Home                               Labor History                         The Inter-War Era

The Use of Non-Civil Service Workers in the Brooklyn Navy Yard: The Renovation and Expansion of the Navy Yard With Public Assistance- and Contract-Labor
The Hoover Years: The Dry Dock #2 Project
The Early New Deal Years: FERA/TERA/CWA
Relief vs. Wage Labor
The WPA Years and the Turn to Contract Labor
Two New Drydocks for the BNY
Labor Agitation Among Contract Workers

In the years around 1900, the BNY transformed the islet in Wallabout Bay into a major staging area connected to the shore by rail and road.  During the Great War the Yard underwent a great burst of building, adding a second building ways and other major facilities to a facility where much of the physical structure dated back to the Civil War and before [e.g., Dry Dock 1]. Contractors performed much of this construction using their own workers.  In the 1920s, funding dried up not only for shipbuilding but also for the navy yards themselves; not only did establishments like the BNY fail to receive funding for any further construction, but drastically-cut budgets also left the Yard in a constant struggle to keep its shops clean and the soggy dry docks in working order, labor generally performed by its own employees.  In one egregious example, by 1929 Dry Dock 2 had degraded so badly the Navy took it out of commission.  This desperate situation worsened during the early years of the Depression as the government cut back even further on its appropriations.

During the Hoover years, Congress managed to appropriate some funding to navy yards for maintenance projects but generally did so on an ad hoc basis.  The Roosevelt administration took a different tack, extending its substantial stimulus and public assistance programs to the shore establishments themselves as well as to warships they built, putting thousands to work on a substantial number of physical-plant projects.  Much of this work of the 1930s was done with public-assistance labor, then greatly augmented late in the decade and early 1940s by private companies working on contract using their own labor. This labor, like that of the corresponding warship production, proved almost providential in a sense, for when the country entered the second world war its navy yards were already mostly prepared for the struggle, far advanced in a program of repair, renovation, and new construction.

The Hoover Years: The Dry Dock #2 Project
Wallabout Bay had always been hard on dry docks.  The bay, swamp and marsh in colonial times, had since seen much of its shoreline landfilled by the city of Brooklyn and the navy yard, which also dredged out a shipping canal about a staging islet built up in the middle of the bay.  Dry docks one through four, as well as a fair number of shops had therefore been built mostly on land of indeterminate composition, and whose water level rose and fell with the tides. 
[see West, History]

The Navy built Dry Dock Two in lumber in the years 1887-1890 at a cost of $600,000 and it immediately began to fall apart in its muddy site.   A year later it was rebuilt in concrete at a similar cost.  By 1910 some of its altars [the set-back steps of the walls] needed replacement, and all of them were refurbished in 1913-1914, the two projects coming in at $30,000.  Five thousand dollars more of repairs went into the dock's entrance in 1925.  By November 1929 the Yard found the dock once again in bad condition, its walls cracked and much of the concrete softened.  Engineers suggested the whole dock be rebuilt in granite but realizing the cost to be prohibitive they asked that only the entrance way and the head of the dock be so constructed.  They also recommended refacing the altars with concrete and that the dry dock be lengthened as it could now hold no contemporary ships larger than a destroyer.   [Letter, Commandant, to Chief of the Bureau of yards and Docks; 13 November 1929; RG181; NA-NY.]

But another inspection shortly thereafter by the Yard's Public Works Office revealed the dry dock to be in even poorer shape than first reported, especially as to the constituency of the concrete and forecast it to be only a matter of time before the dry dock fell apart.  Based on this report the Commandant took the dock out of commission on 2 December 1929.  And there the matter stood for over a year.  Architects turned out several reconstruction plans but no money was appropriated for any of them. [Memo, PWO, to Commandant; 2 December 1929; Letter, Commandant, to Chief of the BY&D; 2 December 1929; Letter, Chief of BuDocks, to Commandant, NY Navy Yard, 16 January 1930; Letter, Chief of BuDocks, to Commandant, 3 March 1930;  memo, Commandant, to Chief of BuSandA; 22 January 1931; RG181; NA-NY.]

On 6 February 1931, Congress, now convinced of the Depression's permanency, passed a bill called the Emergency Act to boost the economy with public-work projects.  Among its many provisions was $749,000 for the reconstruction of BNY's dry Dock 2.   Though the Yard lacked sufficient drafting and technical staff, and lower-level supervisors, as well as a full set of plans, the Yard's Public Works Department began the work immediately due to the "various serious employment situation,"  establishing a special section for the job with its own supervisor.  The Yard used its own labor for most of the construction, contracting out only that work it was not technically capable of doing itself, such as building the cofferdam [the temporary wall blocking the pit from the bay].  Navy yard employees tore out the old dock and rebuilt it almost from scratch, the men working on shifts in order to spread the work among as many of them as possible.  The Commandant praised the swiftness and "vigor" of the work, which was completed a month early and within budget.  On 27 July 1932, the dry dock was placed back in commission. [Letter, Commandant, to Chief of BuDocks; 29 December 1932; RG181; NA-NY]

The project was not without its human costs though.  Thirteen laborers and five wharfbuilders were injured badly enough to qualify for federal-worker compensation, and a fourteenth laborer was killed outright, when a three-ton slab of concrete collapsed on them.  The official report chose not to apportion human responsibility for the accident but instead saw the falling molding as a misfortunate example of how badly the dock's walls had deteriorated. [Memo, Project Superintendent, to PWO; 18 March 1932;  Letter, Commandant, to US Compensation Commission; 30 March 1932; RG181; NA-NY.]

Near the end of his administration President Hoover and Congress did attempt to
stimulate the economy through more organized federal spending.  In January 1932 Congress introduced a bill to "accelerate public construction in periods of business depression through the creation of an Administration of Public Works and to provide for a more effective coordination and correlation of the public-works functions of the government," under the control of an Administrator of Public Works.  Construction and maintenance of the military establishment was included in the bill.  In comments on the bill, Secretary of the Navy Charles Adams noted that while the Navy Department is a military organization, structured solely for that purpose, that the Bureau of Yards and Docks was "to all intents and purposes a Public Works Administration of the Navy; an integral part of it." A number of projects were authorized for the Ben in July, such as an overhaul of the power plant and general maintenance. However, it was too little too late in terms of giving Hoover a chance at re-election, but the bill did preview the type of programs that were soon to be instituted. [See web chapter: 1932 - A Policy Formal and Otherwise Develops; Letter, Adams, to Chairman, Com. on Executive Depts, H.R.; 28 January 1932; RG181; NA-NY.]


The Early New Deal Years: FERA/TERA/CWA
From a slow start, state and federally sponsored public-assistance labor became a mainstay of the renovation and construction of the country's navy yards during the pre-war Roosevelt years.  In addition to the PWA money legislated directly for warship construction by navy yard employees, Congress set up various programs to put other people to work on government civilian and military projects.  On 12 May 1933 the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA) was created and word came down to the Navy Department (and other government agencies) that considerable funds were now available for increasing employment for work "not otherwise provided for."  This labor could be used only for those projects not funded under current appropriations and that would most likely never be, given the then present budgetary constraints.  Civil-service workers could not be displaced in favor of relief workers and the law authorized only minimal spending for materials, mostly for maintenance and upkeep.  Shore stations though could loan tools, left-over material, and transportation to projects.  The Department surveyed its shore establishments for recommendations.  This would begin a near decade-long intimate collaboration of the BNY with a series of not only non-military federal agencies but also with New York State and City social agencies as well. [Letter, Assistant Secretary of Navy (H.L. Roosevelt), to Commandant(s of Naval Districts), 15 July 1933; RG181; NA-NY. For general background, see: Nick Taylor, American-made: The Enduring Legacy of the WPA: When FDR Put the Nation to Work.]

On his very preliminary consideration of the matter during the summer the new ASN, H. L. Roosevelt, thought it "undesirable" to use relief labor within any naval station that employed a large number of civilians, recommending that such labor be used for outside work such as clearing brush, cutting firelanes and building roads, and on indoor clerical activities such as putting old archives in order.  Taking the ASN's advice as his cue, the Third Naval District Commandant passed on the Department's request to the BNY Commandant, wondering if he knew of any sites such as radio stations which could use FERA labor, to which the Commandant in late July replied in the negative. [Letter, ASN, to Commandant(s of Naval Districts), 15 July 1933; Letter, Commandant, Third Naval District, to the Commandant, New York Navy Yard, 19 July 1933; Letter, Commandant, to Commandant, Third Naval District, 26 July 1933; RG181; NA-NY.]

It took only a week for the BNY commandant
only a week to have second thoughts.  The Yard had long wanted to re-organize its old records, some of which the staff accessed on a regular basis, but a project for which it had never received funding. Seeing an opportunity, the commandant requested of his superior that FERA assign them eight clerk for three to four months to reorganize the old files.  The memo was forwarded to the ASN and the Navy Department quickly approved it as well as several projects submitted from other shore stations, asking that reports be periodically submitted detailing progress. [Letter, Commandant, to Commandant, Third Naval District, 1 August 1933; Letter, Commandant, Third Naval District, 3 August 1933; Letter, ASN, to Commandants (of all Naval Districts), 17 August 1933; and passed on to BNY Commandant, 31 August 1933. All in RG181; NA-NY.]

The central FERA office in Washington then informed New York State's office of the Temporary Emergency Relief Administration (TERA) of the BNY's request and in October 1933 it notified the Yard that it had a pool of "white collar" people, including professionals such as engineers, architects and accountants, from which the BNY could draw upon,  immediately.  The Yard Manager requested 16 people from TERA for about five months to work on old Yard records dealing with pay rolls, labor, and the physical plant, the workers to be split into two alternating weekly shifts of eight each, at a cost of $3840, with a manager clerk in charge.  The pay rate set by TERA  worked out to $24 per each six-day work week, or $4.00 per day for each relief-clerk.  The TERA office sent the sum to the Yard, which then paid the workers.  Although the relief office covered their wages, the Yard retained the ability to set their hours and directly supervise their work.  About the same time, the ASN informed the naval districts that the navy would supply necessary materials, tools, and equipment. [TERA was founded in New York State in November 1931, under FDR's governorship. See: Taylor, American-made. Letter, Myers, TERA, NY Office, to Commanding Officer, USN, US Navy Yard, Brooklyn, NY, 26 October 1933;  Letter, ASN (H.L. Roosevelt), to  Commandant, Third Naval District, 27 October 1933; Letter, Manager, to Myers, 31 October 1933; Letter, C.P. Peoples, Bureau of Supplies and Accounts, to  Commandant, Navy Yard, NY, 8 November 1933; Memo, Commandant, to Accounting Officer, [and] the Disbursing Officer, 3 November 1933. Also, see the monthly "TERA Report," covering the project: "Resorting, reclassifying and refiling of old records, archives, etc., addressed to the state's Adjutant-General. All in: RG181; NA-NY.] 

In early December 1933 the FERA/TERA program was subsumed into the Civil Works Administration and the Navy worked up a much more extensive, national set of projects for the new agency to undertake. The national office quickly approved the list and forwarded them on to the respective CWA state organizations. Its mandate allowed for a maximum of twenty per cent of a project's budget to be spent on supplies, and the Navy authorized its shore stations to supplement this with any available surplus material.  Stations could also rent equipment and tools if needed. Naval officers in charge of a CWA project needed to apply for workers through the local CWA office, which in turn acquired the necessary people from local relief rolls.  CWA supervisory pay corresponded as much as possible to the Yard's civilian managers, leadingmen and quartermen, ranging from $90 to $200 a month.  The new regulations forbade using CWA funds to pay local naval civilian supervisors, contract projects, or for buying land. [The CWA was founded in November 1933. See: Taylor, American-made. Letter, ASN, to Commandants (of Naval Districts, and others), 4 December 1933; RG181; NA-NY; "Federal CWA Rules and Regulations no. 4, Federal Projects," enclosed in Letter, ASN to AN&MCAC, 4 December 1933; RG80; NA-DC.]

The BNY quickly submitted and received approval for two additional CWA projects, one for painting and the other for repairing roads and railroads. The Third District Commandant emphasized that as "the object is to put men to work, the full number of men allotted to each project must be put to work at the earliest practicable time."  By mid-December 1933, the following public-assistance projects were under way in the BNY:

Project 1: Resorting, refiling old records
2 supervisors
8 file/records clerks

5 file/index clerks

4 typists

1 librarian (typing)

Project 2: Painting
3 leader painters
25 painters
1 leader joiner
6 joiners
4 helper laborers

Project 3: Railroad repair
1 timekeeper
1 leader laborer
13 laborers
3 trackmen
2 pavers 12.37

The BNY requested two more projects in December: conducting a topographical and subsurface survey of the Yard to update its files on the subject; and, systematically cleaning the interior walls, windows and roof trusses of some of the yard's shops. The Navy Department approved the topographic project, but thought the cleaning project did not come under relief guidelines. [Letter, Commandant, Third Naval District, to Commandant, New York Navy Yard, 7 December 1933; Letter, Dungan, to Whitney, Chairman, CWA, City of NY, 12 December 1933; Form, CWA, City of NY, for U.S.N.Y., Brooklyn, N.Y. 1 January 1934. Also, see various documents outlining the regulations about CWA/Navy projects are included in: Letter, Commandant, Third Naval District, to (his stations, including) the Commandant, New York Navy Yard, 15 December 1933. Memo, Commandant, to Paymaster-General, 22 December 1933; RG181; NA-NY.]

As the CWA programs at the Yard fell into shape in early 1934, and with that, a number of bureaucratic problems soon arose. As might be expected, offices needed to remind their managers that relief clerical staff were available only for their assigned projects and not to be used for other work.  In January, the federal CWA standardized the acquisition of relief labor by passing on instructions from the National Reemployment Service that workers must be hired through local employment agencies designated by the US Employment Service, or through union locals.  Only if project managers could not find people locally could they search for them from more distant locales. And a question of a different type arose: did relief workers in the Yard have access to the naval hospital if necessary, as did the regular workers? [Letter, ASN, to Commandant, Navy Yard, NY, 5 January 1934; Memo, Public Works Officer, to Medical Officer, 6 January 1934; Memo, Dungan, Manager, to Heads of Departments and Offices where CW Service Workers are assigned, 17 January 1934; Letter, ASN, to Commandants and COs of all Stations doing C.W.A. Work, 2 March 1934, enclosing a copy of a memo of 26 January 1934, from Harry L. Hopkins, Administrator, FCWA, D.C., to All Federal Departments having Civil Works Projects, and to All Field Supervisors in charge of such projects. RG181; NA-NY.]

In February, the U.S. Employees' Compensation Commission decided to grant CWA workers on government projects medical benefits comparable to those of regular federal employees, and payable from its own funds.  The Administration improved on this by extending practically all legal and administrative regulations covering federal employees as per the basic 1916 compensation law.  ASN Henry Roosevelt noted that the public-relief program then employed four million people, including about 12,000 on naval reservations.  As the CWA regulations suggested medical care be given by government services wherever possible, the Navy Department thereby took on responsibility for the occupational health and safety of its relief workers.  It told shore establishments to send injured CWA workers to the local Dispensary and not let them be treated by other CWA workers or supervisors. In return, the Navy informed CWA workers that they had to conform to all its safety rules and regulations and placed CWA Safety Inspectors under the advice of a yard's Safety Inspector.  AS most of these relief workers were new to the dangers of navy yards the ASN speculated that the number of injuries and diseases might be "considerable." [Letter, ASN H. Roosevelt, to Hopkins, 4 January 1934; RG80; NA-DC; Circular Letter, Acting Secretary Navy, to ANMCAC, 9 February 1934; RG181; NA-NY.]

BNY projects also ran into budgetary difficulties.  In mid-January 1934 the ASN passed on his expectation that the present CWA appropriation, scheduled to expire on 15 February, would be extended until at least 30 April, and in light of this he requested that the shore stations submit proposals for new projects as soon as possible.  But only a day later and before the Yard received this message word came down from the state CWA office that since average weekly CWA wages had exceeded the original estimates, it was ordering an immediate cutback in hours in order to keep within the relief budget.  Blue collars working in municipalities with over 250 people got their hours reduced to a maximum of 24 hours per week, and those working in smaller communities were dropped to 15 hours per week.  For clericals, professionals, and supervisors, the new rules allowed a more gracious maximum of 30 hours a week.  Also, the CWA placed a freeze on hirings except for replacing a person in an already established position.  [Letter, ASN, to (all Naval District Commandants and others), 18 January 1934; forwarded by District Office to Commandant, Navy Yard, NY on 22 January 1934; Letter, Commandant, Third Naval District, to Commandant, Navy Yard, (and others), 19 January 1934; Telegram, SecNav, to All Naval Stations, 19 January 1934, forwarded to Navy Yard, 20 January 1934. For an outline of the CWA program and its regulations: Letter, ASN, to Commandants (all NDs and others); 25 January 1934; forwarded to  Commandant, NYNY, 30 January 1934. RG181: NA-NY.]

This edict did not prevent BNY management from devising new projects.  In early February the staff had already worked up three new plans, even "borrowing" some CWA draftsmen to assist them.  However, about one week after submitting them to the national CWA for approval, word came down from the Washington office that not only were no new CWA projects being approved but that each station had to reduce its number of CWA employees by one-third by 25 February, then by one-tenth more each week, such that all relief workers would be gone by 30 April.  No reason was given for the phasing out. As the ASN reported, there were 12,000 CWAers at the naval and marine stations that now had to be all released by 30 April despite the recent assurances that the Department had received that their ongoing plus many new projects would be renewed and approved. [Memo, Angas, to Burrell, BuDocks, DC, 10 February 1934; Letter, Dungan, to CWA, NYC, 10 February 1934; Letter, Commandant, Third Naval District, to Commandant, Navy Yard, New York, (and others), 15 February 1934; RG181; Letter, ASN, to Commandants and COs of all Stations doing CWA work, 23 February 1934; NA-NY. See below for projects.]

Both the City and state CWA offices kept the potential disaster at bay by having the federal CWA projects transferred to New York City CWA cognizance.  That first one-third of the workers was quickly "transferred" on paper to city projects allowing  the Yard's to lop them off on their official report to Washington.  The state and city CWA organizations came up with funds and by the end of February the City CWA assured the Yard that monies would be allocated to cover the cost of materials for the additional proposed CWA projects at the Yard, with the understanding that the labor would be furnished by local CWA organizations and be listed as "local projects," with no charges being made to federally allocated funds.  As workers were laid off the federal projects per schedule they would be be kept on as city CWA project workers at their present jobs, with one reservation, that the local projects would receive no materials. [Memorandum of telephone conversation, Bakenhaus, to HQ of Commandant of Third Naval District, 16 February 1934; Letter, Angas, to CWA (NYC), att: T.H.P. Farr, 25 February 1934; Letter, Dungan, to CWA (NYC), 28 February 1934; RG181; NA-NY.]

By early March 1934 the ASN reported that the BNY's CWA projects would extend through the end of April and that it was likely that State Relief Work programs would supersede the State CWA after that.  Funding would be furnished part by states and their political subdivisions, and part by the federal government.  In some cases shore stations even benefited when some cities and counties were unable to come up with enough suitable work to meet their City/County quotas, leaving the naval sites to pick up the extra people as a kind of bonus to their otherwise assigned quotas. The ASN found the situation "satisfactory" and hoped that the projects could be continued as Relief Work after the CWA ended.  [Letter, ASN, to Commandant(s, all Naval Districts), 7 March 1934; RG181; NA-NY.]

Yard CWA work continued, the three new projects starting on 13 March listed on the books as New York City relief work, with CWAers working two three-day shifts.  Many of the dirtiest industrial buildings now began to receive their first cleaning and painting in many years (if ever).  The mold loft, smith, sheetmetal, and boiler shops, foundry, and hull divisions shops had top priority for the work.  Window cleaning however, though urgently needed, was denied as a CWA project.  [Letter, Commandant, to ASN(NYD), 10 March 1934. For a full list of projects, see: Memo, Production Officer, to Public Works Officer, 13 March 1934; Memo, Public Works Officer, to Production Officer, 22 March 1934; RG181; NA-NY.]

CWA hiring practices caused something of a stir as laid-off BNY civil-service employees found they could not obtain the relief jobs.  This was a problem with all the navy yards.  One Department officer complained that bringing CWA workers into the yards at the same time they were laying off their own employees was bad for morale.  The BNY Commandant asked the Administrator of the federal CWA in New York City why the CWA could not give preference to its furloughed workers, especially as there was then a lull in work due to the completion of the New Orleans and the launching of the destroyer Hull.  The administrator passed the buck, saying the CWA did not hire directly, but instead requisitioned labor from the National Reemployment Service when needed.  They in turn submitted the names they selected to the Department of Public Welfare for certification as to their relief qualifications.  In fact, as of then the CWA was not adding to its payrolls and had orders to reduce its force, although they expected that new regulations to arrive after 31 March might ameliorate the situation.  But even he was otherwise of no help to the BNY the administrator, DeLamater, did want Commandant Stirling to realize that he was "always glad to cooperate with the regular service every way I can."  [Memorandum, Brinser, to ASN, 23 January 1934; RG80; NA-DC; Letter, Sterling, to DeLamater, Administrator, FCWA, NYC, 10 March 1934, and reply from DeLameter, 14 March 1934; RG181; NA-NY.]

Despite that reassurance federal administrator Hopkins sent notice to disband state and local CWA organizations on 31 March and to transfer their work to the Works Divisions of the various State Emergency Relief Administrations.  In New York that meant reverting back to TERA.  This order did not affect any work under federal quotas, which included some of the labor on the first three Yard projects, but a separate directive came out ordering that work to end by 1 May.  To keep continuity in the work, in most cases, the present CWA officials stayed in charge of the now ERA work.  Stirling impressed on DeLameter how essential relief work was to the BNY as funds for these projects would never be allotted through the regular navy budget, and sent some of his top people to meet with him to discuss the Yard's relief work.  [Letter, ASN, to Commandant, Navy Yard, NY (and others), 23 March 1934, plus handwritten notes thereon; Letter, Commandant, Third Naval District, to Commandant, Navy Yard, NY, (and others), 28 March 1934; Letter, Stirling,  to Col. DeLamater, Administrator, CWA, 25 March 1934; RG181; NA-NY.]

The BNY continued to submit plans.  First, the staff wanted to hire its full quota of 320 relief workers, presently only having 225 people assigned to its relief projects.   It was essential, they said, to acquire more painters, carpenters, and laborers, and they repeated the point that much desirable work could only only be funded through relief allocations.  In May 1934 the Yard's quota was expanded to 356 people, with extra painters and clerks making up much of the difference.  The new program did have strict stipulations though.  The supervisor and a few of his immediate staff could work 39-hour weeks, but other white-collars could work only 30 hours per week, and blue-collars were restricted to 44-48 hours per month.  The ERA budget assigned the Yard a total of 28,848 man-hours per month at a cost of $18,620. [On the project, for instance, the Yard wanted 16 clerk/typists but received 24; wanted 50 carpenters, but received 45; wanted 158 painters, but received 200; wanted 54 laborers, but received 48.  Says more about who was unemployed at the time. Letter, Dunn, to  Farr, Works Division, Dept. of Welfare, 19 April 1934; Letter, Commandant, to ASN, 2 May 1934; (Form) Letter, Macy, Chief Engineer, Works Div., Dept. of Public Welfare, NYC, to Capt. Parsons, 12 May 1934; RG181; NA-NY.]

The Yard lobbied incessantly for relief work.  In mid-May the Commandant sent his Manager and Public Works Officer to visit Borough President Raymond Ingersoll to petition for further relief assistance, telling him how impressed they were with the ERA's work in the BNY.  Previously dark and gloomy shops had led to inadequate work and poor morale, but relief painters had helped rectify this situation, cleaning and brightening up the interior walls of many shops, including the building housing the Labor Employment Office.  Relief labor had improved working conditions and efficiency in the navy yard and the Yard wanted more of it.  The Commandant's representatives also reminded the Borough President, as it had proved to be a "practical impossibility" to receive congressional allotments for these projects, that the relief labor did not deprive the Yard's regular civilian force of any jobs.  [Letter, Stirling, to Ingersoll, Borough President, Borough of Brooklyn, 16 May 1934; RG181; NA-NY.]

By late May the relief labor force had grown to 376, of whom none worked under a federal quota.  The projects fell into four major classifications: the original one of filing of old records and performing general clerical duties; the transporting of stores from the Naval Supply Depot in southern Brooklyn to and about the Yard; conducting a topographical survey of the Navy Yard; and, in terms of numbers, the largest and most important, the general maintenance tasks of painting shop buildings, performing various carpentry jobs, repaving streets with granite block and relaying railroad tracks.  The Navy Department continued to complement the relief work, the ASN noting that over 12,000 men had been quickly recruited [for all U.S. naval projects] from miscellaneous sources, many of whom had been classified as "below normal physically" and not experienced in manual labor.  The Department found particularly gratifying that no fatal accidents or serious accidents resulting in prolonged disabilities had occurred. [Letter, Commandant, to ASN(NYD), 22 May 1934. A complete list of work then being done can be found in: Memo, Tison, Technical Supervisor, to Public Works Division, 22 May 1934. For a complimentary, official notice, see: Letter, Burrell, BuDocks, to Capt. Parsons, 24 May 1934; Letter, ASN, to Commandant (of all Naval Districts), 16 July 1934; RG181; NA-NY.]

With the BNY's relief projects now securely located within the city's Department of Public Welfare, work continued through the summer at full speed.  Many minor projects were added such as repairs and reconstructions to the ceilings, floors, and windows of various buildings, and even office desks, chairs and tables received repairs and refinishing.  One report found that the illumination in the bay of the mold loft had increased by forty per cent after it had been cleaned and painted.  The work proved relatively cheap: from the beginning of 1934 through May $45,728 had been spent, $18,627 from federal money, and $31,991 from State relief funds, of which about $10,000 went for materials.  The BNY then was using 367 of a total of 1381 relief workers working for the Department's naval stations. [Report, Commandant, to ASN, 29 May 1934; Letter, Commandant, to Commandant Third Naval District, 8 June 1934; Memo, Burrell, BuDocks, to Admiral Brinser, 1 June 1934; RG181; NA-NY.  For a comprehensive list of wages and salaries for local relief work see: [n.a.], "Information Sheet, Weekly Classifications and Rates Effective May 14, 1934, Revised 5 June 1934," and "Schedule of Rates and Maximum Hours of 8 Hour Days of Work," Works Division, Department of Public Welfare, City of New York, 11 June 1934; RG181; NA-NY.]

By mid-October many shops and offices had been painted, track laid on the Ordnance dock, and various repairs made to buildings, including the officers' headquarters (but see below).  Relief labor cleaned and painted the Foundry, a mighty task in itself, as well as the Sheetmetal, Copper, Outside Machine shops, and the boiler house, with many other minor painting tasks on the docket for the near future.  The Yard though still had to contend with vagaries in the relief budgetary system, such as in October when the city relief office authorized only 299 workers for that month. [For a list and map of the projects, see Letter, Parsons, Public Works Officer, to Laughlin, Borough Engineer, Works Division, Brooklyn, 12 October 1934; Memo, Production Officer, to PWO, 18 October 1934; (Form) letter, Macy, to Brooklyn Navy Yard, 12 October 1934; RG181; NA-NY. ]

Once the work programs became semi-permanent the Works Division office developed various regulations as to working conditions.  It made provision for per diem workers to make up time lost to the Election and Armistice days, and Thanksgiving by having them work other days; it even gave white collars Thanksgiving off as a paid holiday.  The WD issued instructions that sick days could be made up within twenty days if the employee presented a doctor's note.  It also ordered relief workers for whom it had incorrect home addresses, perhaps the staff though for having had to move due to Depression pressures, to supply correct ones immediately or lose their pay. ["Bulletin #109," Wilgus, Director, Works Division, to All Dept. Heads (and other) Employees of the Works Division, 30 October 1934; Memo, Tison, Field Payroll Supervisor, Emergency Relief Bureau, WD/NYC, To All 30 Hour Weekly Employees, 19 November 1934; "Bulletin #114," Wilgus, to All Employees of the Works Division, 19 November 1934; RG181; NA-NY.]

In early November 1934 BNY's Manager, Captain Dunn, went to the Navy Department to request a increase in funding for supplies for the winter season relief work.  Previously it had used CWA money for this purpose and Dunn felt that if the Yard could provide more material it could obtain a larger work force, and the Public Welfare Department wanted to spend as much of its money as possible on labor.  The Yard wanted to continue its interior painting and minor repair programs, as well as continue and extend its various clerical projects, all work for which the Manager reminded the Department it had not allocated funds.  They wanted to increase their WD force from its present 300 people up to 1200 for the upcoming winter and spring, which given the restrictions on hours that tradesmen could work meant that an average of about 400 men could work in the Yard on any one day.  Dunn estimated the cost of supplies for this force to be $75,000 and suggested that the Navy apply to the Public Works Administration for the funding and then buy the supplies through the more efficient navy channels.  Tools and equipment would only cost $3500; the rest would go for material.  The local relief office approved a November schedule calling for 304 workers at 21,556 man-hours and $20,780.46 for labor, and no other costs. [Letter, Commandant, to ASN(SED), 1 November 1934; (Form) Letter, Macy, to BNY, 8 November 1934; RG181; NA-NY.]

Eight relief-draftsmen working in the Yard's Public Works Department were already drawing up plans for future major improvements, and the PWO took the opportunity to ask the Public Welfare Department to double the relief drafting force to sixteen.  A larger force would work up those plans more quickly thereby putting more people to work sooner, he argued.  Drafting was obviously a task for which funds were regularly allocated, so the BNY was now following the lead of the Philadelphia Navy Yard in bending the relief laws by using public-assistance labor in place of civil-service workers.  [Letter, Parsons, PWO, to Laughlin, WD, DPW, Borough Hall, Brooklyn, 7 November 1934;  RG181; NA-NY.]

In early November Hopkins approved the $75,000 PWA allocation.  PW Officer Parsons thanked him profusely acknowledging that they "got it solely through your interest in the matter."  Parsons quickly passed on the news to the Borough Engineer reminding him that the money was contingent on the relief office providing enough labor to keep 1200-1400 people working through the winter.  He hoped the Yard would receive even more PWA money and repeated his request for the extra drafters, who could now work a full 39-hour week instead of their present 30.  The appeal for more draftsmen was echoed by the city's relief-labor supervisor at the Yard. [Letter, Harry Hopkins, Administrator, Federal Emergency Relief Administration, to Capt. Parsons, PWO, 13 November 1934; Letter, PWO Capt. Parsons, to Hopkins, 16 November; Letter, Parsons, to Laughlin, Borough Engineer, WD, DPW, 13 November 1934; Memo, Tison, Field Payroll Supervisor, to Laughlin, Asst. Borough Engineer, 14 November 1934; RG181; NA-NY.]

The Borough relief office was happy to oblige. The Engineer overseeing the BNY projects said his office would do whatever it could to increase the technicals' hours to 39 per week.  His supervisor even went so far as to designate the Yard's relief project as "one of the outstanding work projects in the city, comparing favorably with any contracting job."  Since the navy provided materials, equipment, aid and cooperation, the work he said, "represents a low unit cost result, together with enduring value," and provide a needed "outlet for surplus skilled and unskilled labor during the winter months."  By the end of November the Yard got most of its extra eight draftsmen, approved for 39-hour weeks.  Bolstered by this, the Manager asked that the hours of the present technical and drafting force also be increased to 39 hours, for a total of fifteen men, including the Senior and Assistant Engineers, Senior and Junior Draftsmen, and the Senior Engineering Assistant.  [Memo, Lynch, Borough Engineer, to Macy, Chief Engineer, 15 November 1934. Copied in Letter, Laughlin, to Lt. Cmdr. Angas, PWD, 17 November 1934; Letter, Dunn, to Lynch, Borough Engineer, WD, DPW, 28 November 1934; RG181; NA-NY.]

By the end of the year the BNY pushed its relief force up to 317: 262 on blue-collar work; 32 on clerical, and 23 in technical positions.  This came out to 21,925 man-hours for the month, or an average of about 17 hours per week per worker.  This average was low because the regulations still permitted many workers, especially blue-collars, to work only about 6- 6.5 days spread out over the month, meaning that only a fraction of the total force worked any one week.  By the end of 1934 among navy yards, the Brooklyn Navy Yard trailed only the Philadelphia Navy Yard (though significantly so) in its use of relief labor.







# Workers %

Total - Navy Yards 






The ASN urged all stations without relief labor to consult with their local and State officials to apply for as large a relief force working as practicable.  [Letter, Commandant, to ASN(SED), 3 January 1935; Letter, Tison, Charles Fernald, Chief Investigator, Claim Dept., Interborough Rapid Transport Co., 22 March 1935For a complete list of stations using relief labor, see Letters, ASN, to Chief(s) of BuNav, BuOrd, BuAer, BuEng, BuMed, 14 November; 3 December; 7 December; 13 December; 21 December; 27 December, 1934; RG181; NA-NY.]

BNY officers planned big for 1935 proposing projects requiring approximately 1305 workers.  Other naval stations had followed the ASN's recommendation and by the end of February the shore establishments employed 1500 more relief workers than they had in November.  Philadelphia jumped up to 1655 workers, while Brooklyn had a modest rise to 338.  Yards and stations in Massachusetts, New Jersey, Washington, Portsmouth, NH, and Minnesota added to the total of 3906 relief workers on the naval projects.  The New York relief agency failed to support the BNY's more ambitious plans though and authorized only about 400 people for its relief rolls throughout the spring.  This figure did climb up to 471 by August.  [Letter, N. November, Senior Engineer, WD, Emergency Relief Bureau, to Lt. Cmdr Angas, 9 January 1935; Letter, ASN, to Chief of Bureau of Nav, Ord, Aer, Eng, Med; subject: Relief Labor at Naval Stations, 23 February 1935; Letter, Commandant, to ASN(SED), 24 April 1935; Letter, from Commandant, to the ASN(SED),  9 August 1935; RG181; NA-NY.]

The larger forces prompted a new set of guidelines to be issued concerning a growing absenteeism problem.  The BNY public-assistance officer announced that a relief worker found guilty of being late would have his check docked a half-hour for being up to 29 minutes tardy, a full hour for being from 30-59 minutes late, and proportionally thereafter, with more than five latenesses in one month necessitating special disciplinary action.  The Yard would not permit late workers to make up such lost time.  In July the policy was tightened up so a late worker would lose an hour's loss of pay for being only five minutes tardy, and two hours for being 30-60 minutes late, and one-half day for those arriving later.  With work months often only six days or so such a penalty could represent a substantial loss.  [Notice, Tison, Field Payroll Supervisor, to All Works Division Weekly Employees, 5 March 1935; Notice, Anderson, Asst. Payroll Supervisor, to All Weekly Workers, 8 July 1935; RG181; NA-NY.]

Relief vs. Wage Labor

As might be expected during these years, the BNY received numerous inquiries about job openings, many from politicians requesting on behalf of their constituents.  The Yard responded to them, usually with a form letter, or sometimes as the occasion required, with personal replies.  These letters repeated the standard assertion that the Yard hired only for permanent positions according to civil service procedures: applicants went to the Yard's Labor Board for blue-collar positions, and to the local civil service office in Manhattan for clerical and professional jobs.  The Yard claimed it held no jurisdiction for  hiring for relief jobs, saying that it was the responsibility of the local FERA office to determine the eligibility of relief applicants.  The Yard could only advise those looking for such work to present their veteran or furloughed Yard credentials, if they had any, to the State office and hope for the best.  [An example of a standard reply is: Letter, Capt. Doyle, Acting Commandant, to Mr. A.J. DuFrane (of Long Beach, NY), 3 April 1934.  Also, see the letter replying to a wife writing on her husband's behalf: Letter, Capt. C.A. Dunn, by direction, to Mrs. Elizabeth Nicholson (of Brooklyn), 29 March 1934; RG181; NA-NY.]

Qualifying for a relief job could be tricky and applicants often were desperate.  In reply to one advocate's letter asking about a woman's rejection BNY management said that although her clerical skills had proven satisfactory for Yard employment and the local relief office had approved her for a spot in the Yard, that, according to what they heard she had been rejected for a Yard relief job after two social workers discovered that her father owned a house or some other piece of property.  The Yard could only advise the advocate to let the woman know that it had a regular opening she should apply for it.  Another applicant said that while he was presently an assistant technical supervisor in the Department of Health he had previously served as a manager for the New York Harbor Dry Dock Company in Staten Island until it had merged with another firm, and also held a captain's rank in the National Guard.  He was experienced in ship and ship-engine building, repairs and alterations and had once earned $20,000 per year.  He so much desired a job in his field in New York that he "would welcome" a $40 per week ($2080 per year!) position in the Yard.  Perhaps moved by sympathy or seeing a bargain, the Yard's relief supervisor replied that a position similar to what he was looking for was open and that he should see him about it immediately.  [Letter, Captain Doyle, to Mrs. E.P. Huff (of Brooklyn), 2 February 1934; Letter, Tison, to Mr. Hubert W. Eldred (of West New Brighton, Staten Island), 12 May 1934; RG181; NA-NY.]

It was not surprising that organized labor and its allies saw what they thought was some kind of scam going on in the BNY as to the use of relief labor all the while civil service employees were being let go, and in spring 1935 anger over such hiring surfaced once again.  The BNY received a letter from Senator Copeland of New York and another from Senator Moore of New Jersey, mostly identical, forwarding on the expressed complaint of David Kennedy, Secretary of Brooklyn Metal Trades Council, that the Yard had furloughed or "rotated" civil service employees in the building trades shop and then brought in CWA people to perform their work.  Further, since the civil service regulations categorized Yard employees on indefinite furlough without pay as "employees," they could not obtain Home Relief or Work Relief  they had to break their connection to the BNY completely in order to get relief.  The Home Relief Organization at Works Divisions headquarters in New York then  responded by telling the Yard's Public Works Office--the home of the trades shop--that City Relief Agencies should not deny relief to such laid-off Yarders and promised to investigate the matter to see if any qualified furloughed workers were being inappropriately denied aid.  But an official of the office also said that such workers could still be denied relief while on furlough for other reasons, such as having a sufficient family income from other sources and that merely being on the Yard's furlough rolls would not qualify one for relief.  The trades shop committee however denied that any workers had been appropriately denied relief.  Notice should be taken here that the first and more serious charge was not addressed.  A short time later, in replying to a New York Congressman about a similar complaint from the electricians, the Commandant noted that the work load was very low and that they had no choice but to cut all but the most qualified workers, while waiting for and expectant rise in the rolls come October.  He explained that relief funding was a separate appropriation and that the Yard had no control over the hiring process.  Electricians on indefinite furlough should apply through relief channels for relief work.  ["Home Relief," Memorandum for files, by Lt. Cmdr. Angas, 3 April 1935; h/w attachment by Mr. Light, Chairman of Shop Committee, PWD; Letter, Commandant Stirling, Commandant, to Hon. Delaney, House of Representatives, 28 June 1935; RG181; NA-NY.]

Still, as Congressman William Brunner noted in a letter to the Navy Department, what were people to think about the personnel situation in the Public Works Department when it seemed clear, at least to him, that the BNY had let PWD workers go in mid-1934 once it became clear that the CWA funding, begun in January 1934, would become more or less permanent.  His figures showed the following employment numbers in the shop:
Trades        1/33    7/33    1/34    7/34    1/35    7/35
                   292     399     327     373     234     222
It was a matter never resolved to the civil servants' satisfaction.
[Letter, Representative Brunner, to Rear Admiral Lackey, Navy Dept., DC, 31 July 1935; copy received in BNY 8/5/35; RG181: NA-NY.]

The Great Depression had brought some substantial changes as to how the BNY interacted with its neighbors.  Previously, since the introduction of the civil service, it had stood practically as a political island within Brooklyn and the city on general, dealing with just the federal agencies, departments and legislative bodies.  Now, here it was, fairly intimately tied in with local politics, relying on state and borough agencies to supply it with a vital part of its labor, its relief workers operating within a different set of compensation and benefit structures.  And the relief work load was to increase.  But entering the latter part of the 1930s and early 1940s, relief workers would be accompanied on the job by an ever-increasing number of contract laborers. 
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

[Note on sources: In mid-1935 all these state and city programs were subsumed within the WPA.  And with this reorganization our intimate records of public-assistance work in the BNY cease.  The state and city relief-labor files are a part of the Yard's archives in the New York National Archives regional office [as of the year 2000].  But the BNY's WPA records are not.  At some time they were removed from the yard's archives and a search for them at the regional- and national-archive level in both the naval and WPA records proved unsuccessful, with some small exceptions.  For information, we are left with annual reports, summary memorandums and such.  Therefore, the latter part of the following section will be more of a catalog than a narrative.]


The WPA Years and the Turn to Contract Labor 
On 1 July 1935, the then-existing federal relief-work agencies were consolidated into the Works Progress Administration.  It took over authority for the relief projects in the BNY, continuing the work of modernizing the shops and improving and repairing buildings and the grounds.  To maintain continuity the organization kept the workers provided by the Works Division, however, but initially allowing the relief rolls to fall significantly, to only 65, by the end of July.  But the force quickly grew after that, reflecting the power of the new agency.  By mid-August the WPA force in the BNY rose to 453 and by the second week of September it stood at 1782 men, allowing the Yard to make good on some of its plans, now drawn up by WPA draftsmen.  ["Weekly News Letter, United States Navy Yard, N.Y.," 25 June 1935; 6 August 1935; 16 September 1935; RG80; NA-DC. For a history of the WPA program, see: Nick Taylor, American-made: The Enduring Legacy of the WPA: When FDR Put the Nation to Work, 2008.]

The great surge in shipbuilding that began in the mid-1930s made overcoming the BNY's obvious physical inadequacies an urgent matter.  Launchways, piers, and drydocks were too short for the new warships and a whole host of new construction buildings, storerooms, auxiliary services, and tools were needed to service ship construction.  The Yard needed more storehouses on site; it lacked space to store supplies and materials and as a result had to make use of the naval Supply Depot in southern Brooklyn In July 1937 President Roosevelt announced the navy was conducting a survey of its own yards to determine the possibility of expanding them. The report even hinted that the navy might pick up some of the slack of the Maritime Commission by building commercial ships in some of its navy yards.  The BNY was explicitly excluded from this latter idea as being already too busy and congested. [NYT, 14 July 1937; also, see note immediately below.]

Looking at his hemmed-in space in 1938 the Commandant regretted the Navy's decision in 1890 to sell the eastern shoreline of Wallabout Bay to Brooklyn and began looking at other neighboring land for expanding the BNY.  It was felt impractical to reclaim the Wallabout property, now a farmers' market, and as expanding the Yard south across Flushing Street took it too far inland, Yard staff
proposed that the navy take an area to its west, a triangle bounded by Nassau, Gold, and John Streets, labeling it a "semi-blighted urban property."  (It did not get this particular piece of land.)  Proposed plans for the land included a new structural assembly shop, which would give a roof to reassembled work now being done outside near the shipways.  The two building ways, One and Two, sitting in front of those city blocks, capable of handling 680-foot ships each needed space for extension: an immediate lengthening being imperative for number One in order to accommodate the 730-foot-long North Carolina.  The Yard proposed extending number Two out far enough to support a 800-foot ship, or even one of  860 feet, which would be as far as the ways could be extended in the existing space without a significant re-landscaping of the bay and grounds.  ["Third Naval District - Shore Station Development Program, Annual Revision 1939," from Commandant, Third Naval District, to Commandant, Navy Yard, New York, NY [et al.], 16 December 1938; RG181; NA-NY.]

Congress continued to allocate funds for many development projects in the BNY and relief labor remained a mainstay for  the expansion work.  In June 1938, as part of the funding for a new turret construction shop in the Yard, Congress authorized  $500,000 for WPA labor and $250,000 for PWA workers for its construction.  On another project,
improving the electrical lines and for the major reconstruction of shipways Two, money was near-equally split between the two groups of workers.  By April 1939 some 2400 WPA workers, the largest number to date, began work on lengthening the two building ways, as well as drydock 4 so that it could service 35,000-ton battleships such as the North Carolina. [Letter, Chief, BuDocks, to Commandant, NYNY; 11 June 1938; Confidential files, 1918-44; NA-NY.]

In the summer of 1939, with shipbuilding under the Second Vinson Act fully underway and war in Europe seemingly imminent, Congress decided that the country's navy yards needed to expand more rapidly, and in the funding package for fiscal year 1940 it authorized that growth on an emergency basis.  To perform this work the Navy Department now turned to private business on a scale it had not used before.  In August, the Bureau of Yards and Docks told its shore establishments that it "is desired, wherever practicable without detriment to the best interests of the service, to avoid increasing the Yard labor forces engaged on public works construction.  To this end, efforts should be made to perform as much of the new work by contract as is practicable."  Department officials believed that the yards had hired on way too much day-labor and ordered that some of them be replaced by workers from outside businesses where the work may be "susceptible of performance by contract".  One of the memo's reader at the BNY scribbled that he did not think the order particularly aimed at them.  But the memo did establish the grounds for extensive use of contracted labor in building up the BNY over the next few years.  Within a month the Commandant listed several projects, including the Hammerhead Crane, whose completion could be hastened by permitting contractors to move to shift work.  [SecNav, Annual Report for FY 1940, FY 1941; Letter, Chief of BuY&D, to [various establishments]; 7 August 1939; Letter, Commandant, to Chief BuY&D, 7 September 1939; RG 181; NA-NY.]

1939:  In April 1939,
contractors began driving piling onto what was now a peninsula jutting into Wallabout Bay in order to support a crane capable of lifting 350 tons, to be used to install turrets, guns, and other equipment on the heaviest of ships as they were being finished at the dock beside it [the soon-to-be-iconic Hammerhead Crane].
- That same spring, Congress authorized the purchase of the "triangle"
just south of the waterfront Con Ed plant, for the building of a turret and erection shop, and demolition began in September 1939.  In July 1940 the Bureau of Yards and Docks awarded the Turner Construction the contract for constructing a concrete warehouse of fifteen stories; the first eleven for desperately needed storage, and topped off with a four-story office complex. It was placed next to a similar building built by the company in 1917As a result of recent federal defense legislation, the project was contracted out on a cost-plus-fixed-fee schedule, now believed to be a quicker means of awarding construction contracts than the older method of awarding through competitive bidding.  [This method allowed the Navy to award a contract to whom it pleased and felt was capable of performing the project, based on a best-guess budget, and make up any shortfall later.]
- Shortly thereafter, the Department gave a $1.52 million contract to the Walter Kidde Contractors on the same basis to put up a sub-assembly shop, shop building improvements, and steel storage runways. 
- In October, various local companies received contracts for such tasks as constructing retaining walls, and demolition in the neighborhood. In November the Navy awarded contracts for the foundations and floors of the turret and erection shops and for improving Berths 11 and 12. 
[NYT, 2 April 1939; 18 October 1939,
16 July 1940, 24 July 1940; Brooklyn Eagle, 10 November 1939; NYT, 11 November 1939; 23 November 1939; 16 July 1940; 17 July 1940; 24 July 1940.]

1940:  Work proceeded feverishly. By August 1940 a new Structural Shop, the Hammerhead Crane, the reconstruction of Building Ways 2, and an extension of drydock 4 had all been completed. 
- Many other projects were in progress: the turret and erection shop; an extension of the crane runways over the building ways; improvements to Pier G and Berths 11, 12, and to the Power Plant. 
- Also: the the storehouse; the modernization of building ways 1; a host of improvements to various shop buildings, subassembly shops and facilities; plus the installation of a power connection to the city electrical network. 
- The Navy awarded the major part of this work through cost-plus-fee contracts, at an estimated cost of $8.2 million, although it still relied on competitive lump-sum contracts for some of the projects.  This was in addition to the Yard's continuing reliance on
federal WPA and city WPA workers, as well as its own Public Works trades shop. 
- The Commandant had a lengthy wish list  The Yard needed a new sheet metal shop, improved elevators and toilet facilities; it lacked appropriate weight-handling equipment, enough rolling stock, and replacing the pumping equipment in the four drydocks had become a priority.   And above all, the BNY had to overcome the extreme congestion that plagued it; the navy yard needed more room
[Memorandum to Manager, 14 August 1940; RG181; NA-NY.]

1941:  In July 1941 the Public Works Office drew up a report of the BNY's substantial renovations since 1935.  Various old buildings had been torn down and replaced.  Work on extending Ways 2 began in 1938 with WPA forces, and further modifications had been made in the summer of 1940; the Iowa (the heaviest ship the Yard had built to date) was now going up on it. 
- After the launch of the North Carolina in June 1940 work began on extending Ways 1 and it had proceeded enough enough to allow for the keel of the Missouri to be laid in January 1941.  For both ways workers had extended their overhead cranes 100 feet seaward and 200 feet inland. 
- The 800 foot by 110 foot high turret and erection shop, just west of the ways, reached completion in March. 
- A crane runway 600 feet in length, 50 feet high, and 152 wide, to move sub-assemblies, was finished in May 1940.  New and bigger paint and boat shops had been built as well as a larger flag and sail loft. 
- Large additions had been made to the boiler and machine shops; improvements made to berths and piers; portable boilers constructed on two piers to provide steam power for building and repair work. 
- An outside connection to Brooklyn Edison was established as a fallback measure while power plant reconstruction was under way.  The power plant had its generator power tripled and extra air compressors added. 
- Contracts had been let for building two new drydocks along with a subassembly plant of about 800'x100'.  It was planned that the docks would be far enough along in late 1942 that work could start on the two remaining battleships then. 
- Two buildings, to hold fabricating work, with large welding platforms, went up by the ways. 
- A new receiving barracks to replace the ship SEATTLE was built on the south side of Flushing Avenue and new larger washroom facilities, capable of handling 6000 people were added to the shipfitter shops. 
- A new foundry was planned for the old Wallabout area; plans drawn for a new Material Laboratory, plus assorted new cranes and train equipment bought.
- The 16-story storage/office building topped out in early September 1941, a month ahead of schedule, floors being added at the rate of one every 3 days.  In just 48 working days the Yard thus acquired twenty-one new acres of floor space, and, according to the Yard at a minimal cost in occupational injuries, the company losing 125 man-days out of 130,000 worked.  The Yard planned to open the storage areas by 1 November and the offices by 1 December.

- Special note: 
Starting in July 1941 the Navy required contractors to adhere to the government's non-discrimination clause as per Roosevelt's executive order #8802, requiring that contractors "not discriminate against any worker because of race, creed, color, or national origin." ;
[Report of "Organization of a Navy Yard" from 1935; also, draft report "The Yard Today," information supplied by the Public Works Officer, 7 August 1941; Bureau of Docks, "Annual Report, 1941"; Circular letter, Chief of BuDocks, to Commandant, 5 July 194; RG181; NA-NY; NYT, 2 September 1941; BE, 2 September 1941.] 

Two New Drydocks for the BNY
As noted above, in seeking room for expansion the BNY had initially looked at the city blocks to its west.  Representative John Delaney, in introducing the bill in January 1940, while acknowledging that the Yard's renovation would require considerable neighborhood demolition, defended his proposal saying that since the BNY was well known for being the "best equipped in offices, men and facilities in the United States," the expansion program would actually improve the neighborhood, as well as dovetail with the schemes of the City Planning Commission.  In May 1940 the Commandant renewed his complaint that the all the new work the Yard had taken on since since the declaration of the emergency had severely been hampered by a lack of space.  He now added the new charge that in addition to the industrial land shortage the Yard lacked housing for all the new naval personnel moving through the base.  New space was essential and he seconded the Congressman's desire to acquire the plot of land immediately to the Yard's west. [NYT, 15 January 1940; Letter, Commandant, to Secretary of the Navy, 16 May 1940;  RG181; NA-NY.]

Complications arose when the Navy and Maritime Commission let it be known that same month that they were scouting for sites
capable of handling ships of 45,000 tons or more south of the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges, resurrecting an old fear that a bombing raid or warship barrage against the spans would block the BNY from the sea.  To further reinforce their argument the agencies wanted a drydock capable of converting commercial liners to troop and supply carriers, and the largest such ships then afloat, like the Queen Elizabeth, were too tall to pass under the Brooklyn Bridge.  When Bayonne got the nod it set off a flurry of political panic and maneuveringLocal Brooklyn interests agitated for the new drydock throughout the summer. The editors of the Brooklyn Eagle felt "distressed" when word came out of the Naval Affairs Committee that it was arguing over whether the government alone or in conjunction with the Port Authority should run the new facility.  Needless to say, the political and commercial interests backing Bayonne kept their lobbying at an intense level.   [BE, editorial, 27 May 1940, 10 July 1940, 11 July 1940, editorial; BE, 19 August 1940, edit., 22 August, 1940, 23 August, 1940, 26 August 1940, edit., 27 August;.]

By the end of August Brooklyn's claim to the new drydock seemed assured when the Navy withdrew its plans to share the drydock with any other agency.  The House Naval Affairs Committee signed off on an authorization bill for the drydock and shortly thereafter Congress sent the bill to the White House for final approval.  But in mid-September a "bombshell" dropped on the New York interests when New Jersey Senator William Barbour made the surprise announcement that Bayonne had won the new facility after all.  The Governor of New Jersey made the official announcement on 1 January 1941.  The Navy decided to run the drydock as an adjunct of the BNY and in March 1941 took possession of the site and began demolition procedures.  [NYT, 29 August 1940; BE, 7 September 1940, 8, edit., 8 September 1940, 13 September 1940, 17 September 1940, 10, edit., 20 September 1940,  27 January 1941, 28 February 1941, 11 March 1941.]

Looking back to t
he previously-desired expansion space to the west of the BNY its staff now considered it inadequate in size and its condemnation to be too lenghty a political process, and so the Yard took a second look at the eastern shore of Wallabout Bay, to land it had sold to the city of Brooklyn fifty years earlier and which now housed the Wallabout Market.  Municipally-owned, this space appeared easier to acquire.  Here was plenty of room for two shipbuilding drydocks as well as accessory construction facilities.  In particular, the Bureau of Ships, now committed to constructing warships in drydock instead of on the ways, wanted two new drydocks capable of holding the battleships 69 and 70, designed at a proposed 55,000+ tons, the largest ever to date; none of the Yard's four present drydocks could accommodate ships larger than 35,000 tons. [Memo, Public Works Officer, to Technical Officer, 19 October 1940; Letter, Bureau of Ships, to Secretary of the Navy, 25 October 1940; Letter, Bureau of Ships, to Secretary of the Navy [and endorsements from Yard and Docks and CNO], 25 October 1940; RG181; NA-NY.]

Negotiations between the Navy and the city proceeded quickly, and in January 1941 the BNY announced the pending acquisition of the Wallabout Market, which supported some three-hundred vendors who bought from hundreds of farmers daily, and also served as a bay terminal for several railroads.  On 14 June Mayor LaGuardia led the whole pack of merchants out of the Market in a motorcade to a new site in Canarsie and the Navy moved in to demolish the area.  The showpiece of the land would be the two huge construction drydocks, each initially slated to house one of the new "super" battleships.  Part of the bay between the Yard and the islet was to be filled in, and in addition to the drydocks the Yard added a sheetmetal shop, a utility shop, its new foundry [previously set to go up on the site of the old one, necessitating the partialling out of its work during its construction], as well as a railroad receiving yard, material lab, public works shop, welding and fabrication shop, sub-assembly shop, and paint, lumber, oil storage facilities.  By early April the Navy let the contract for the drydocks' construction and in June took over the site.  Another piece of land next to the Naval Hospital was taken late in summer 1941 to round out the property.  (Construction of the two drydocks took until early 1943.)  [NYT, 30 January; 1 February 1941, 4 February; BE, 3 February 1941; NYT, 21 March 1941, 2 April 1941, 4 April 1941, 5 April 1941, 15 June 1941; BE1 April 1941, 4 April 1941,15 June 1941, 21 June 1941; Letter, Commandant, to A.G. Bruce, District Engineer, District No. 9, Public Roads Admin., Federal Works Agency, Albany, 11 August 1941; RG181; NA-NY.]


Labor Agitation Among Contract Workers
As has been well-documented, the decade leading up to U.S. entry into the war was one of the great eras of American labor agitation, and the federal government in its role as management was far from immune to worker protests, the Brooklyn Navy Yard included.  In shipyards both the IUMSWA and AFL agitated where they and fought each other ruthlessly. The trade unions and their constituent locals that represented federal workers or those working on federal contracts constantly quarreled among themselves, often striking over jurisdictional disputes.  Now, at the beginning of a decade with a war on in Europe,
such actions pushed the government into formal negotiations with the American Federation of Labor.  On 22 July 1941, Sidney Hillman, head of the Office of Management Production, leading a consortium of government agencies involved in defense construction which included the Navy's Bureau of Yards and Docks, reached an agreement with the Federation's Building Trades Council.  John Coyne, president of the BTC, passed it on to the presidents of their affiliated unions and to the regional councils, such as New York's, which in turn gave it to the metropolitan locals. Full cooperation was asked of all parties.  On projects using just one shift the agreement set eight hours as the working day, not counting lunch, with work over eight hours or on weekends and holidays qualifying for an overtime rate of 1.5.  On sites employing more than one shift, the agreement dropped the work day down to 7.5 hours at eight hours pay, the straight-time work week being defined as lasting from midnight Sunday to midnight Friday; and, where practicable the shifts were to be rotated.  The agreement pegged minimums to local prevailing rates and confirmed those rates for a year or until a project ended, if shorter.  In return, unions and councils agreed not to strike, especially over jurisdictional disputes, and that they would submit grievances and other disputes to an arbitration board composed of representatives from the various concerned government agencies, the BCTD, and an OPM representative.  [Lead Letter, from Frank Knox, to All Bureaus and Offices, Navy Dept.; includes copy of agreement; 30 July 1941; RG 181; NA-NY.]

The agreement came too late to prevent contract union electricians working in the BNY from joining a city-wide sympathy strike called on 29 July 1941 by Local 3 of the IBEW
[International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers].  The electricians' union called on its members to support a strike by one of its bargaining units against Con Edison for its hiring of non-union helpThis soon became the largest electrical strike in New York in a generation and involved mass picketing which appeared to be completely effective in tying up private work throughout the city.  Workers from a thousand sites, including a reported 286 electricians working for contractors in the Yard, turned out making it difficult if not impossible for the other 1400 other contract tradesmen in the Yard to continue their work.  (Electricians operated hoists on projects for instance, and in general, most construction projects required a complex interaction between all trades, meaning if one trade put down its tools they all had to stop.)  Pickets sprang up at noon at the BNY's gates and picketing continued the next day, halting work on the new eleven-story storehouse/office building, the two 1100-foot drydocks, and other construction projects.  Apparently some 50 Yard electricians initially honored the picket line, for the New York Times reported that the Local ordered them (who as Yard workers had their own affiliated local) back to work immediately on the day the strike started.  Commandant Marquart said the situation in the Yard was serious and appealed to the strikers that for the national interest they return to work. 

Sidney Hillman, co-director of the OPM, quickly stepped in to meet with the local's executive committee.  Part of his work was cut out for him as the local encountered public hostility over the work stoppages inside the BNY, and on the 31st, President Harry Van Arsdale said that in the interest of patriotism the union would order its members then at the BNY back to work while continuing the strike everywhere else.  But public pressure against any strike at this time was intense and on 9 August the union called off the strike, to wait on a decision by the National Defense Mediation Board, which in September ruled against Local 3.
[NYT, 30 July 1941; 31 July 1941; BE, 29 July 1941; 30 July 1941. On the hostility of the Eagle to electricians striking Yard projects, see the editorial on 31 July 1941, and the editorial cartoon of a drawing of navy yard strikers titled "Good News for Hitler," BE, 1 August 1941. On the recall of Yard strikers, see: NYT, 1 August 1941. After the start of the war in Europe, as a token of its desire to cooperate in national defense program, Local 3 of IBEW offered to help overcome the shortage of skilled mechanics at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. In a letter to Captain Charles Dunn, Van Ardsdale said he was prepared to take the responsibility of supplying all the trained electricians that the expansion program would require. NYT, 25 May 1940. On the strike's end, see: Warren Moscow, "History of Local Union 3," ms., Joint Industry Board of the Electrical Industry Archives, Queens, NY, n.d.]

Most locals doing contract work at the BNY complied with the AFL's agreement with the federal government; a few did not.  In September 1941 a BNY BuDocks officer informed his Washington superior that of 31 trades working on seven contract projects all but five were honoring the agreement.  The electricians in particular, did not want to give up the six-hour day which was then their norm.  Their leaders said the local would supply as many electricians as the Yard needed but only for the shorter shift, with OT to be paid on weekends and holidays. The officer calculated that such an arrangement was cost-neutral compared to the Agreement's terms, except as to what base the OT would be paid on, the six- or eight-hour day.  Some of the other holdouts wanted double overtime, and as the government would not make up the difference in the pay the affected contractors refused to schedule any overtime.  So, only about three-quarters of the union trades-workers worked an eight-hour day.  [There was no follow-up memo in the files.  Memo, Officer-in-Charge of Fee Contracts, to Chief, BuDocks, 20 September 1941; RG181; NA-NY.]

Despite the agreement, a jurisdictional dispute arose near the end of October between the Painters and Masons over the application of water-proof cement paint to the outside walls of the storehouse/office building being built by Turner Construction, and some sixty painters walked off the job when the contractor gave the task to the masons. The Commandant called the walkout a violation of the July agreement.  The Painter's local president countered that
such a memorandum agreed to by a union's leadership did not automatically bind its locals to it and that each construction local needed to ratify the agreement for itself. The dispute dragged on for over a week, but the two unions finally did agree to arbitration, and the Painters' president ordered his men back to work on 7 November, by which time the masons had almost finished applying the cement paint. [BE, 1 November 1941; NYT, 1 November 1941; 2 November 1941; 7 November 1941; 8 November 1941. "Building Trades Agreement for Defense Construction," Letter, from the Secretary of the Navy, to All Bureaus and Offices [et al.], 30 July 1941; RG 19, NA-MD. Transcripts, telephone conversations, Captain Smith, New York, to Captain Dunlap, Bureau of Docks, stating that masons were almost finished with the work, 6 November 1941, and Captain Smith, to Mr. Friedman, Painters, 7 November 1941, stating that the painters resumed work that day. Both in RG181; NA-NY.]

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

With the acquisition and reconstruction of much of the eastern half of Wallabout Bay in the years leading up to U.S. entry into World War II, the Brooklyn Navy Yard grew half again as large as it was in 1930.  Most of this expansion as well as renovation of the older plant was accomplished with outside labor.  A Yard report from October 1941 lists 4600 non-civil-service people  working in the BNY: 3600 for contractors and 1000 for the WPA, the latter remaining a steadfast part of Yard labor until the program was phased out early in the war.  As to contract construction, alternative financing to lump-sum contracts continued as a primary means of awarding new projects to private businesses.  The Bureau of Docks' annual report for 1941 noted 28 lump-sum contract awarded during the year, while ten fixed-fee contracts were given out, where none were in effect at the start of the year. While the Yard's expansion was still unfinished as of December 1941, it was well underway. [Budocks, Annual Report, FY 1941;  RG181; NA-NY; MS, n.a., "Brooklyn Navy Yard," 23 October 1941; RG181; NA-NY.]  [For maps of the BNY before and after the reconstruction, which occurred after the US entered WWII, see http://www.columbia.edu/~jrs9/BNY-maps.html.]



United States. Works Progress Administration. New York (N.Y.).  General Statistical Bulletin.  Apr. 1938 on.
United States. Work Projects Administration.  Employment on projects in March 1936, WPA including NYA. Washington, 1936.

Adams, Grace Kinckle, Workers on Relief. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1939;

Howard, Donald S. The WPA and Federal Relief Policy.  New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 1943.

United States. Work Projects Administration (New York, N.Y.).  The Employment Program <microform>. 1939.

Schwartz, Bonnie Fox. The Civil Works Administration, 1933-34: The Business of Emergency Employment in the New Deal. Ph.D. diss., Columbia U., 1978.

Taylor, Nick.  American-made: The Enduring Legacy of the WPA: When FDR Put the Nation to Work.  New York: Bantam Books, 2008.

John R Stobo     ©         March 2010