Labor History Time Line for the Brooklyn Navy Yard

1800s       1900s                                                                                                 Back                 Home Page

1798:  Navy Department established.*

  U.S. government establishes navy yard on a tract of land it buys on the west side of Wallabout Bay, an indentation of the East River, in what was then the city of Brooklyn.  The navy yard is known officially until 1946 as the New York Navy Yard, but called the Brooklyn Navy Yard by the public.  [The yard is renamed the New York Naval Shipyard after World War II.]  At start, civilians often held most important administrative positions.  In 1813, command of navy yards is given solely to line officers and by end of Civil War naval officers have assumed most all top-level posts.*

1833:  Work force reported as a "few hundred." [New York Times, 1870]

31 March 1840:  President Martin Van Buren issues an executive order mandating a 10-hour day with no loss of pay for all federal workers.  (Spero, Government as Employer)  [Until the mid-1930s the work-week is six days.]

1853/1854:  Congress creates a classification system for white-collar jobs in Depts. of Treasury, War, Navy, Interior, and Post Office. 
Four classes are established: 1, 2 ,3 , 4, in ascending order of pay.*

1859:  Major corruption scandals concerning the awarding of purchasing contracts are revealed at Brooklyn and Philadelphia navy yards.  At this time, master mechanics, the highest level of civilian employee in the navy yards, were often appointed through political patronage and could act independently of naval management.  In addition to their influence in purchasing goods, starting in 1858* they were given authority to hire trade workers, another source of politcal patronage and potential corruption.  When the party in Washington is different from the party in control of Brooklyn and/or the neighborhoods surrounding the navy yard, fights over patronage are often intense and often lead to charges of favoritism and corruption.

Periodic purchasing scandals continue into early twentieth century.

August 1862: First prevailing-wages law for navy yards comes into effect, stating that hours and wages of a navy yard are to conform as nearly as is consistent with the public interest with those of private establishments in its immediate vicinity.  This determination is to be made by the commandant, subject to the approval of the Secretary of the Navy.  (Spero, Government as Employer)

Civil War:  Work force at BNY rises to 7000.  Falls to 2750 by beginning of 1866.

April 1865:  Trade workers in BNY strike for about three weeks in reaction to post-Civil War pay cut.  Caulkers strike again briefly in September over another attempted pay cut.

June 1865:  Navy Department institutes policy of giving war veterans preference in hiring in navy yards and other shore establishments.

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Eight-Hour Day Fight

1868:  Congress enacts eight-hour day for government employees.  Secretaries of War and Navy uses ambiguity in law to reduce pay accordingly for their civilian employees.
1869:  After unions protest, President Ulysses Grant issues proclamation on 21 May against reducing pay, stating intent of law is for workers to get previous ten hours pay for working the new eight-hour day.
1872:  Grant issues second proclamation on 13 May against reducing pay.  On 18 May Congress passes joint resolution restoring lost pay to all those denied it.
October 1877:  Secretary of the Navy sets hours as 10 per day in spring and summer, and 8 in fall and winter, with same pay as 10-hour day.  November 1877:  Secretary reaffirms right of workers to work 8-hour days.  May work 10-hour day, at extra pay.
September 1878:  Secretary of the Navy states that 8-hour day with 10 hours pay is to be the norm.  But allows navy yards to contract for workers willing to work 10-hour day.  In general this allows navy yards to force employees to work 10-hour days in spring and summer at no extra pay.
November 1881:  Workers in navy yards form united committee to press Congress to give them overtime pay for extra hours worked since 1877.  Ex-General Butler collects power of attorney from over 8000 navy yard employees and sues in court in April 1882.  [Court will find for workers, but Congress does not pass appropriation legislation to pay claim until 1934!  Eleven still-surviving BNY workers split $11,000.]
1882:  Navy yards go on eight-hour days.
1892:  Congress confirms eight-hour day for all federal employees.
1899:  In response to unions' complaints that during Spanish-American War many navy yard workers worked at straight-time rate on overtime, Secretary of Navy orders that all overtime be paid at time-and-a-half.
1870:  Work force reported as being between 1500 to 2200. 1873:  Numbers working put at 1275. [New York TImes]  From about this time until World War I rumors periodically pop up that various navy yards may be closed.  New Orleans and Pensacola navy yards will be closed after Spanish-American war ends.  Pensacola is transformed into a naval air station.  In 1883, the Washington Navy Yard is converted to a naval arsenal.

c. 1865 - 1890:
  U.S. Navy falls into decline.  Little new construction; navy yards generally scrape by on repair work.  Several unfinished wooden ships left to rot in BNY.

BNY slowly expands in size as southern shore of Wallabout Bay is land-filled.

April 1874:  Numbers reported working in BNY is 996.

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30 June 1876:  In response to charges that navy yards hire laborers just before elections in return for their votes for specified candidates and then releases them afterward [often having done little to no work in the duration], Congress passes law that forbids navy yards from increasing their forces within 60 days of a national election except when the Secretary of the Navy rules that it is necessary.

The Call for Reform in Hiring

Beginning of Reform:  In June 1877 Secretary of the Navy Thompson issues a circular to navy yard commandants concerning President Haye's recent warning about federal officers interfering in elections.  Political patronage is no longer to be a factor in the hiring of laborers and mechanics; they can be judged only on their skill and effiency.  No discharges are to be made for political reasons.  To aid in implementing this policy, commandants are given full responsibility for the civil administration of their yards, thereby excluding congressmen and other local political leaders from decisions involving hirings and firings.
1882:  Charges that political patronage is continuing in navy yards leads the Secretary of Navy to begin investigation.
1883:  In response to the assassination of President Garfield in 1881 and general concerns about corruption and patronage in the federal system, the United States Civil Service Commission is created by Congress.  Initially, only a small percentage of government workers is scheduled in.  The service is most noted for creating the "merit" system of employment, where applicants are rated as to their worth and hired accordingly.  Employees are to be periodically rated as to their job performance and their resultant efficiency ratings are used to determine raises, promotions, and lay-offs.  But power to determine worker performance lies solely with management.
May 1884:  Brooklyn Civil Service Reform Association reports patronage is still in extensive use in BNY.
October 1885:  The Secretary of Navy orders civilian managers in navy yards to enforce anti-patronage order of 1877 or risk discharge themselves.  He promises to protect them from any political repercussions in carrying out the policy.
September 1888: Brooklyn Civil Service Reform Association writes to the president asking that navy yard employees be included in civil service, claiming that patronage is still being practiced in BNY in both whilte- and blue-collar jobs.
1888:  Just before national elections, BNY hires 1000 workers; lets them go shortly thereafter.
1890-1891:  New charges of patronage in BNY hiring are made.
April 1891:  Secretary of Navy Tracy orders that as of June all foremen and master positions in BNY will be declared "open" and that a board of naval officers will hold exams in May to examine all applicants for these positions.  They will be judged on their skill, experience, physical fitness, and character and reputation.  Must be U.S. citizens.  Secretary will make final recommendations.
September 1891:  New hiring rules for trade workers and laborers put into effect at BNY.  Those desiring jobs will now come to the Yard's newly-established Labor Board* to fill out an application, and they will need to supply references.  Then they are to be interviewed by an officer.  If they pass, they are put on three weeks probation.   Secretary of the Navy Tracy says that with U.S. commencing to build new metal warships, the Navy can no longer allow patronage jobs for those unable to do the work.
1892:  Civilian navy yard workforce placed under charge of the Assistant Secretary of the Navy.*
July 1895:  Navy Department charges that Yard officials are still manipulating regulations to keep favored workers on the rolls.

1883:  Classification scheme for white-collar jobs expanded to ten classes: A, B, C, D, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, in ascending order of pay.*
1890s:  BNY builds two new dry docks on southern shore of bay.  In mid-90s the Navy sells the south-eastern shore of Wallabout Bay to City of Brooklyn, which converts it into a greenmarket.  The Yard creates an armament storage facility and extra piers on an islet in middle of bay and builds a causeway out to it.  The yard is generally cleaned up and old buildings razed.  New equipment and machinery purchased.

1896:  White-collar navy yard workers are incorporated into the civil service.  They eventually become the IVb group in the navy yards' civil-service classification.  Blue-collar workers remain outside, but the Navy Department cannot change work-rules without USCSC approval.

May 1897:  Assistant Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt visits BNY to investigate continuing charges of favoritism in hirings and dismissals.  He reports that most complaints are from aging Civil War veterans the Yard is releasing.

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1902: BNY gets its first modern building way in order to construct its first metal battleship, the Connecticut.  It is the first of a series of BNY battleships that continues into early 1920s. 1909-1912:  Builds fourth dry dock.

1901:  Congress grants 15 days leave with pay (vacation) to government trade workers.  White-collar federal workers have had it since late nineteenth century.

1901-1910:  Series of "gag-orders" proclaimed by executive order by Presidents Roosevelt and Taft.  Prevents federal employees from lobbying or taking grievances to anybody except their immediate supervisors.  Appears primarily directed at solely-federal-employee organizations such as postal employees.  Doubt has been expressed whether the gags were applied against blue-collar workers.

1904:  Government grants the Saturday-half holiday [four-hour day with eight-hours pay] during the summer months to DC employees, including those in the Washington Navy Yard.  1908:  Extended to the field service, including BNY. [Note: federal employees worked a 48-hour, 6-day week at this time.]

1908:  Modest injury compensation package is passed by Congress.

1909:  White-collar employees granted paid sick leave.

May 1909:  BNY labor leaders charge that in economy measure President Roosevelt had sanctioned laying off workers during depression and then hiring them back at lower rates of pay.

June 1909:  BNY opens first restaurant for workers.

June 1911:  BNY numbers reported at 4500.  October 1914:  Rolls up to 5000. [New York Times]

1912:  Lloyd-LaFollette Act passed.  Gives federal employees the right to openly join unions and calls for "due-process" in discipline.  This law does not grant unions the right to formal recognition in the federal sector; it only allows for government workers to be union members without retribution and for them and their unions to openly petition management and the government for redress of grievances.  As such, Congressional lobbying becomes the primary tool for federal employees and their unions to advance their agenda.  The act also says government workers cannot belong to organizations advocating the right to strike the federal government.

8 December 1912:  Blue-collar navy yard workers are incorporated into the civil service by an executive order of President Taft, to take effect by 30 June 1913.  They retain those older labor relations mechanisms, such as wage boards, that are in place at time of incorporation.  In effect, these workers, in Groups I, II, III, and IVa, become a subgroup of the overall CSC.

1912-1917:  U.S. Government and Civil Service begin devising an "efficiency rating system" to systematically judge all workers on their performance.  Put aside during World War I.

Autumn 1915:  Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin Roosevelt opens up national wage board hearings to labor representatives.  [Wage boards are suspended during U.S. involvement in World War I.]

1915:  Union pressure causes Congress to outlaw use of scientific managment in navy yards and arsenals.

1916:  Extensive worker compensation program enacted for federal employees         
Leave with pay increased to 30 days per year.

February 1917: Photo IDs issued for first time to BNY workers.  Number working at Yard up to 7000. [New York Times]

World War I:

BNY continues to build battleships, assembles about 60 wooden subchasers, and serves as a major repair yard.  BNY's building way is lengthened and a second one added next to it.

February 1917:  Work is ordered to be speeded up at navy yards.

Workers put on 10-hour days and given time-and-a-half overtime pay.

Navy yards go on a seven-day week after war is declared and remain on it until November 1918.

Rolls increase to almost 20,000.

Navy brings large number of WAVEs into navy yards and Department office.  They perform mostly administrative work.

Wages:  Wage boards suspended.  Congress grants naval employees raises in March 1917 to all earning under $1800 per year.   During the war, wage adjustments are made by the Shipbuilding Labor Adjustment Board of the Emergency Fleet Corporation.  LAB continues to make awards until September 1920.  Awards made in November 1918 are substantial, up to 33%.

1918:  Beneficial Suggestions program begins in navy yards; very modest awards given out.

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September 1921:  Wage boards reconvene.  The next wage adjustment is made during a depression, and navy yard workers receive about a 12% drop in wages.
<>In adjustments in May and July 1923 their previous rates are restored.  January 1924:  wage adjustments return to an annual cycle.

  Pensions instituted by federal government for its employees.

1920:  Navy yards continue production levels for two years after war's end.  Then, after Washington naval disarmament treaty is signed, they start discharging workers in huge numbers.  10,000 released in BNY by summer of 1921.
1921:  Navy Department establishes Navy Yard Division to handle civilian personnel matters.  Renamed Shore Establishments Division in 1934.*

July 1921 - November 1922:
  Navy yards placed on 5-day week as a work-spreading measure.  Continuous protest by BNY workers and their unions, as well as other navy yard workers, and the AFL.

1921-1924:  A new efficiency rating system brought into civil service.  Methods of rating workers' efficiency will be continually changed from this time forth.

1922:  Navy Department institutes internal "shop committees system" to handle labor relations with its civilian workers.  Labor unions at first dominate the committees but are unable to forbid non-union workers from being elected.  By the end of the decade, unions are boycotting the system, calling the committees company unions.  But under Lloyd-Lafollette Act, union representatives can still have unoffical talks with navy yard management.

1922, 1930:  Washington and London naval disarmament treaties cut world navies down to smaller sizes and set limits and prohibitions on what kinds of warships can be built in future.  Further, the three Republican administrations of 1921-1933 emphasize parsimony in naval budget.  U.S. navy declines rapidly and only a small amount of new construction is authorized, mostly cruisers and battleship modernization.  Work rolls in all navy yards drop sharply.  December 1921:  BNY rolls down to 5000.  Will hover around 3500 for most of 1920s.

1923:  Classification Act is passed by Congress to standardize job classifications and pay rates for all white-collar workers [IVbs in navy yards] in District of Columbia.  Whilte-collar positions are authorized and appropriated for individually by Congress, unlike blue-collar positions which are paid for en masse and pro rata out of various construction and repair budgets allocated to each navy yard.

1928:  Welch Act authorizes field service [non-D.C. federal workers] to survey their white-collar workers and bring their jobs into accordance with Classification Act.

1922 - 1930:  With exception of one new cruiser, the BNY functions primarily as a repair yard in the 1920s.  Demolishing the two unfinished battleships halted due to the disarmament treaty also provides some work.  Throughout this period navy yard workers and unions lobby Congress constantly for more construction and repair work.

February 1929:  Congress passes Dallinger amendment to naval appropriations bill.  Calls for new warship construction to be evenly divided between navy yards and private shipyards.  With some exceptions, some variation of this language is included in all new naval construction bills throughout 1930s.

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Great Depression Years

Note:  Federal workers are excluded by law from most of the famous labor legislation of these years:
(a) the Norris-LaGuardia Act of 1931, which decriminalized unions;
(b) the NIRA, passed in June 1933, which permitted in its section 7(a) the right for workers to organize;
(c) the Wagner Act of 1935, which finally fully legalized labor unions;
(d) the Social Security Act of 1937 [government workers had acquired a pension plan of their own in 1920];
(e) the Fair Labor Standards Act (FSLA) of 1938, which established the minimum wage and the forty-hour work week; and,
(f) the Bacon-Davis (1931) and Walsh-Healey (1936) Acts, which set minimum wage and work standards for work contracted out to private industry by the federal government.
1930 - 1936:  New construction consists of cruisers and smaller naval and coast guard vessels.

November 1929: 
In response to the stock-market crash, the Secretary of the Navy unilaterally extends the 1929 wage schedule through 1930.  Wage boards will not meet again until 1940.

May 1930:  Congress raises annual pensions for federal employees from $1000 to $1200, and lowers the retirement age for trade workers from 65 to 62, and for most of the IVbs from 68 to 65.  Anyone with thirty years of service is allowed to retire at 60.

July 1930:  Congress passes the Brookhart Act, which authorizes raises for white-collar workers and then freezes their salaries.  No further schedule-wide pay raises for white-collars [IVbs in navy yards] are awarded until World War II.  In interim, Navy Department uses various accounting mechanisms to make money available for selected raises.

August 1930: Downgrading of trade classifications begins.  In reviewing data from the navy yards the Secretary of the Navy notices that a large proportion of the trade workers in each yard are in the maximum job classification.  [Trades have three rates: maximum, intermediate, and minimum; also called first-class, second-class, and third class, the second class being paid less than first and the third being paid less than second.]  This is due in part to the Navy's policy of keeping a core of top-rated workers on the rolls during the hard times of the 1920s.

The Secretary orders each yard's Commandant to start a process by which a more even distribution of each yard's trades' classifications is to be obtained.  Throughout the 1930s this is slowly done, mostly by laying off higher-class workers and then rehiring them or others in at a lower rate.  Throughout the 1930s workers and unions accuse navy yards of deliberately manipulating efficiency ratings in order to justify individual layoffs.

September 1930:  Workforce at BNY, at 3900 in March 1929, falls to all-time low of just under 3000.  New York Times puts the number at 2700.  [Civil service regulations allow for agencies to keep those on temporary lay-off lists (those expected to be recalled within 6 months) on the official work rolls.]  Navy Department comes under intense political pressure to keep layoffs to minimum.

3 March 1931:  The Saturday half-holiday is extended to the entire year for all federal workers as a means to spread work.  [Employees work a 5½-day week of 44 hours and receive 48 hours pay.]

30 December 1931:  Navy Department establishes a minimum and maximum work-force level for each navy yard.  BNY's is set at 3000-3600.  By the summer of 1934, with new work, BNY's rolls rise above 4000 and begin a slow rise toward their World War II peak.

The fight over wages and hours

1 July 1932:  The Economy Act, covering all federal employees, is passed by Congress.   The Act reduces the work week to 5 days/40 hours, at 44 hours pay, an 8.3% reduction.  The Act also cancels all vacation time [then 30 days per year] for one year, another effective cut in pay.  It prohibits all promotions and new hires.  [When restored, vacation is limited to two weeks.]
Section 213 of Act further specifies that in administering reductions in force (RIFs) any married person living with his or her spouse who was in a class to be reduced, is to be dismissed before any other persons in that class, if the spouse is also in the service of the federal government or the District of Columbia.
[The Secretary of the Navy shortly thereafter reclassifies all navy yard employees as "temporary," to exempt them from the hiring prohibition.]
October 1932:  After petitioning by workers, the Navy Department authorizes navy yards to rotate work among trade workers in navy yards as a way to avoid outright layoffs.  This policy is in opposition to civil service regulations.  Rotation is used periodically until 1937.
April 1933:  Franklin Roosevelt's ascendacy to the presidency initially makes the situation worse.  One of Congress's first acts is to return the work week to 5½ days/44 hours, but at 40 hours pay, making the total cut in pay now 15%.
August 1933:  The Navy Department announces another cut-back: this time to a 5-day/40-hour week, at 32 hours pay, making the total cut now 33%.
September 1933:  After much protest, the Navy restores its previous month's pay cut.  Navy yards go on a rotating schedule that alternates a 5½-day week with a 4½-day week, with the yards closed every other Monday.
April 1934:  Under intense labor lobbying Congress passes over FDR's veto a new appropriation act that in the "Thomas" amendment sets the work week for federal employees covered by wage boards [the blue-collar workers] at 5 days/40 hours at 48 hours of pay, in effect creating the 40-hour work week for federal trade workers several years before the FSLA is passed.  Congress further rescinds 5% of the pay cut and legislates two further annual 5% rescinsions.  The act also states that if the Navy Department convenes any Wage Boards, it cannot recommend wages lower than those in the 1929 schedule.
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June 1933:
  National Industrial Recovery Act is enacted.  Among its many provisions, $238,000,000 is allocated to build warships as a public works project.

March 1934:  First Vinson-Trammell Act is passed.  It authorizes a five-year program to build U.S. navy up to treaty limits with new ships.  Most of navy's old destroyers and submarines are replaced by this construction.  This new construction revives navy yards and private shipyards and also lays the groundwork for a new CIO union, the Industrial Union of Marine and Shipworkers of America (IUMSWA) to emerge in the private yards.

1933 - 1942:  Thousands of unemployed workers take WPA and other public-assistance jobs in the BNY.  They perform clerical duties and basic repair and maintenance in shops.  Later on, they help to construct new facilities in Yard.  1939 - 1943:  Thousands of workers are hired by outside contractors to build new facilities such as new dry docks and assembling buildings, when BNY expands to east side of Wallabout Bay.

July 1936:  Per March 1936 act, vacation for federal employees is expanded to 26 days.  Also, for first time, blue-collar workers are given paid sick leave.

September 1937:  Newly-hired laborers [Grade I workers], heretofore outside of civil service are now to be incorporated into civil service.

1936:  London disarmament conference talks are inconclusive, as Japan refuses to sign accord.  President Roosevelt orders construction of new battleships, prohibited under the previous treaties, to begin.

1937:  BNY lays keel of battleship North Carolina.  From then until 1960 all new construction in BNY consists of battleships and aricraft carriers [except for eight LSTs built during World War II].

26 July 1937:  Congress repeals Section 213 of Economy Act, so-called "marriage clause."  Despite supposedly gender-neutrality of the legislation's language, women were overwhelmingly discharged as opposed to men.  Clause seems to have little application in navy yards.

17 May 1938:  Second Vinson naval construction bill is passed.  It authorizes the Navy to build up to 10% over the treaty limits.  1940:  Third Vinson bill is passed, increasing the size of the Navy by another 11%.  After the fall of France in May, a fourth Vinson bill is enacted, calling for an additional 70% enlargement of the Navy.

April 1938:  The Chief Examiner of the Civil Service Commission, in Washington, releases a report indicting many in civilian management at BNY of hiring frauds.  Over previous several years 155 BNY workers are accused of submitting false information on their job applications and CSC orders that they be fired.  For enabling employees to submit falsehoods, generally by verifying false statements made on applications by others, another sixty-eight workers in the Yard are suspended for periods from three to 30 days.  In addition, the Commission and Department handed down instructions to reorganize the Yard's Labor Board [hiring office].  Report points to a near collapse in the civil service regulations as to hiring on the part of civilian management and a lack of appropriate supervision on the part of the local navy and commission offices.  BNY institutes overhaul of its hiring procedures.

June 1938:  Upon recommendation of Civil Service Commission, President Roosevelt issues executive order directing that each executive agency and department establish a personnel office.  Navy Department establishes Division of Personnel Supervision and Management, which exists along side of SED.*

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1939 - 1941 - The navy yards prepare for war:  As navy yard rolls increase almost exponentially, due to the huge upsurge in warship production brought about by the international tensions that finally lead to the outbreak of war in Europe in September 1939, they find they no longer can hire enough skilled labor.  Shortly after the war begins, President Roosevelt declares a "limited emergency" to exist.  The Navy Department, Civil Service, and the federal government undertake a series of actions to increase their labor supply.  These measures increase in scope after fall of France in May 1940.  Among the many actions are:

Changes in Hiring Procedures:
- Hiring some people without resort to civil service regulations.  Shortly after the U.S. enters World War II all navy yard employees are hired as these "unclassified appointments."
- Increasing the number of people hired as "temporaries."
- Lowering the hiring age and raising the retiring age.
- Loosening the minimal physical requirments to be hired.
- Requesting that private shipyards and ordering navy yards not to "poach" from each other.

New Training and Job De-Classification:
- More Apprentices are brought on in each trade.
- "In-Service Training" is provided to many to upgrade skills.
- The new position of "Helper-Trainee" is created.  This is a Grade II position in which people are given a crash course in a particular aspect of an overall skill and then promoted to Grade III.  Applicants still need to fulfill basic entry and civil-service requirements.  Trade workers and their unions protest this as a dilution of their job descriptions.
- Still in need of help, a further diluted position, the "Mechanic-Learner" is created for the navy yards.
  These are for people basically without previously-needed minimal requirements for navy yard jobs. Workers hired under this title are given all their job training from scratch in a particular job task and are classified as Grade II.  This is the job title under which most unskilled unclassifed positions are created for World War II.

Hours and Benefits are Changed:
May 1940:  President Roosevelt authorizes the work week to be expanded up to 48 hours per week, including work on Sundays; those hours over 40 are to be paid at overtime rates.  Shift work is also encouraged.
August 1940: 7000 of 15,000 then working in BNY are on a six-day week.
15 January 1941:  Navy Department authorizes navy yards to establish a six-day, forty-eight-hour work week for almost all workers and to build up their second and third shifts.  Permission is granted to work over 48 hours per week if necessary.
30 July 1941: President issues an executive order authorizing overtime pay for those lower-level IVbs who up to then were not legally entitled to it and had worked overtime without pay.
December 1941:  In BNY, 20.2% of workers are on a 56-hour, seven-day work week; another 20.4% work 61 hours per week.
28 June 1940:  Omnibus defense bill passes.  It allows navy employees whose work is considered necessary to work through their vacations during the emergency and still receive vacation pay, i.e., receive double-pay, but Department does not immediately implement the new policy.
February 1941:  Navy Department orders that vacation and unpaid leave can be granted in increments of not less than one week, as finding replacements for shorter periods has become too difficult.
 5 July 1941:  President Roosevelt issues executive order to extend this practice to the entire federal service.  The EO also allows agencies to deny vacations if felt necessary and pay double for vacation days worked.

New Sources of Labor Introduced:
By the summer of 1941 the ready supply of white, male, skilled and semi-skilled labor has dried up, and the government and private business are forced to turn to new sources of labor previously prohibited from participating, or at least in more than minimal numbers, in the manufacturing sector.

June 1941:  The Civil Service Commission suggests to all government agencies that they hire and train women where ever a labor shortage exists.
September 1941:  The Navy Department urges naval appointing officers to hire women wherever possible to combat labor shortages and to provide the women with appropriate training, which could include pre-employment vocational schooling.
During the 1930s the BNY had a small percentage of women workers, 2 -3% of the total force, almost all in administrative positions.  There was one shop, the Flag Loft, that employed women exclusively.


25 June 1941:  President Roosevelt issues Executive Order 8802, stating that as discriminatory hiring practices hindered defense production and harmed morale, that the government “reaffirmed” its policy of not discriminating in employing workers in government or defense industries for reasons of race, creed, color, or national origin.  Further, it was the duty of employers and labor organizations to provide for the “full and equitable participation of all workers in defense industries.”
All government agencies involved in defense production had to take “special measures” to assure their programs did not discriminate. 
The Committee on Fair Employment Practice is created toadminister the new policy.
Fall 1941:  The Navy Department issues regulations to conform with the new decree.

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Summer 1939:  Congress passes the Hatch Act.  This law strengthens previous Civil-Service restrictions against federal employees taking part in politics by prohibiting them from taking any “active” part in political campaigns or in their management, although they do retain the right to vote and express their political opinions as they choose.  Whereas infractions were previously only considered violations of civil-service regulations, now such violations are made illegal.  Section 9a of the Hatch Act revises federal workers' right to their own personal political opinions by specifically prohibiting 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 can not hire, and if already employed they have to fire, members of groups such as the communist party, Nazi party, or the German bund.

June 1940:  The CSC gives the Navy Department permission to revise hiring procedure for trade workers and allow local work sites to reject candidates without giving an explanation.  In addition to lack of ability, any U.S. defense agency can now reject someone if that person is already employed in a private defense position, or if the department suspects the individual of disloyalty to the U.S. due to any subversive activities, suspected affiliation with proscribed groups, for birth in certain foreign countries, and for extended residence in, or numerous visits to, certain foreign countries, as well as membership in Hatch-proscribed organizations.

28 June 1940:
  In the omnibus defense act passed on this date is a clause that allows the War and Navy Departments to suspend their civilian employees' Lloyd-LaFollette rights [1912] if it is felt it is necessary to do for national security reasons.  This severely restricts federal employees' right to due process in terminations made for "security" reasons.

In 1940, the size of the BNY's police force triples.  All people entering Yard, civilian or military, are ordered to produce ID badges or face arrest.

June 1941:  On the basis of a clause applicable to all federal employees in new appropriation bill, the Navy Department issues order that all present employees and new hires must sign affidavits before a notary public stating that they do not belong to a subversive organization advocating the violent overthrow of the American government.

Winter 1940:  Navy yards hold first wage-board hearings since 1929.  From Summer to Fall of June 1940, the national Wage Board meets in Washington.  In November 1940 Secretary of the Navy announces very small increases, outraging organized labor and most workers.

November 1940 - June 1941:  The newly-created Shipbuilding Stabilization Committee, with representatives from the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), the Navy Department, the Maritime Commission, the private shipbuilding industry, and the AFL and CIO, negotiate four zonal wage standards for private shipbuilding industry.  In June 1941, a schedule for East Coast shipyards is announced, awarding generous raises.

October 1941:  Based upon SSC awards, the Secretary of the Navy unilaterally announces a new wage schedule for trades in the navy yards that equalizes wages for all east coast yards.  Accordingly, some raises are quite significant.

September 1940: Congress passes the Selective Training and Service Act, America's first peacetime draft.  The law requires all men between 21 and 35 to register and for 1.2 million to be drafted for a one year of service.  Its passage reduces the traditional pool of shipyard labor.  The law guarantees that government workers who are drafted or who volunteer under the terms set out in the law will be restored to their old job or one of “like seniority, status, and pay.”  In addition, on the first year back on the job the restored person can be discharged only for cause.  The law grants 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.  In October 1941, Congress extends the draft for another eighteen months.

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World War II

7 December 1941: U.S. enters World War II.  Among the several battleships sunk at Pearl Harbor is the Arizona, built at the BNY.  During the war, the BNY finishes two battleships begun before the U.S. entry into the war. [Another one was finished in April 1941.]  The Yard builds two aircraft carriers during the war and finishes two others within seven months of the war's end.  It also builds eight LSTs: tank carriers.  In addition to finishing up and equipping warships built by private shipyards in the metropolitan area the BNY is a major repair yard.

At the peak of the war the BNY employs 68,000 workers and has annexes throughout the Port, including a seventh dry dock at Bayonne, New Jersey.

March 1942:  The Navy Department, with CSC approval, abandons civil-service hiring procedures for most jobs.  It hires workers as unclassified appointments, for the "duration and six months."  Virtually anyone meeting minimal physical requirements and age limits can get a job at a navy yard.

Labor Recognition: [Federal workers and their workers pledge full cooperation for the war effort.  Unions in private industry pledge not to strike during war.]  August 1942:  Navy Department sets up local and national labor-managment committees with elected worker representatives.  First national meeting is in October.  This amounts to de facto union recognition for federal trade workers for the duration of the war, but does not include the so-called "maintenance" agreements signed with unions in private sector.

Wages:  During the war Navy Department initially continues to determine wage increases in context of those awarded by SSC [July 1942] but soon switches to using local wage surveys to adjust civilian wages.

Health and Safety:  Asbestos as a shipbuilding product is extensively used in war years.  With the huge increase in numbers of people working in navy yards, exposure rate to the mineral, especially in repair work, is wide-spread.  While some precautions were taken in Yard shops as to the cutting and handling of asbestos materials [the disease asbestosis was recognized early in the 20th century] before the war began, virtually nothing is done to protect civilian workers aboard ships under repair or construction.

February 1942: Payroll deductions for war bonds begins.

February 1942:  Navy Department awards BNY an "E" [for excellence] pennant.  In August the Yard is awarded the first of many continuing excellence stars to the pennant

4 July 1942:  The BNY remains open on Independence Day.  From then on, it and other navy yards work all holidays for the duration of war.

August 1942: Women begin working in trade jobs in the Brooklyn Navy Yard.  The initial group of 125 is hired through lengthy civil service procedures begun before March 1942.  After this date, women are hired as unclassifieds.   By January 1945 the the BNY has 4657 women in production work [3.4% of total force] and about 2300 women in IVb jobs.  It is the smallest perecentage of women in trade work of any navy yard.  After the war ends, almost all are laid off within six months.

African-American workers in the BNY during World War II:  Before the war, the percentage of black workers in Yard is small.  In 1934, they are approximately 6.2% of the total force; about half are in Grade I and there are none in managerial trade positions.  As the Yard work force increases by large numbers in the late 1930s, the black percentage does not keep up and falls to 3% by the end of 1940.
By June 1941, the percentage is about 3.7.
Of the first 125 women hired in 1942, twelve are African-American.
During the war about 5500 black and other minority workers are employed in the BNY.  As most are hired as unclassifieds, they are released within six months of end of war.
By 1948 the proportion of minority workers at the yard is about two per cent.
Over the next 16 years, the proportion of black workers at the BNY slowly rises until at the time of the announcement of Yard's closing, they represent almost 20% of the Yard's force.

FEPC:  From 1943 to 1945, 83 FEPC cases are filed involving the Brooklyn Navy Yard: 44 by black men; 18 by black women; 19 by Jewish men; and two by others. Of these, 54 are dismissed by the FEPC on their merits; 7 are withdrawn by the complainants, and 22 are deemed by the complainant to be satisfactorily adjusted.

Surveillance:  The Navy Department had always conducted some surveillance of its civilian workers, such as with German-Americans in World War I.  During the 1920s and 1930s the CPUSA and other leftist organizations try to organize in the BNY, drawing official attention.  As international tensions rise in the late 1930s and war breaks out in Europe, surveillance is increased drastically in the BNY and other federal defense plants.  The CSC conducts investigations on job applicants and the FBI, local police, and Naval Intelligence conduct investigations on employees on an increasing scale, especially after U.S. enters the war.  In particular, German and Italian sympathizers are sought for, as well as communists and other leftists.  Certain unions, like the BNY branch of the CIO FAECT [Federation of Architects, Engineers, Chemists, and Technicians], who are active among the Yard's draftsmen, come under particular scrutiny and punitive action.

1943:  In order to help finance the war, the federal income tax is extended to most of the working population and withholding is introduced as the primary means of collecting it.

March 1943: Absenteeism in defense work, including navy yards, attracts Congressional attention.  It remains a problem throughout war and Congress considers various remedies to combat it, including drafting workers into federal defense work.

In general, navy yard and other federal defense workers are urged under the banner of patriotism to maximize their production and keep their complaints to a minimum. To help keep workers' morale high and to boost the selling of war bonds, the BNY sponsors lunch-time rallies, entertainment, and boxing events.

The Draft:  The government grants deferments for the war's duration to navy yard positions as well as other defense jobs.
June 1944: Congress passes the Veterans' Preference Act, which strengthens the rights of ex-federal employee veterans to return to their government jobs.  It gives them reinstatement rights to any job for which they are qualified, with no time limits for applying.  In 1945, fifteen per cent of government workers have veteran preference.  By 1949, the percentage has risen to fourty-seven per cent.  This policy creates much strife in navy yards such as the BNY as many draft-deferred workers are let go after war's end.

V-E Day, 7 May 1945:  The war in Europe ends.  People begin quitting their jobs at a rate of up to 1000 per week in the BNY over the next four months, impelling the Yard to intensify its recruitment drives over the summer.

July 1945:  Labor conditions in BNY draw national attention.  The BNY and other navy yards are charged, among other things, with hoarding labor and not using their work forces effectively.  It is found that the large influx of workers into the navy yards, many with little shipyard background, trade or managerial, has caused the efficiency of navy yards to drop.  The House of Representatives Naval Subcommittee issues a report calling for: a drastic revision of the grievance procedure to permit prompt and impartial settlement of differences; a simplification of the efficiency rating system for blue-collar workers to make it more easily understood by them; an adjustment of wages to reduce to a minimum the differences between navy yard and private industry; and, an improvement in food service and transportation services.  Problems in the last two areas are blamed for workers' "whistle-jumping" and "clock watching." The Yard had been attempting to control these actions through police and disciplinary action.

V-J Day, 15 August 1945:  War ends in the Pacific.  BNY and other navy yards close for two days in celebration.  On 1 September, the peace treaty with Japan is signed on board the Missouri, another battleship built at the BNY.

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September 1945:  Navy yards revert to a 40-hour, 5-day work week.

1946-1952:  The BNY performs only repair work.  By late 1950 the Yard's rolls are at about one-fifth its war-time peak.  In 1950, in response to outbreak of the Korean Warit the Yard does finish one carrier it had started during World War II.  From under 10,000, BNY's rolls increase to almost 20,000 for war's duration.  Numbers are reduced 15,000-16,000 through most of rest of 1950s.  Drops down to about 13,000 by 1960 and 10,000 by 1964.
During the 1950s the competition between navy yards and private shipyards becomes intense as the latter has an excess capacity from the war years.  Before their merger in 1955 this competition extends even to AFL and CIO unions: the former strong in the navy yards and the latter with a strong presence in the private shipyards.

The Navy Department reinstitutes local wage boards for setting trades' wages, this time in coordination with the national office.  It also reinstates the shop committee system.

1946-1947:  Legislation is passed to prohibit the right to strike to federal employees.  Up to this point, under Lloyd-LaFollette provisions, federal workers could not belong to organizations advocating the right to strike the government.  In its 1946 appropriations bill Congress fnow forbids government employees themselves the right to strike the government.  This restriction is codified in Taft-Hartley Act of 1947 and has been adjusted in different laws subsequently.

1949:  The Classification Act of 1949 reduces the number of white-collar [IVb in the navy yards] general classifications from five to two and reduces the number of grades within them.

1952-1961:  The BNY constructs 3 aircraft carriers.

19 December 1960:  Fire breaks out on the U.S.S. Constellation, then being fitted out at a pier in the BNY.  4000 workers are working on it when a forklift driver bumps into a kerosene drum.  The spilled liquid falls through holes in the deck and on a lower deck is ignited by a welding torch.  The fire burns for most of the day, fueled by wood planks on scaffolding and cans of paints then on board ship.  Confusion between navy yard firefighters and the NYFD on fire-fighting procedures adds to the mishap.  The NY Fire Department blames naval sloppiness for fire.  Toll: 50 killed; 150 injured.  The Navy Department orders that fuel tanks be kept off ship, flammable liquids be kept to a minimum on board ship, and that wooden planks used for scaffolding be treated to make them fire-resistant.  Temporay wooden structures, like offices, are to be constructed only on open decks.  Better coordination with the NYPD is to be worked out.  A Navy court of inquiry finds no one personally is to be blamed.  The fire causes the ship's commissioning to be delayed for seven months.  Additional accidents will kill six more workers on Constellation before it is completely finished.

1960-1965:  The Yard constructs 6 ATDs, troop-landing vessels.

1962:  The Government adopts the prevailing-wage concept for its entire workforce in the Salary Reform Act.  It sets salaries according to data found by annual surveys of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, an office of the Department of Labor.

January 1962:  President Kennedy issues an executive order granting federal workers the right to formal recognition, and with it the right to bargain over all concerns not already covered by legislation [such as wages].
August 1962:  In the BNY, the Brooklyn Metal Trades Committee wins recognition election and begins negotiating its first contract.

The End of the Brooklyn Navy Yard:

Winter 1961:  Rumors begin to float that the BNY is to be closed.  Over the next four years the AFL-CIO and its Metal Trades Department, the BMTC and its unions and their members, as well as local business and political interests lobby Congress and the President to keep the Yard open.
Navy yards are consistently condemned as being more expensive than private shipyards, especially as to their labor costs.  Many private shipyards at this date are in the South and have no, or company, unions, while navy yards are pressured to pay close to union wages.
By July 1964 the BNY's rolls fall below 10,000 workers.

20 November 1964:  [After the presidential election] DoD Secretary McNamara announces that the Navy will close two navy yards as economy measure: Portsmouth [over ten years], and the Brooklyn Navy Yard [in eighteen months].  Portsmouth is later spared.  Today only it, Norfolk, Puget Sound, and Pearl Harbor are the only remaining navy yards.

Yard rolls then stand at 9600.

Until closing, the Navy transfers willing workers to other shore establishments.

Many attempts are made to save the BNY but all fail.

25 June 1966: The Brooklyn Navy Yard is closed.

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7 February 1969:  After long negotiations New York City takes possession of the BNY site from federal government, with the intention of turning it into an industrial park.  The sale is confirmed in November.

September 1972:  Dr. Irving J Selikoff of Mount Sinai hospital warns of possible latent asbestos perils to shipyard workers.

1986:  New York State passes a law that reopens the statute of limitations on filing for damages from exposure to asbestos, DES, and other toxic chemicals.  After courts rule that the U. S. government can not be sued [under the sovereignty doctrine] for the unsafe use of asbestos in its defense plants, such as the BNY, during World War II and after, many plaintiffs sue the private companies that provided asbestos products to the BNY and other navy yards.


Notes:  These entries are drawn from local and national federal archives, other public documents, various unions' journals, New York newspapers, and selected secondary sources.


John R Stobo     ©        January 2004; October 2004; June 2005*


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