Wages for Salaried Workers in the Inter-War Era
Background: The Emergence of the Civil Service
The Early Depression Years
The Post-1934 Recovery
Raises for the IVbs
Background: The Emergence of the Civil Service
For much of the nineteenth century navy yards, as well as other government departments, hired and fired their workers much as did the private sector.  By mid-century though, the government began to bring some order to the process.  In 1853 and 1854 Congress made it first attempt to bring order to the federal workforce by creating a classification schedule for the White-collar employees of the Navy, War, Interior, Treasury Departments and the Post Office.  Jobs were put into four categories, labeled Class 1, Class 2, Class 3, and Class 4, and assigned rates of pay as follows [1853 rate/1854 rate]: $900/1200; $1200/1400; $1500/1600; $1800/1800.  Unlike blue-collar jobs, which were paid out of general funds, white-collar positions were each legislated into existence and annually funded by Congress.

For navy yard trades, a system had developed by 1858 whereby naval officers hired only the masters of individual trade shops, leaving to these skilled craftsmen the task of hiring the rest of the supervisory force and the workers in the shops.  But navy yards were also political institutions and subject to patronage pressures in hiring and firing.  Such a system seemed inevitably to lead to corruption; an 1890 article about the need for reform in the Brooklyn Navy Yard noted that it was a common saying that the “navy yard is worth a thousand votes.”  (In the pre-reform era it was common for the BNY to hire on hundreds of "laborers" just before an election and then let them go afterward.  What labor they performed in their short stints at the Yard was minimal.)  The Brooklyn Navy Yard fell into lethargy in the decade after the Civil War, but as the U.S. Navy revived in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, now with steel ships, finding the best skilled labor became essential.  In these years the navy yards slowly reformed their hiring practices, leading to the creation in 1891 of Labor Boards at each yard where officers and masters examined prospective appointees in the trades as to their skill, with the goal being a workforce hired according to merit and not due to their political connections.

Concurrently, in 1883, Congress passed the Civil Service Act, establishing what was called a classified workforce.  For those so categorized, and it was only a small percentage of all government workers at first, the Act is well-known for its prohibition of inquiring into an applicant or worker's political or religious beliefs and of soliciting funds or labor of a federal employee.  But the Act’s most important reform was the mandating of merit as the basis for appointments, determined at hiring through testing and by the quality of references.  Once on the job, merit, as determined by the constant systematic evaluation of employees by their supervisors, determined transfers, promotions, layoffs, and discharges.  The President had the power, through executive order, to incorporate existing job titles into the civil service, as did Congress through legislation.  As part of the act classified positions were reorganized into eleven classifications:

Class A:  less than $720
Class 1:  $1200-1399
Class B:  $720-839
Class 2:  $1400-1599
Class C:  $840-899
Class 3:  $1600-1799
Class D:  $900-999
Class 4:  $1800-1999
Class E:  $1000-1199
Class 5:  $2000-2499

Class 6:  $2500 and up

[Robert G. Albion, "A Brief History of Civilian Personnel in the U.S. Navy Department," Navy Dept., 1943;* U.S. Navy  Regulations, Art. 1564, Art. 1566; U.S. Civil Service Commission, Regulations Governing the Employment of Civil Personnel Under the Naval Service, (Washington: G.P.O., 1930); USCSC, General Information Regarding the United States Civil Service (Washington: G.P.O.: 1930).  James West, in his in-house history of the BNY, "A Short History of the New York Navy Yard,” (1941) outlines the need for a new labor force in the navy yard at the end of the previous century.  For a description of the structure of the Commission and its testing methods and rationale thereof, see U.S.C.S.C., General Information.  An excellent history of the American civil service from its beginnings in the eighteenth century is Paul P. Van Riper, History of the United States Civil Service (Evanston, IL: Row, Peterson and Company, 1958); Kurt Hackemer, “Patronage and Administrative Structure in the Brooklyn Navy Yard in the 1850s,” Journal of Political and Military Sociology 22 (1995)]

At the end of his second term, in 1896, President Grover Cleveland issued an executive order placing most navy yard workers under the Act.  Only laborers, whose work required no particular skills, were left out.  The order fully integrated white-collar workers, whose positions were organized similarly to other federal workers, into the civil service.  The trades workers and helpers, whose jobs were paid for out of various construction and maintenance budgets on a pro rata basis, were also brought in but under their previously established regulations, with the proviso that those could not be changed without the consent of the Civil Service Commission.  In 1909 the Attorney-General ruled that the blue-collars were not in the classified service, and they remained outside until President Howard Taft, at the end of his term, in December 1912, issued an executive order bringing them back in and ordering the Commission to graft as far as possible existing navy yard personnel policy into that of the Service's existing code, giving them their own booklet of rules and regulations. [USCSC, Regulations Governing the Employment, 1912.]

From 1912 on, the civilian field work force was divided into a series of grades: the trades, I, II, III, IVa; everyone else went into the IVb grade.  [Trade positions in Washington were a part of the fully classified system.]  About one-fifth of the civilian work force in the Brooklyn Navy Yard consisted of this group, which included the clerical and administrative, drafting, and professional staff.  Civil police also fell into this category.  Unlike trade workers who applied for jobs at the BNY's Labor Board, people applied for these jobs through the district civil service office in Manhattan.  [The United States was divided into twelve such districts, each headed by a District Manager.]  The IVbs also differed from the trades in that they worked a seven-hour day, as opposed to the trades' eight.

Federal job descriptions had developed on a hit-or-miss basis depending on the agency, and after World War I Congress began working on legislation to rationalize the service's amalgam of positions.  The resultant law, the Classification Act of 1923 divided federal jobs into "services," or basic groupings of positions.  Each service in turn was divided into a series of jobs of increasing responsibility called "grades," and each grade was divided into seven levels of successively higher pay rates.  Unlike the trades whose basic wages were determined by wage boards, Congress periodically [and rarely] legislated the salary grid for the IVbs.  (For the grid as of 1932, see here.)  Therefore, IVbs generally received raises by advancing through the promotional levels, which was determined by one's relative placement in bi- or annual efficiency ratings.  [The trades did have three grades each, the promotion within them too determined by the rating system, but *all* trade workers were guaranteed their annual wage board raise.]

One service was called “CAF,” for “Clerical, Administrative, and Financial”: it covered all office jobs, from typist to chief administrative officer.  “Professional” jobs were just that, in the navy yards concentrated in engineering and scientific positions.  “Sub-Professional” positions required some technical training and was the category of most draftsmen.  And there was the “Custodial” class, in the navy yards, mostly messengers and the civil police.  In Washington, it was also the service into which mechanical workers were placed. [“Classification Statutes,” in USCSC, Civil Service Act and Rules, Statutes, Executive Orders, and Regulations, amended to July 25, 1933 (Washington: GPO, 1933).]


The Early Depression Years
The Classification Act initially applied only to positions in Washington.  In 1928 Congress extended this system, in the Welch Act, to the entire civil service.  The law instructed all field offices to conduct job surveys of their classified workers, so as to bring the entire service into one common classification system.  This project was halted in July 1930 and in its place Congress passed the Brookhart Act, authorizing a series of pay raises, the first across-the-board ones since 1923, that would approximate the intended results of the Welch Act.  The IVbs carried these rates throughout the ensuing decade.  As with the trades, the IVbs received the Saturday half-holiday in 1930 [cutting their weekly hours year-round from 42 to 39], and their salaries too were cut by the Economy Acts of Hoover and Rossevelt. [Letter, Acting Secretary of the Navy Jahncke, to AN&MCAC, 9 May 1930; Letter, Acting Secretary of the Navy, to AN&MCAC, 30 July 1930; Both in: RG181; NA-NY. It appears that the Brooklyn Navy Yard, from looking at its employment charts, had instituted the 1923 classification scheme to a large degree already in the Yard. “Quarterly Report of Civil Force-Recapitulation.”  RG181; NA-NY. For background, see Spero, Government as Employer.]


The Post-1934 Recovery
In the section on trades' wages, the legislation of 1934 that restored the wages and salaries of federal workers is discussed.  This law restored the forty-eight hours of wages civilian defense workers received before 1932 but in order to stay within the spirit of the NIRA set the work week at five days and forty hours.

As of the second week of April 1934, the Brooklyn Navy Yard returned to a five-day work week of forty hours.  However, just prior to the law coming into effect the Attorney-General alerted the Navy Department that the act establishing the forty-hour, five-day week applied only to positions whose wages were set by wage boards or similar authorities, and therefore did not apply to the IVbs, whose hours would have been cut to thirty-five at full pay.  To maintain their weekly hours at thirty-nine, the Saturday morning shift would have to be retained for them alone.  To circumvent this, the Navy Department in short order unilaterally rearranged the white collars’ hours by instituting a work week of thirty-nine hours in five days: four eight-hours followed by a seven-hour Friday. [Memo, Commandant, to HDDOECP, 6 April 1934; RG181; NA-NY; NYT, 7 April 1934; 14 April 1934; 15 April 1934.]

Needless to say, the IVbs did not agree with the Department’s decision.  In mid-May the draftsmen in the Brooklyn Navy Yard presented a petition of complaint to the Commandant for forwarding to the Secretary, that they claimed was signed by 93% of their force.  Following the example of the trades, they felt it only appropriate that they work a thirty-five-hour week at thirty-nine hours pay; if the longer hours were absolutely necessary they should apply only to the Central Drafting Office staff working on drawing up NIRA-sponsored ship construction projects for the BNY and other navy yards.  They perhaps did not help their case by further arguing that having to work an extra hour a day would tire them out and make them therefore less productive.  If the national crisis demanded the sacrifice they would, of course, oblige but they hoped that this would not be the case.

The Commandant duly forwarded the petition on to Washington along with his own comments, stating that while he did not have a formal opinion as to the seven-hour day he disapproved of re-instituting a 5½-day work week for the IVbs alone.  He did want to take the opportunity to let the Department know that, given the seriousness of the Yard’s work load, the three- to six-month lead time necessary to fill a drafting position under civil service regulations, and the dearth of competent drafters on the market, that honoring the draftsmen’s wishes would cause production delays.  Not surprisingly, the Department quickly ruled that opening the Yard on Saturdays would be inefficient, and given the demands of the construction schedule, it ordered the thirty-nine hour, five-day work week to be the new norm for the draftsmen, as well as all the IVbs.  This experience of the IVbs as compared to that of the trades is also a good indicator of the difference in power between the large trade unions and the rather small solely-federal government worker unions (NFFE and AFGE). [Memo, Draftsmen, to Secretary of the Navy, via the Commandant, Navy Yard, New York, 15 May 1934; 1st indorsement, from the Commandant, to the Secretary of the Navy, 15 May 1934; Letter, from the ASN NYD), to the Commandant, Navy Yard, New York, 22 May 1934; All in: RG181; NA-NY. ]

As part of the overall American military buildup after the beginning of the war in Europe, the work week for all IVbs was increased to a full forty hours in May 1940. [Letter, Secretary of the Navy, to Commandants [et al.], 21 May 1940; RG181; NA-NY.]


Raises for the IVbs
The Economy Act of 30 June 1932 had in addition to instituting the wage cuts also prohibited all but essential grade promotions within a service and flat-out suspended all  administrative raises (advancement in levels within a grade).  The Navy Department felt it absolutely necessary that they have the ability to reward at least some of its civilian workers with raises and in the 1934 legislation that restored the wage cuts the Department thought it saw an opportunity.  Although the act did not allow in-grade raises the Secretary asked the Comptroller-General if the law would permit the Department to use savings gathered from non-impounded vacant jobs, reductions in rank, or leave without pay, for raises on an annual basis.  This would be reasonably easy to compute for IVbs whose positions were individually allotted for in the Yard's budget.  The Comptroller agreed with the Navy’s request and once again the navy yards were able to offer pay raises to their IVb employees, though limited in number.  [“An Act Making Appropriations for the Legislative Branch of the Government for the fiscal year ending June 30, 1933, and for other purposes,” Public, No. 212, 30 June 1932.  Letter, McCarl, Comptroller-General, to the Secretary of the Navy, 9 June 1934; Letter, Acting Secretary of the Navy, to AN&MCAC, 23 June 1934; Letter, McCarl, to the Secretary of the Navy, 2 July 1934. All in  RG181; NA-NY.]

The new flow of work into the navy yards in the mid-1930s and the stability it provided allowed the Navy Department to return to the issue of job classification for the field service.  Based on its earlier survey, the Department issued a final classification schedule for the IVbs, to take effect on 1 September 1935.  But for reasons not stated in the files, the Secretary withheld implementing the plan until the summer of 1937.  In the following year, under a very limited and controlled situation a small number of meritorious IVbs, who had not received raises since 1 July 1934, were awarded them. [Memo, Commandant, to HDDO employing Group IV(b) Personnel, 29 August 1935; Memo, from the Commandant, to SDDOECP, 28 July 1936; Both: RG181; NA-NY.]

The small number of raises awarded in the mid to latter 1930s was guaranteed to anger the IVbs in general, particuarly given the concerns that they as well as the trades had with the administration of the efficiency ratings system.  By the end of the decade even the Navy Department had noted what could only be considered favoritism in the dispersal of the raises.  Over these years the Department asked its field stations not to submit recommendations for raises for the same workers for two successive years if other workers with satisfactory ratings had received none.  But this coaxing proved to be inadequate and in response, in July 1939, the Department required that written statements be submitted justifying why stations were denying recommendations for raises for those who qualified for them and who had not received one since 1935. [Circular letter, Secretary of the Navy, to AN&MCAC, 1 July 1939; Commandant's Instructions No. 37-39 (revised), to HDDOeCP, 18 July 1939; RG181; NA-NY.]

But merely asking for the reasons for denying qualified employees raises was not the same thing as awarding them.  In April 1940, an irritated representative from the National Federation of Government Employees, a union mostly of white-collar workers, complained to the Brooklyn commandant that some IVbs in the Yard had not received a raise for over seven years.  In his annual instructions to Yard management two months later, Admiral Woodward reemphasized the importance of an equiable distribution of staff raises.  Apparently and oddly given that the yards were under military command and naval officers had to pass on the civilian supervisors' efficiency ratings reports, neither he nor the Department could simply order, or would order, such recommendations be made. [Letter, Ida Dunitz, Corresponding Secretary, AFGE, NY Naval District Lodge No. 36, to Commandant, U.S. Navy Yard, Brooklyn, NY, 22 April 1940; Commandant's Instructions No. 31-40, to HDDOeCP, 26 June 1940.  Both in: RG181; NA-NY.]

In its appropriations bill for the navy for fiscal year 1941 (1 July 1940 - 30 June 1941), Congress finally stepped in to partially rectify the matter.  It maintained the standing proceeding of allotting for IVb raises--having the Budget Bureau determine what money  naval shore establishments had saved from turnovers, vacancies and such. This time though, the act included rules on the distributing of the funds.  Provided that they qualified, all senior employees (salary $3200 and up) denied a raise since June 1935, and all lower grade workers denied one since June 1937, were given a one-step increase.  There was one restriction: employees with ratings from 80 to 85.9 could receive a raise only if the new salary did not elevate them above the mid-range for their positions. [Circular letter, Secretary of the Navy, to AN&MCAC, 30 August 1940; RG181; NA-NY; Black, Charlestown Navy Yard.]

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John R Stobo    ©        June 2004; June 2005*