitimate reasons for refusing to hire an individual.  As usual, an appointing officer could reject for lack of ability, especially in clerical jobs where efficient service was essential from the date of hire.  A recent amendment also permitted defense agencies to reject someone if that person already worked for a private defense company.  And now,  the Commission added the right of a department to refuse to hire someone for: open or suspected disloyalty to the U.S.; for any subversive activities or suspected affiliation with proscribed groups; for birth in certain foreign countries (not named); and for extended residence in or numerous visits to certain foreign countries.  Membership in the communist, nazi, or any related parties was forbidden to anyone desiring to work for the government.  While hiring officials now had carte blanche to deny employment to people for political reasons, the DM did reserve the right to question refusals-to-hire for non-political reasons. [“Objections made to eligibles certified to positions in Federal agencies concerned in preparedness and in National Defense Program,” Circular Letter no. 2917, sup. 1, from U.S.C.S.C., to District Managers, 9 July 1940; RG181; NA-NY.]

Simultaneously, the Commission issued a directive concerning those already on the federal payroll.  It stated that for reasons of efficiency or for Hatch-violations “all that is required to effect the removal of an employee from the classified service is that he be given notice of the charges against him in writing and afforded a reasonable time to answer in writing.”  The regulations left to the discretion of the responsible officer the need to have a formal termination hearing, and the Commission said it would only review dismissals made for efficiency reasons and only if given explicit proof to the contrary.  It would not review Hatch firings, given the “exigencies of the time.” [“Removal of all undesirable persons from Government Service,” Circular Letter no. 247, from Second U.S.C.S.D., to Appointing Officers, Labor Board [et al.], 2 July 1940; RG181; NA-NY.]

In addition, section six of the omnibus 28 June 1940 law established a procedure specifically to deal with alleged security risks working in military agencies.  It allowed for the suspension of the August 1912 regulations for any civil-service employee of the War and Navy Departments and the Coast Guard or their field services if in their respective Secretary's opinion removing removal of said person was demanded for national security reasons.  (The regulation involved was the Lloyd-LaFollette Act which allowed employees who were “not members of organizations imposing an obligation, or even proposing to assist them, in a strike against the federal government,” to belong without penalty to “groups promoting improvements in labor conditions such as hours, pay, and conditions of work, or presenting grievances to Congress.”  This law rescinded the infamous “gag-rule” imposed on federal employees by Theodore Roosevelt in 1902, and as such for all practical purposes recognized the right of federal employees to join labor unions.)

The Secretary distributed this information down the chain of command, along with lengthy and specific instructions as to how such a dismissal should be effected.  For any suspected person, a local unit was to put together a file containing the employee's work record, citizenship/naturalization status, date of birth, military service if applicable, a copy of any investigative report made, and any other information deemed pertinent, and send it to the Navy Department for review.  Pending this, the suspect could stay on the job unless management felt an immediate suspension was warranted.  The Secretary would sign the actual discharge letter himself and it would state that the firing was being done “in the interest of National Defense, with prejudice.”  The local official in charge was then to give  the worker the dismissal notice in person.  The terminated employee had the right to know the nature of the charges filed against him or her but whether or not the person received the reasons in writing was left to the discretion of the dismissing official; however, the names of all sources had to be kept confidential.  Discharged workers had thirty days to respond if they so desired.  Appeals could be made to the Department through the firing official and if the action was overturned, the person was to be restored with back pay. [“Legislation making usual civil service procedure inapplicable to employees whose immediate removal from employment is, in the opinion of the Secretary of the Navy, warranted by the demands of national security,” Circular Letter, from Secretary of the Navy, Lewis Compton, Acting, to AN&MCAC, 24 July 1940; RG181; NA-NY.]

Apparently some federal hiring officials proved too eager in applying the new employment regulations, because in November 1940 the President found it necessary to issue a clarifying executive order to forbid agencies from discriminating in hiring.  They could no longer frame application or exam questions in such a way as to “elicit” information as to an applicant's political and religious opinions, or affiliations except for those that by law specifically disqualified them. [“Executive Order [8587 of 7 November 1940] Amending Certain Provisions of the Civil Service Rules,” Commandant's Order 43-40, sup. no. 11, to the HDDOeGIVb Personnel, 13 December 1940; RG181; NA-NY.] That such an directive was needed to re-emphasize the most basic of civil service protections is telling.

The Navy Department, though, remained ever clever in its hunt for “subversives.”  For instance, the anti-discrimination executive order 8802 of June 1941 made it impossible to refuse to hire people solely due to their country of origin.  In response, the Department instructed its hiring officers to attempt to discern during interviews whether applicants had relatives or close friends in certain countries as they might be able to pressure a person in some way once hired.  Interviewers should question applicants as thoroughly as possible and if this resulted in any doubts raised, the official was to forward the application to the Civil Service for further investigation.  As before, if the applicant was personally suspected of disloyalty, rejection was automatic and unappealable. [“Method of Presenting Objections to Eligibles Certified by the C.S.C.,” Memo (Restricted), from the Commandant, Third Naval District, to All District Activities, 1 August 1941; RG181; NA-NY.  This was not the beginning of the naval domestic intelligence operation but an intensification of an existing structure.  Jeffery Dorwart, Conflict of Duty: The U.S. Navy's Intelligence Dilemma, 1919-1945 (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1983).]

Brooklyn Navy Yard's Commandant Woodward felt his Yard presented a particularly vexing problem when it came to security, as he informed the Department in a letter in August 1940.  Ever the booster for his yard and his staff, he “doubted that there is any civilian industrial establishment in the country that is more important to the national defense than this government yard.”  He reminded his superiors that no private defense plant had had a greater rate of expansion or more diversified production, or any greater problem in obtaining the necessary skilled workers and training them for its own special needs.  Part of the problem was that his navy yard sat in the middle of New York City, which as he explained, was home to a large population of foreign and first-generation-born people whose ties were stronger to their home countries than the United States.  He doubted if any civilian plant had had more problems in verifying the truthfulness of its applicants’ information; quite a problem when you are “undoubtedly [in] the center of some of the most active subversive influences in the country.” [The letter in which these statements are contained was a request that the Navy not reassign two dozen reserve Chief Petty Officers then working for the Yard to active duty as Woodard considered them a stabilizing influence on the undesirable element.  Letter, Commandant, to the Chief of Bureau of Navigation, 9 August 1940; RG181; NA-NY.]

During the emergency period the BNY tightened up its internal security.  It tripled the size of its police force in 1940 and put in place a new system to track all ID badges and passes.  The Commandant estimated that by the end of November 1940 that more than 20,000 badges and passes had been issued.  These included temporary and permanent passes given to contractors and their employees, salesmen, delivery people, officers’ relatives, and members of crews of ships in port.  Yard security was instructed to stop all people in the Yard not wearing visible badges and arrest them if they did not provide one on order.  This order applied to navy personnel out of uniform as well as to civilian workers. [Brooklyn Eagle, 9 March 1941; Memo,  Commandant, to Chief of Bureau of Supplies and Accounts, 26 November 1940; Commandant's Order No. 52-40 -sup. 4, 30 December 1940; RG181; NA-NY. Before this, gate sentries sent workers without badges to the Police Office to be assigned a temporary badge and sent a report to the appropriate Master for possible consideration in the person's efficiency ratings. Memo, Manager, to the Captain of the Yard; 16 September 1936; RG181; NA-NY.]

The Brooklyn Eagle soon noted the new stringencies at work in the navy yard as well as elsewhere in the city in hiring for government jobs.  A reporter found that forty Civil Service Commission agents performed 5000-7000 certification investigations monthly in the period from July 1940 to February 1941.  Despite the rush on production, it sometimes took weeks to certify someone since a potential new hire had to have all of his or her application information, including fingerprints, checked and verified.  People desiring key positions such as drafters, engineering material inspectors, tool/gauge designers, chemists, engineers, instrument makers, and confidential clerks were extensively “interrogated.”  If they could not be checked out fully before hiring, due to need, they underwent special scrutiny while on the job. [BE, 9 March 1941.] Given the huge increase in the Brooklyn Navy Yard workforce going on at this time one must wonder if such thorough background checks could truly be made for all applicants.

Security measures tightened further in 1941 in the navy yard and nationally.  A summary of security laws and regulation compiled by the BNY in April stated that any federal employee with legal or illegal access to any document, photograph, code book, drawing, etc., who gave or otherwise transmitted it to someone not entitled to receive it, or who failed to deliver it to someone entitled to it, or allowed it to be destroyed, stolen, lost, etc., through gross negligence, would be fined up to $10,000 (about four years wages for a trade worker) and/or jailed for up to two years.  The same law applied to the private sector for any property being made for the War and Navy Departments.  In sensitive work sites like the Brooklyn Navy Yard all its work was now classified as “confidential” and its employees forbidden to discuss their work outside the Yard, and inside the Yard they could only talk with those doing similar work.  And, in the naval appropriation act for fiscal year 1942 Congress mandated, and then the Navy Department in June 1941 issued an order promulgating, that all present employees and new hires in the naval establishment sign affidavits before a notary public stating that they did not belong to a subversive organization advocating the violent overthrow of the American government. [“Security of the Navy Yard, and Defense Measures,” Commandant's Order no. 45-41, sup. 2, to HDDO, 20 April 1941; Circular Letter, from Under Secretary of the Navy, James Forrestal, to AN&MCAC, 19 June 1941; RG181; NA-NY; New York Times, 30 June 1941.]


What follows are two examples of organizations that came under the surveillance of naval intelligence at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

The Case of F.A.E.C.T.
An AFL union for drafters and others had been in existence since 1918 but had had only modest success in organizing among its base.  But for every AFL action in the 1930s there seemed to be a CIO reaction and in 1937 the latter set up the Federation of Architects, Engineers, Chemists, and Technicians as a rival union.  Its BNY's component was Chapter 24, which had its core constituency among the drafting force.
[On the union's history, see “FAECT,” in Gary M. Fink, editor-in-Chief, Labor Unions (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1977).]

From the files it seems that the FAECT local in the BNY concerned itself mostly with meat-and-potato union issues, such as petitioning for upgrades for its members, and the union itself sponsored courses in ship architecture. [Letter, F. Kamarck, Corr. Sec., Chapter 24, FAECT, 24 April 1938; Letter, Kamarck, to Claude Swanson, via official channels, 18 April 1938; Letter, Secretary of the Navy, to Milton Fischer, Leg. Rep., FAECT, 22 July 1938; Letter, Gustave Jurist, Corr. Sec. Chapter 24, FAECT, CIO, to J. West, Chief Clerk, Navy Yard, NY, 24 March 1939; FAECT, Announcement, n.d. [probably September 1939 from placement in files], “Hull Construction,” to be conducted by Harry Sussman, Sr. Naval Architect, New York Navy Yard, starts Friday, 6 October, 8:30pm; 16 2 hour-sessions; $15 + reg., 20% discount to members of Fed. RG181; NA-NY.]  However, the chapter fell under suspicion over the activities of some of its members.  In February 1941, the union's president, Alan Berne, informed the BNY Commandant that he had received reports that BNY members had been called in for questioning as to their activities and union affiliation, during which they had often been asked about topics having nothing to do with the union or their work.  What was the purpose of this, he asked, if not the heralding of an anti-union campaign at the Yard?  He wrote again a week later to ask for an interview as he said the situation was growing worse, claiming that one of the Yard's agents, M. Epstein, had harassed one of the union's members even though he no longer worked for the Yard.  Woodward replied that no anti-labor campaign was underway, and that if he wanted an interview it was fine, so long as he submitted a “specific” agenda ahead of time.  Berne replied that he thought his previous two letters specific enough in that he had already laid out his charges in them.  It appeared to him that mere membership in FAECT was grounds for investigation and this was obviously a worrisome concern.

In March Berne got his meeting with BNY management.  At the meeting he submitted a report about the Navy's intimidation of his members not only at the Yard but nation-wide, and claimed that several navy agents had criticized the CIO's Americanism as insincere.  The union asked for proof of such charges and said that it was abhorent that the Navy used “stool pigeons” to obtain its information.  The commandant told Berne that naval investigations were not confined to his or any one union, but were general in nature, and that the agents responsible did not answer to the navy yard and because of that, their activities could not be discussed.  Union membership was not at issue here and the Manager told him that relations with the BNY FAECT local had been cordial to date.  Berne was then asked if he had any difficulty with investigations being made to counter attempts to harm the defense effort, to which he replied that his members were among the Department's better workers, patriotic, and often holding long seniority.  Berne told Yard management that if it could not help him, he would contact the Department.  As to Berne's charges the officers refused, per policy, to either confirm or deny any of his specific charges, but did say that his report was inaccurate in several respects. [Letters, Lewis  Benre, Int. President, FAECT, to Commandant, BNY, 11 February 1941, 18 February 1941; reply, Woodward, to Berne, 19 February; Letter, Berne, to Woodward, 26 February 1941; Letter, Saunder Field, Secretary to Mr. Berne, to Capt McKitrick, enclosing notes of 4 March meeting, 24 March 1941; Letter, Capt. McKittrick, Acting Commandant, to Saunder Field, 29 March 1941; RG181; NA-NY.]

Communism and the Brooklyn Navy Yard
The problems that the Navy Department had with FAECT, as well as with the United Federal Workers of America, were the ties, alleged or real, that some of its members had with the communist or other leftist parties.

There is evidence in the archives that communist and other leftist parties in this era attempted to organize directly in the BNY.  The Yard's workers were not the Party's only target, as sailors too were classified as proletarians.  One technique used to proselytize was to surreptitously distribute literature aboard navy ships at dock.  In May 1930 naval officers found pamphlets from the Young Communist League in the bunks aboard a minesweeper and a battleship docked at the Yard.  After listing the poor working conditions of the enlisted men, the League proposed a series of remedies to the “Comrade Sailors,” such as a minimum pay rate of $50 per month, an eight-hour day, the right to resign at any time, an increase in the ration allowance, the right to elect officers, no restrictions on leave, and the right to join unions.  The pamphlet put its appeal into context saying that most likely sailors had enlisted as a way to find a job during the Depression, but that they were now being prepared to fight the imperialists' war against the Soviet Union.  The League declared that if war was declared they should join the Red Army and Navy. [It ended with the appeal “LONG LIVE THE UNBREAKABLE UNITY OF THE WORKERS IN UNIFORM AND THE WORKERS IN THE FACTORIES! FORWARD TO STRUGGLE AGAINST CAPITALISM WITH ITS MISERY, HUNGER AND WARS, AND TO THE ESTABLISHMENT OF WORKERS AND FARMERS GOVERNMENTS THROUGHOUT THE WORLD!” Pamphlet, Communist Party, USA, Dist. 2; Young Communist League, USA, Dist. 2, NY. Enclosed in: Letter, Commander-in-Chief, US Fleet, to Commandant, Third Naval District, 12 May 1930; Letter, Commanding Officer, Sinclair Gannon, U.S.S. New York, to Commandant, Third Naval District, 11 May 1930; RG181; NA-NY.]

From time to time communist literature directed to the BNY workers was turned in to management and it in turn eventually made it way to the Yard's files.  In May 1932 a master machinist passed along a copy he had found of the “RED DREADNOUGHT,” put out by the Brooklyn Navy Yard Shop Nucleus #1, of the Communist League of Struggle, New York City.  Its masthead included a hand-drawn picture of a man's profile overlooking a half-risen sun encircling a hammer and sickle, his arm draped over a cannon-barrel. Its articles included reproducing a filched copy of a March management memo discussing the need to carefully prepare efficiency ratings as layoffs were expected in the coming months, and a protest against the practice of recalling workers from layoff to lower-rated positions.  The paper also printed a list of demands, both practical and political: a seven-hour day, five-day week; unemployment insurance, to be paid by the federal government; payment for muster time; more safety appliances; better work clothes; pay for days lost to inclement weather; a disavowal of the fingerprinting and photographing of workers; no firing at will; the hearing of suspension charges before a workers' committee; old age pensions paid entirely by the Navy Yard; a 10% increase for night work; and the recognition of their union, the TUUL Shop Committee. [Hand-written note, F. Jensen, Acting Master Machinist, Machine Shop, to Commander Manning, Shop Superintendent, 24 May 1932, enclosing copy of “RED DREADNOUGHT,” Vol. II #3, May 1932, published by the Brooklyn Navy Yard Shop Nucleus #1 of the Communist League of Struggle, 212 East 9th Street, NYC; P9-2; E322/1932-34; RG181; NA-NY. The Trade Union Unity League was a CP-sponsored “dual” labor federation that existed 1929-1934.]

Late in the decade party organizers distributed flyers at the Yard's gates.  In February 1938 or thereabouts a group calling itself the CP branch of the Navy Yard took Commandant Woodward to task in a leaflet for a recent speech in which he promoted the construction of battleships in private shipyards for the sake of preparedness; this the same admiral they pointed out who had promised his workers at the launch of the Honolulu that he would do everything in his power to keep them employed.  The leaflet opposed the spending of “billions of the people's dollars to protect the interests of Wall Street,” saying that the private shipyards made their money through low labor standards and charging high fees to the government: standard war profiteering.  The American government was of sufficient size to oversee the building of all its ships.  If the rich wanted a larger navy let the big corporations pay the costs. ["OUR ADMIRAL STEPS OUT," flyer, by Communist Party - Brooklyn Navy Yard, n.d., probably early 1938, as refers to 8 February speech by Commandant. From September 1938 through April 1939, Navy Yard security collected issues of a short paper called the “Yard Voice,” put out by the Communist Party - Navy Yard Unit. The September issue is labeled volume 5, suggesting that this paper had been in print since 1933.  All in: RG181; NA-NY.]


Numbers of Women Workers in the Brooklyn Navy Yard
Date # Women # Workers % Women
6/37      185       7229       2.6
12/37      186       7850       2.4
6/38      181       6876       2.6
12/38      196       6880       2.8
6/39      210       8772       2.4
12/39      245       9878       2.5
6/40      265     12234       2.2
12/40      457     14735       3.1
6/41      563     20032       2.8
12/41      811     25920       3.1
Source: “Monthly Report of Civil Personnel Statistics”;  RG181; NA-NY.

Job Titles of African-American Workers in the BNY, 3 October 1941
Grade I    # Grade III   #
Common Laborer   41 Blacksmith   7

Boatbuilder   4
Grade II
Caulker/Chipper  38
Helper Blacksmith    9 Craneman, Electric    2
Helper Coppersmith    10 Driller  78
Helper Electrician    3 Electrician    4
Helper Flangeturner    2 Fireman    3
Helper General   74 Foundry Chipper    6
Helper Machinist    4 Gas Cutter    4
Helper Rigger   33 Joiner    3
Helper Sheetmetal    3 Machinist  19
Helper Shipfitter   18 Machine Operator    2
Helper Woodworker    5 Melter    1
Holder-On   12 Molder    1
Classified Laborer 197 Ordnanceman    1
Rivet Heater   25 Packer    7
Stevedore    2 Painter    8
Apprentice Machinist    1 Pipe Coverer    4
Apprentice Pipefitter    2 Plumber    1
Apprentice Sheetmetal    1 Rigger   18
Total Grade II 401 Riveter   16

Sailmaker    2
Group IVa
Sewer   20
Leadingman Laborer    3 Sheetmetal    33
Leader Laborer    3 Shipfitter    7
Total IVa    6 Welder, Electric  15

Welder, Gas    3
Group IVb
Wharfbuilder    1
Clerk   24 Total Grade III 308
Draftsman     8

Elevator Conductor     3

Messenger     9

Total IVb   44 Total All Workers 800
Source: “The President's Committee of Fair Employment Practice requests information regarding racial employment in the navy yards,” Letter, Commandant, to Secretary of the Navy, 3 October 1941; RG181; NA-NY.


John R Stobo        ©            February 2005