Unions in the Brooklyn Navy Yard                                                      Home Page
Nineteenth-century: Various ship-trade unions, such as shipwrights. (1)
1904:  The International Association of Machinists (IAM) establishes District 44, as umbrella group for all IAM lodges (locals) consisting of federally-employed machinists. (2)

By the 1930s District 44 had members in the navy yards, arsenals, Panama Canal Zone, Bureau of Engraving, General Printing Office, Coast Guard, the lighthouse service, and in river and harbor works. (3)

1908: American Federation of Labor (AFL) establishes the Metal Trades Department (MTD). (4)

Metal Trades Councils are formed in metropolitan regions to act as negotiators with businesses employing multiple metal trades.  Initially, MTCs encompassed whatever navy yard and arsenal metal workers that lay within their jurisdictions.

At its inception the MTD was composed of the following national unions:
IAM Patternmakers  Metal Polishers Foundry Employees
Molders Boilermakers Steamfitters IBEW (electricians) 
Blacksmiths  Stove Mounters Steam Engineers 

c. 1910:  At first, MTCs did not allow non-metal workers to join.  Navy yard and arsenal workers formed own cross-trade associations, such as the National League of Government Employees.

January 1913:  In the BNY there is mention of Branch #11 of the National League of Government Employees. (5)

c. June 1913:  In the BNY the Affiliated Trades of the New York Navy Yards is established. (5)  The following trades and occupations are listed as members:

Machinists Blacksmiths Tool Dressers Electricians
Die Sinkers
Acetylene Welders
Boat Builders
Sheet Metal Workers
Carpenters & Joiners
Clerks & Draughtmen
Chippers & Calkers

Note:  The AFL declared these associations “dual” organizations and refused to charter them, but as they were in government establishments there was little the AFL could do to prevent their existence.

1915:  MTD revises its constitution to allow federal Metal Trades Councils to admit all unions no matter the trade or occupation.  The Brooklyn Metal Trades Council  (BMTC), with a president and executive board is then set up at BNY.  By 1916 it and other navy yard MTCs have displaced the rival groups.  MTCs are the major labor voice for navy yard workers from then on. (6)

1937:  Members of BMTC:  (7)
Machinists Boilermakers Draftsmen
Electricians Molders Painters
Patternmakers Plumbers Pipefitters
Sailmakers Sheetmetal workers Shipfitters
Government Employees       [AFGE]

Note: The National Federation of Federal  Employees (NFFE) was set up by the AFL in 1917 to organize white-collar federal employees, and it had a local at the BNY.  In 1931 the NFFE withdrew from the AFL over a jurisdictional dispute.  In 1933 the AFL established a second white-collar federal-employee union, the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE).  Both unions had locals in the BNY, although the NFFE's was independent of any other labor organization. (8)

c. 1900 - ?:  Throughout the first half of twentieth century various independent unions attempted with varying success to organize certain trades.

For example: on the East Coast a large number of welders banded together in the International Association of Mechanic Welders and drillers into the Navy Yard Drillers Association.  Both groups wanted independence from the Boilermakers, who had jurisdiction over all the hull construction trades. (9)

1937:  Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) unions begin to organize in navy yards, with limited to success.  Part of the problem was that the CIO was unable to reconcile jurisdictional disputes between the 3 unions that attempted to organize in the navy yards.

1937 - 1942:  Industrial Union of Marine and Shipbuilding Workers of America (IUMSWA) makes two attempts to organize blue-collar workers in BNY.  Both locals (21 and later, 102) fail within 18 months of their chartering. (10)
1937:  The CIO establishes the United Federal Workers of America (UFW) out of several locals that the AFGE had expelled.  In 1938 they start organizing in the navy yards; set up Local 137 in BNY.  Their jurisdiction covers all non-supervisory navy yard workers regardless of trade or occupation.
1946:  UFW merges with  CIO state and municipal workers' union to become the United Public Workers of America.  In 1950 the union is expelled from the CIO on charges of being dominated by the communist party. (11)
1951:  Mention of  United Public Workers of America, Naval Shipyard Branch of the Federal Workers' Union, Local 20, New York, NY, in New York Naval Shipyard. (12)
1953:  UPW disbands. (11)
1938 - ?:  Federation of Architects, Engineers, Chemists, and Technicians (FAECT) is established.  It charters chapter 24 in the BNY. (13)
1964:  Members of BMTC: (14)
Boilermakers, Iron Shipbuilders, Blacksmiths, Forgers and Helpers, Local 36 Molders & Foundry Workers U of North America, Local 96
Carpenters & Joiners of America, Local 2031 Machinists, Lodge 556
Sheetmetal Workers Marine Coppersmiths, Local 411 Machinists, National Welders & Cutters, Lodge 2156
Electrical Workers, Local 3 Operating Engineers, Local 610
Firemen and Oilers, Bridge Crane Operators, Local 39 Painters, Decorators and Paper Hangers of America, Local 543
American Federation of Technical Engineers, Local 2 American Federation of Technical Engineers, Local 162
American Federation of Technical Engineers, Planners, Estimators and Progressmen, Local 191 Heat and Frost Insulators & Asbestos Workers, Local 104
Bridge, Structural & Ornamental Iron Workers, Local 683 Journeymen & Apprentices of Plumbing & Pipefitting Industry, Local 711
AFGE Fork Lift Operators, Local 1791 AFGE, Local 1636
Hod Carriers, Building & Common Laborers of America, Local 713 Sheetmetal Workers, Local 401
AFL-CIO Truckers, Local 3029 Patternmakers Association of NYC and Vicinity
Local 2059, AFGE, Restaurant Workers

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(1) On nineteenth-century federal-labor history, see Spero, Government as Employer; Nesbitt, Labor Relations; Ziskind, Thousand Strikes.

(2) Machinists' Monthly Journal, May 1904.

(3) MMJ, May 1934. Spero, Government as Employer, 95.

(4) Proceedings of the First Annual Convention of the Metal Trades Department, 1909.

(5) Memo, 31 January 1913; Memo, 10 June 1913; General Correspondence, 1913; RG181; NA-NY.

(6) Spero, Government as Employer, 95-97;  MTD, Seventh Annual Proceedings, 1915; MTD, Eighth Annual Proceedings, 1916.

(7) Memorandum from Philp Engel, President, Brooklyn Metal Trades Council, Navy Yard, NY, October 1937; RG181; NA-NY.

(8) Spero, Government as Employer, 176 ff.

(9)  On welders: “Report on Metal Trades Convention,” Boilermakers Journal, November 1934; “Report on Metal Trades Department Cnvention,” BJ, December 1935.On the drillers:  Letter, from Delegates Frank X. Tenk, Arthur F.J. McCarthy, Montgomery B. Lloyd, of Navy Yard Drillers Association, to Secretary Knox, via channels, 2 December 1940;  RG181; NA-NY.

(10) Bernard Matthew Mergen, “A History of the Industrial Union of Marine and Shipbuilding Workers of America, 1933-1951,” Ph.D. diss, U. of Pennsylvania, 1968; “IUMSWA,” Encyclopedia of Labor Unions, Gary M Fink, editor-in-chief, (Greenwood Press: Westport, CT, 1977); “Guide to the Archives of the Industrial Union of Marine and Shipbuilding Workers of America,” Historical Manuscripts and Archives Department, University of Maryland at College Park, 1990.

(11) Spero, Government as Employer; Nesbitt, Labor Relations; “UPWA,” in Encyclopedia of Labor Unions; Max M. Kampelman, The Communist Party vs. the CIO: A Study in Power Politics.

(12) The local bought a program ad for the BNY's 150th anniversary celebration. "Souvenir Journal, Sesqui-Centennial Anniversary," 1951.

(13) Letter, from F. Kamarck, Corr. Sec., Chapter 24, FAECT, to Claude Swanson, via official channels, 18 April 1938; RG181; NA-NY.

(14) "Rally for NY Naval Shipyard in Brooklyn, October 4, 1964," pamphlet.


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        compiled by John R Stobo     ©        October 2005