Posts Tagged ‘Harry F Morton’

Thousands of merchant seamen lost lives in World War II

posted on March 24, 2014

By Lincoln Cushing
Heritage writer

“The first Liberty ship was named after Patrick Henry. The last 100 have been named for merchant seamen who died in wartime service.” –Fore ‘n’ Aft, Kaiser Richmond shipyard newsletter, May 18, 1945.[i]

Almost 1,500 World War II Liberty and Victory ships were built in the Kaiser shipyards. What most people do not realize is that they were not produced for the U.S. Navy – they were made for the United States Maritime Commission, an independent federal agency created by the Merchant Marine Act of 1936.[ii]

These ships were vital to winning the war. General Dwight D. Eisenhower issued a message congratulating those who built the ships:

“This headquarters has just heard the glorious news that American shipyards have produced more than 2,100 merchant vessels in the past two years.

WPA poster recruiting for US Maritime Service, 1942; image courtesy Library of Congress

WPA poster recruiting for U.S. Maritime Service, 1942; image courtesy Library of Congress

“This remarkable record, unequaled in history, will bring confidence and encouragement to every soldier, sailor and airman in the Allied Forces, for they are most keenly aware that their ability to carry on the fight, indeed, their ability to survive, is completely dependent on ships . . . Ships, still more ships, and ever more ships will help smash the enemy.”[iii]

But ships don’t run by themselves. Merchant seamen staffed those vessels and thus served a vital – and dangerous – function during World War II. Although usually thought of as civilians, these seamen were “military” according to International Law because their ships were armed – albeit lightly. The merchant mariners were trained to shoot and could fire on the enemy if threatened.

President Roosevelt lauds seamen

President Roosevelt declared in 1944: “It seems to me particularly appropriate that Victory Fleet Day this year should honor the men and management of the American Merchant Marine.

“The operators in this war have written one of its most brilliant chapters. They have delivered the goods when and where needed in every theater of operations and across every ocean in the biggest, the most difficult and dangerous transportation job ever undertaken.

“As time goes on, there will be greater public understanding of our merchant fleet’s record during this war,” Roosevelt said.[iv]

"Back the invasion- Get the oil to the tanks" shipyard progress infographic billboard, Kaiser Swan Island shipyard (Oregon), 1944

“Back the invasion – Get the oil to the tanks” shipyard progress infographic billboard, Kaiser Swan Island Shipyard (Oregon), 1944

Legislation to equalize benefits for merchant seamen with those afforded members of the armed services under the GI Bill languished in Congress, despite the president’s endorsement and support from Admiral Emory S. Land, chairman of the Maritime Commission.

On the advice of his labor relations lawyer, Harry F. Morton, Henry Kaiser pushed for the legislation. Morton wrote to Kaiser:[v]

“I cannot see how this endorsement could possibly affect our dealings with the various unions since the purpose of the bill is to compensate the seamen for the personal risks these men take daily while in the service.

“As Admiral Land points out . . . more than 5,700 merchant seamen have lost their lives or have been reported missing in action, and over 500 of them are prisoners of war.

“True enough, merchant seamen receive considerably more pay than do the men in the Armed Services, but that alone does not warrant the conclusion that they are not entitled to the added protection recommended by Admiral Land.

“ . . . [it is] my conclusion that you should join with the President and Admiral Land in recommending this legislation (because) any other course would be inconsistent with your advocacy of merchant seamen’s needs in the past. I recommend this even though it is a departure from your standard position regarding endorsements of proposed legislation.”

Yet with Roosevelt’s untimely death on April 12, 1945, political support for extending basic benefits to merchant seamen for their wartime service vanished until Congress awarded them veterans’ status 40-plus years later in 1988 – too late for half of those who served.

 

Special thanks to Toni Horodysky, historian behind the American Merchant Marine at War website, for help with this article.

Short link to this story: http://bit.ly/1eGheL3


[i] Not only were 100 ships thusly named, an additional 20 were named for merchant mariners who received the Distinguished Service Medal. Only one of these – the SS Samuel L. Cobb, launched May 27, 1944, named for a seaman lost April 17, 1942, aboard the SS Alcoa Guide – was built in a Kaiser shipyard.

[ii] Although building merchant ships was its top priority, until the Maritime Commission became the Federal Maritime Commission in 1950 it was also responsible for training ship’s officers under the U.S. Maritime Service.

[iii] General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Commander in Chief of Allied Forces in the Mediterranean area, message to home front workers, Fore ‘n’ Aft, 10/22/1943

[iv] Franklin D. Roosevelt, public address 9/19/1944.

[v] Inter-Office memo from Harry F. Morton to Henry J. Kaiser, 12/23/1944; Henry J. Kaiser papers, UC Berkeley Bancroft Library, BANC 26:25-4

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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.

HFM2

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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