Posts Tagged ‘AFL-CIO’

Two historical reflections on Kaiser Permanente

posted on April 24, 2015
BR9-27
Dr. Sidney Garfield during a moment of relaxation at Contractors General Hospital, Mojave Desert, circa 1934

Lincoln Cushing
Heritage writer

On April 24, 1997 – 18 years ago today – Kaiser Permanente and the AFL-CIO announced a groundbreaking nationwide pact that acknowledged the importance of partnering with labor unions.

John Sweeney, president of the AFL-CIO, praised the agreement:

“It is my hope that together we can fully realize the vision our predecessors had when Kaiser was originally founded in the 1940s – an affordable, high-quality health plan for working families.”

The next year, historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, author of the acclaimed 1994 title No Ordinary Time – Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II, echoed Sweeney’s homage to Kaiser Permanente’s long term impact when she summed up the contributions of Kaiser Permanente’s founding physician Dr. Sidney Garfield and his colleagues during a 1998 talk in Oakland, Calif.:

“It was in the midst of that crisis that Garfield and company, through the twin ideas of prepayment and group (medical) practice, created a whole new system for the delivery of health care that would restructure the traditional relationship of the American people to their doctors – just as surely as Roosevelt’s New Deal, also created in crisis, restructured the traditional relationship of the American people to their government…

They succeeded against all odds because of a passionate belief in what they were doing and a commitment to one another, a spirit of innovation, and a sense of mission.”

Today, both The Kaiser Permanente Labor Management Partnership (“The largest and most successful in the country,” according to Jim Pruitt, vice president of LMP) and the Kaiser Permanente Health Plan continue to make history.

 

Short link to this story: http://k-p.li/1DYIMGU

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Kaiser’s first labor attorney in the thick of union battles

posted on January 23, 2014

By Lincoln Cushing
Heritage writer

Second in a series

In 1941, before the United States entered World War II, Henry J. Kaiser was already building cargo ships for the British war effort. Early on, labor jurisdiction issues loomed large, and Kaiser’s labor man Harry F. Morton had his hands full.

Before the shipyards opened, Kaiser representatives signed a closed-shop agreement with American Federation of Labor-affiliated unions and hired a handful of workers; when the yards began full operation, the thousands of new workers were required to join the AFL.

Because many of them were already members of Congress of Industrial Organizations-affiliated unions, they were subsequently discharged. The CIO filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board.

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Aerial photo, Todd-California Shipyard in Richmond, CA (later Permanente Metals shipyard #1), circa 1941

In a letter dated Dec. 6, 1941, the day before Pearl Harbor, Morton reported to Kaiser’s shipyard managers, Edgar Kaiser in Portland and Clay Bedford in Richmond, on this issue.

The “industry” side proposed a formal proportional allocation among the unions for journeyman jobs for welders, but this did not sit well with the nine AFL unions whose members included welders.

Eventually a compromise was reached in which welders in the shipyards would not be required to maintain membership in more than one union and that employment would not require purchase of a permit fee.[i]

Morton aligns with the AFL in closed shop fight

When the jurisdiction wars erupted again in 1943, Morton fought alongside the shipyard craft unions and received a landmark favorable ruling.

The U.S. government had charged that the Kaiser shipyards in Portland had acted unfairly in favoring the American Federation of Labor over the emerging, competitive, and radical CIO.

This time Congress’ help was called upon and passed what is known as the “Frey amendment” (named for head of the AFL Metal Trades Department, John P. Frey). The CIO lost on a technicality.

This ruling was crucial because it meant Henry J. Kaiser could run a closed shop in his shipyards, and production of ships for the war would not be jeopardized by struggles over workforce representation.

Morton read his victory telegram at a Metal Trades conference and declared: “And thus endeth another chapter in the history of the attempt of the National Labor Relations Board to break the union shop.”[ii]

Labor man tapped for aircraft plant

Corsairs in production line at Brewster Aviation.

Corsairs in production line at Brewster Aeronautical, circa 1943.

In late 1943 Morton moved back East as vice president of Industrial Relations for the Brewster Aeronautical Corporation. Brewster was manufacturing F3A-1 Corsair[iii] fighters, but had been ineptly run.

As a favor to the Navy Secretary, Kaiser agreed to try and turn the company around. Despite cost-cutting and improved output, Kaiser was delighted to turn the plant back over to Navy officials in May 1944.

While at Brewster, Morton continued to advise Kaiser on labor.  After reviewing a report by Industrial Relations Counselors[iv] on the then-new steel mill in Fontana, Calif., Morton sent a telegram to Kaiser executive Eugene Trefethen Jr.:

“I did not advocate a closed shop provision for the Fontana contract, but I did object to IRC’s recommendation that “. . . the company resist any demands of the union for a closed shop or union shop contract.”

“This is so foreign to all of Mr. Kaiser’s fundamental beliefs and public utterances that I could not let it go unchallenged . . . I violently disagree with the fundamental approach of IRC to labor problems.

“It is the approach of AT&T, Bethlehem, DuPont, G.E., General Motors, Standard [Oil] of New Jersey, U.S. Rubber and U.S. Steel, but not of Kaiser.

“It is my conviction that a large part of Brewster’s trouble is the result of IRC thinking and approach, and I am confident that what is needed is less IRC and more Kaiser thinking and approach in labor relations.[v]

Morton active after war ends

In early 1945, Morton briefed Kaiser on a meeting he’d had with Charles MacGowan, president of the Boilermakers union, a group that was influential (and controversial) in Kaiser’s wartime shipyards.

The subject was the merger of the American Federal of Labor with the Congress of Industrial Organizations. MacGowan opposed the merger. Morton advised Kaiser:

“I pass these suggestions on to you for what they may be worth. Personally, I don’t believe they are worth much, as [Philip] Murray and [William] Green had agreed to this once before and the agreement was later repudiated.[vi]

Green (AF of L) and Murray (CIO) both died in 1952; it would not be until 1955 that the two labor organizations would merge under the leadership of George Meany. The AFL-CIO Murray-Green award received by Henry J. Kaiser in 1965 was named for them.

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Carl Brown (left), president of the Independent Foremen’s Association of America, confers with Harry F. Morton while representing Kaiser-Frazer. UPI newspaper photo, 2/19/1949.

The last known records of Morton’s career reflect his negotiation with employees at the Kaiser-Frazer automobile plant. One of the provisions of the recently enacted landmark Taft-Hartley Act removed any legal obligation to bargain with foremen; Morton felt that they should keep faith with the foremen, and the Ford Motor Company managers felt they should not.

Harry F. Morton’s full story remains to be told. We lose sight of him in our research after the early 1950s. However, he now is recognized as a significant factor in shaping the climate of positive labor relations that characterizes Henry J. Kaiser’s legacy.

<http://www.ircounselors.org/about.html>

Short link to this story: http://bit.ly/19R0OiK


[i] Harry F. Morton correspondence to Edgar F. Kaiser and Clay Bedford, December 6, 1941; BANC MSS 83/42C, ctn 9, folder 12.

[ii] Speech by Harry F. Morton, in Proceedings of the 35th Annual Convention of the Metal Trades Department, AFL-CIO, September 27, 1943.

[iii] The Brewster F3A was an F4U “Corsair” built by Brewster for the U.S Navy; Chance-Vought created and built the Corsair, which also was built under contract by Goodyear.

[iv] In the wake of the horrific Ludlow Massacre in the Colorado minefields of 1917, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., created a labor-management think tank that today is known as Industrial Relations Counselors, Inc. <http://www.ircounselors.org/about.html>

[v] Telegram from Harry F. Morton to Eugene Trefethen Jr., about IRC report on Fontana, October 1, 1943; BANC MSS 83/42C, ctn 19, folder 25.

[vi] Interoffice memo, Fleetwings Division of Kaiser Cargo [aviation manufacturing, Bristol, PA], from Harry F. Morton to Henry J. Kaiser in New York, January 22, 1945; BANC MSS 83/42C, ctn 151, folder 12.

 

 

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Early advisor helped guide Henry Kaiser’s labor relations

posted on January 21, 2014

By Lincoln Cushing
Heritage writer

First in a series

How was it that Henry J. Kaiser, a successful international industrialist, became a friend of labor? Much of his position can be traced to acceptance of stronger labor legislation such as the Wagner Act of 1935, as well as to his heavy investment in government contracts.

Also, recent research has revealed the crucial influence of a previously little-known employee – Harry F. Morton.

Harry F. Morton reviews NLRB case regarding Wagner Act provision about closed shops; The Log (a national shipbuilding industry magazine), February 1943

Harry F. Morton reviews NLRB case regarding Wagner Act provision about closed shops. Photo from The Log (a national shipbuilding industry magazine), February 1943

 

Morton wryly and accurately described his unique position in a speech before a labor audience:

“I am a lawyer – God help me. . . Not only that but I am a lawyer who represents capital, and I am standing on a platform in a hall where there are only representatives of organized labor, and I have lived long enough to have them stand up and applaud me.”[i]

Author Stephen B. Adams noted that “Kaiser went well beyond both the spirit and the letter of the law to take a leadership role in industrial labor relations.”

Kaiser himself said in 1939: “I didn’t believe in unions at all many years ago. I wouldn’t hire union men on the job. (But) when the government decided that the men should be organized and that we should have collective bargaining, I decided I should abide by what the government wanted to do whether I agreed with it or not.”[ii]

Between the time Henry J. Kaiser helped build Grand Coulee Dam in 1938 and his death in 1967, his labor credentials became quite impressive. Examples include:

  • In 1944 the wartime steel mill in Fontana, Calif., was the first basic steel-producing unit in the country to sign a union contract with the United Steelworkers of America – Congress of Industrial Organizations.
  • In July 1946, the contract between the Permanente Foundation hospitals (Oakland and the Richmond Field Station) and the upstart Nurses’ Guild of Alameda County was among the first collective bargaining agreements for nurses in California.[iii]
  • In 1950 the International Longshoremen and Warehousemen Union and the Pacific Maritime Association requested the Kaiser Foundation Health Plan to provide health care for all 22,500 of their workers up and down the West Coast; the plan soon covered 80 percent of members.
  • In 1965, Henry J. Kaiser was the first businessman ever to receive the prestigious AFL-CIO Murray-Green award, for his achievements in health and welfare.

Harry F. Morton’s untold story

Harry F. Morton's children, Myrtle and Jack, Fore'n'Aft, 1943-07-09

Harry F. Morton’s children, Myrtle and Jack, Fore’n’Aft (Richmond shipyard magazine),
July 9, 1943

So who was Harry F. Morton? Few books or articles on Henry J. Kaiser mention him, or they do so only in passing. But recent research has revealed that he worked for Henry J. Kaiser as his labor specialist from 1936 into the early 1950s.

Documents have yielded a picture of him as a powerful negotiator with a good heart who brought Kaiser’s organization through a few minefields in the war years and earned praise all around – from his union contacts as well as his Kaiser colleagues.

Like many Americans, Morton’s own children were part of the war effort. His daughter, Myrtle, was the assistant woman’s coordinator in the Richmond Kaiser Shipyards. His son, Jack, was a lieutenant in the U.S. Army Air Corps.

Around 1936 Morton, who had been working as head of a division of the Treasury Department in Washington, D.C., was approached by Henry J. Kaiser with a tax case. Kaiser was so impressed with Morton that every month for five months he tried to hire him away as his tax man, and he eventually succeeded.

Morton soon became Kaiser’s point person on labor, just as Kaiser was getting ready for the huge Grand Coulee Dam project near Spokane, Wash.

Kaiser’s conversion outlined

Kaiser, a partner in the Six Companies construction consortium, had recently finished building the mighty Hoover Dam (Boulder Dam), a project plagued by labor strife and industrial injuries. Years later, Morton gave a speech to a labor audience in which he described the situation:Grand Coulee Dam Graphic

“Kaiser was not always the idol of the working man. He was at one time as tough an employer as any in the United States. That is all any of them knew in the construction game. Kaiser’s people built Boulder Dam (in the early 1930s), an open shop job.

“A few years later they built Grand Coulee, the tightest closed shop job you ever saw. We spent four days in conference on the labor contract at Spokane. We sat down with the Building Trades Unions and made a contract in about three hours.

“We sat down with the butchers, the bakers, the candlestick makers, and we were there three days making that contract. The laundry workers, the operators who run the moving picture machine, the service station attendants, the store clerks – everybody at Coulee Dam belonged to a union.

“And here is the interesting thing. We did not get ‘religion’ just because we liked you people. I am speaking of management now. We learned this: The cost per yard of concrete poured at Grand Coulee was less than it was per yard of concrete in Boulder Dam.

“The cheaper job was the closed shop, the union shop. The more expensive job was the open shop job. There is your beginning and reason for us getting religion, and when we got it we went all the way.”[iv]

But as Depression-era projects wound down and World War II loomed, Morton’s career as Henry J. Kaiser’s “labor man” (his formal titles included “Permanente Legal Advisor” and “Industrial Relations Counsel”) would encompass increasingly higher profile labor issues on a national scale.

Next: Harry F. Morton’s role in Kaiser Industries during World War II.

Special thanks to Lynda DeLoach, archival consultant to the National Labor College, for research assistance in this story.

 

Short link to this story: http://bit.ly/LPvmH7


[i] Speech by Harry F. Morton, in Proceedings of the 35th Annual Convention of the Metal Trades Department, AFL-CIO, September 27, 1943.

[ii] Stephen B. Adams, Mr. Kaiser Goes to Washington

[iii] Labor news roundup, This World, October 13, 1946; “Unions here sign nurses contract,” Oakland Tribune, July 26, 1946.

[iv] Speech by Harry F. Morton, in Proceedings of the 35th Annual Convention of the Metal Trades Department, AFL-CIO, September 27, 1943.

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