Posts Tagged ‘Ford Motor Company’

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.


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.


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.


Short link to this story:

[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. <>

[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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Richmond fans get sneak peek at Rosie Park visitors’ center

posted on May 1, 2012


Oil House tourists enjoy the ambiance.

By Ginny McPartland
Heritage writer

It’s not quite ready yet, but a group of proud fans of Richmond, California, got an early tour of the resurrected Ford Company Oil House on the Richmond waterfront Saturday. The industrial brick building that once powered the Ford motor vehicle plant has been morphed into what promises to be a gorgeous visitors’ center for Rosie the Riveter national park. The center is scheduled to open to the public next month.

Evidence that construction crews planned to return after the party to finish their work was everywhere in the three-level renovated space, but no one seemed to care. Partygoers sipped sparkling wine and relished the fulfillment of a decade-old dream.

Cheers to the new visitors’ center!

The Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historical Park was established by an act of Congress in 2000. The National Park Service (NPS), the Rosie the Riveter Trust and many community groups have been working toward the opening of the visitors’ center since that time.

The park encompasses the Kaiser Richmond Shipyards and other World War II sites in the area. The restored Red Oak Victory ship, which houses a museum and gift shop, can be seen across the water from the old Ford plant.

Modern design for historical structure

The Oil House was constructed in 1931 as part of the Ford Motor Company Assembly Plant Complex (where tanks were manufactured during World War II). Although not shown in the complex original plans, the style of the building indicates it was designed by Albert Kahn Associates. “The construction, brickwork, industrial metal sash windows and detailing of the building clearly indicate that it was designed by the same architect,” explained the Rosie the Riveter Park Chief of Interpretation Morgan Smith.

“The function of the building was essential to the assembly line operation, housing multiple large oil tanks that fueled the boilers that, in turn, ran the steam powered conveyer system and equipment of the plant.” The lower level of the Oil House was only accessible through a tunnel from the main plant building and from a narrow enclosed ladder from the upper levels.

The Visitor Education Center to open in the refurbished Oil House will feature a theater, classroom and traveling exhibits. The park service’s goal was to create a modern facility yet retain the historical integrity of the original construction.

The reception at the Oil House was a preliminary to the annual Rosie the Riveter Trust Annual Dinner, a fundraiser for the national park. A number of Kaiser Shipyard workers attended the dinner and were recognized from the podium by Diane Hedler of Kaiser Permanente, vice president of the Rosie Trust board. John August, executive director of the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions, was the keynote speaker. Jane Bartke, president of the Rosie Trust board, was chair of the event.

The dinner was staged in the Craneway Pavilion, formerly the Ford Assembly Plant, which was converted into an event space in 2008. Developer Eddie Orton and architect Marcy Wong won an American Institute of Architects national award in 2011 for the restoration of the 40,000-square foot Craneway, which also houses the Boiler House Restaurant.

Photos by Joe Paolazzi

The Craneway Pavilion was once the Ford Assembly Plant.

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