Posts Tagged ‘labor’

Looking Back: Laura Robertson, 97, Recalls Roots in Kaiser Shipyards

posted on January 18, 2017

Lincoln Cushing, Heritage writer


"Rube" (Ruby) Bingham, worker at NW Kaiser shipyard, Portland, 1943-Fall (photo courtesy daughter Laura Robertson)

“Rube” (Ruby) Bingham, worker at Kaiser shipyard, Portland; Fall, 1943. (photo gift of daughter Laura Robertson)

Laura Robertson, 97, chuckles when her doctor in Kaiser Permanente’s Colorado Region stumbles on the tiny size of her pharmacy order. She takes so few medications that the doctor assumes something’s off – but Laura assures her she’s just in very good health.

Laura’s not just healthy, she’s been connected to the big Kaiser picture almost all her life. I had the chance to sit down with her last October, and she’s got quite a story to tell about roots in the Kaiser shipyards and experiences as Kaiser Permanente member.


Early Years: Portland before the War

I am the oldest survivor of my family. I have outlived all my original friends, including people I’ve worked with. There are too many people that live in the past, and I have no desire to do that. Day-to-day is much more interesting.

These younger people think you’re lying, that you’ve got a great imagination.

Map of three NW Kaiser shipyards, 1943; by Marguerite Gillespie, from Record Breakers publication, Oregon Shipbuilding Corporation

Map of Portland-area Kaiser shipyards and Northern Permanente Hospital, 1943; by Marguerite Gillespie, from Record Breakers, Oregon Shipbuilding Corporation.

I had to dig pretty deep for some of this stuff.

Portland. I went there with my mother, Rube (pronounced “Ruby”) Bingham, in 1938. I worked in a restaurant, and was a member of the Cooks and Bartenders Union. I made $20 a week.

I then left the restaurant business and went to a business school a half day and worked for the school a half day to pay for tuition. I worked nights and weekends in a restaurant. During the war years I worked for Industrial Claims, an insurance company that handled insurance for “high risk” industries.

I worked on the 13th floor of what I think was the Board of Trades building, right down on the waterfront.  You know the river splits the town in two – I lived on the West side, close enough that I could walk to work, or I could walk down to the corner and take the streetcar. When I got to work and took the elevator I could look down onto the decks of the foreign ships that were coming in and loading and unloading. And, of course, it took me a while to understand that they came in on the tides, and had to wait to go out on the tides. And when they went out, it was fresh water, and the decks were practically at the water level. But once they passed the bar, the sea water was more buoyant. There were all sorts of countries coming and going – German, Russian, Scandinavian.

I was married in 1941. My wedding ring was from a jewelry store in Portland. It cost $30, and we bought it on an installment plan of $5 a week. The girls in my office were envious because I actually had a diamond. It was just a chip!


Working in the Shipyards

My mother worked in the Kaiser shipyards. Here’s a photo of her in 1943, in her work clothes. She installed sheet metal ducting after it was insulated.

Migration chart map, Fortune magazine 1945-02. Infographics

Migration chart map, Fortune magazine, February, 1945. Design by Walt Disney studios.

I remember the change in Portland during the war years. Kaiser was advertising for help all over, and they were coming in from all areas. Before the war, Portland was a pretty typical city. The Chinese worked in restaurants and laundries, the Filipinos were in the food industry, the Japanese were vegetable farmers. I had never heard a foreign language until I went to Portland.

[Editor’s note: wartime workforce labor migration dramatically affected many West coast cities, including Portland. The largely white, urban, population experienced struggles with an influx of mostly poor rural people and immigrants of color. Before World War II, Black Americans made up only 1 percent of Oregon’s population; most of them lived in Portland. By war’s end, the black population had grown from 2,000 to 20,000. In a 1974 interview, Kaiser Permanente founding physician Dr. Sidney Garfield remarked on the impact of this wartime immigration: “Portland people were rather unhappy with the influx of workmen into their area because Portland was sort of a staid, stuffy community…”]

I grew up in a town of 300 in Iowa, right next to Missouri, and I finished high school in 1936. We were very close to the Mason-Dixon Line. Just 25 or 30 miles south of us the schools were segregated; where we were, what few blacks were there went to school with the whites. We didn’t experience some of the extremes that people did in the south.

But in wartime Portland, if they weren’t speaking a foreign language they might have well have, if you were trying to understand what they were trying to tell you. They all had their own lingo. That, too, created quite an interesting atmosphere. Everybody trying to understand all these different people, and they were having trouble trying to understand us.

Aerial photo, Vanport City, 1942 [circa]; [C-10 - Oregonship albums Box 4 - M-343]

Aerial photo, Vanport City, circa 1943

I remember Vanport. I had friends who lived there. It was in a vegetable garden, in a flood plain, and it did eventually flood – but I’d moved to Denver by then.

[Editor’s note: Henry J. Kaiser built Vanport – Oregon’s second-largest city – to handle the enormous need for temporary wartime housing, including most of the immigrant black labor force. It was the largest public housing project in the nation and included facilities such as schools, movie theaters, and the first publicly funded daycare center built in the United States. On May 28, 1948, a dike failed during unseasonably high flooding on the Columbia River, resulting in at least 15 deaths and the total destruction of the city.]


Denver: Becoming a Kaiser Permanente Member

I came to Denver in October, 1947. Denver was that much behind the coast, on lots of things. Denver was a completely different region and atmosphere.

I took a loss in wages. Because of my union connections, I got a job with the Joint Council of Teamster locals. I started working for Local 17, the freight dock workers, where I worked for seven years before being fired when a new manager came in.

Postcard of Bess Kaiser Hospital, Oregon, printed 1959. Given by Rube Bingham to daughter Laura Robertson, with message on back. Floors 3-5 are numbered by hand. Gift of Laura Robertson.

Postcard of Bess Kaiser Hospital, Oregon, printed 1959. Given by Rube Bingham to daughter Laura Robertson, with message on back (below). Floors 3-5 are numbered by hand.

I got a job working for the Atomic Energy Commission in Grand Junction, so I moved there with my husband. The paperwork to get a clearance was incredible. It took me weeks to prepare it. An official came out to my house to talk about my application – which was very unusual – and he said that after contacting all of my references they didn’t get one negative comment. I got the job. I was on the procurement desk for the expiration division. That meant a worker brought the yellowcake samples to my desk and I took them to the lab. I contacted the warehouses to check on availability of equipment needed. If none was available I completed a nine-carbon form that I presented to the proper authority for his signature so that the equipment could be ordered.

Postcard of Bess Kaiser Hospital, Oregon, printed 1959. Given by Rube Bingham to daughter Laura Robertson, with satirical message on back "My summer home."

Postcard of Bess Kaiser Hospital, Oregon; satirical message on back “My summer home.”

I worked about one year, and in 1962 returned to work for the Teamsters in their Grand Junction office. I walked in their office and organized their records, which were a mess. This was just about time the Teamsters came under federal investigation. I had to stall them for two days because my boss was out of town.

It was through my Teamster employment that I became a Kaiser Permanente member, and have been ever since.

My mother stayed in Portland. Here’s a Bess Kaiser Hospital postcard from my mother, on which she wrote “My Summer Home. Third floor, May 10, 1964 – Broken arm; fourth floor, September 3, 1964 – head-on collision. Fifth floor, August 1962 – gall bladder operation.”


-Special thanks to the Colorado Kaiser Permanente communications team for setting up this interview, and to member Laura Robertson for her patience and support in producing this story.


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Modern hospital groundbreaking brings out Los Angeles heavy hitters

posted on December 14, 2016

Lincoln Cushing, Heritage writer


"Cement-pouring ceremonies Wednesday, November 7, at the Sunset Blvd. and Edgemont St. site in Los Angeles were participated in by (left to right) realtor Lawrence Block; Permanente Health Plan Manager Brian M, Kelly; Retail Clerks Union Local 770, President Lee Barbone; Local 770 Benefit Fund Administrator."

“Cement-pouring ceremonies Wednesday, November 7, at the Sunset Blvd. and Edgemont St. site in Los Angeles were participated in by (left to right) realtor Lawrence Block; Permanente Health Plan Manager Brian M, Kelly; Retail Clerks Union Local 770, President Lee Barbone; Local 770 Benefit Fund Administrator.”

It wasn’t a movie premiere, but a modern, gleaming building with the latest in medical capabilities that brought out the who’s who of Los Angeles – real estate developers, hospital administrators, labor leaders, and politicians – in late 1951.

When the new Kaiser Foundation Hospital in Los Angeles on Sunset Boulevard opened its doors on June 17, 1953, it was national news. It had numerous modern features, and was a milestone in the health plan’s expansion in Southern California. Years before he became a famous TV news anchor, Chet Huntley’s radio broadcast about the opening gushed “The use of labor-saving devices, the use of light (both natural and artificial), the furnishings, the gadgets, the décor, and the personnel are all combined to make the new Kaiser Foundation Hospital something special.”

"Another construction view of the $2,500.000 Permanente Foundation Hospital reveals the wide are to be covered on Sunset Blvd. and Edgemont St. by the seven-story, 210-bed hospital, which will have complete surgical, obstetrical, laboratory, x-ray, pharmaceutical, and emergency facilities to serve the people of Los Angeles."

“Another construction view of the $2,500.000 Permanente Foundation Hospital reveals the wide area to be covered on Sunset Blvd. and Edgemont St. by the seven-story, 210-bed hospital, which will have complete surgical, obstetrical, laboratory, x-ray, pharmaceutical, and emergency facilities to serve the people of Los Angeles.”

A recently processed trove of photographs of the hospital’s 1951 groundbreaking, with extended captions and a press release, shows us more about the political and urban environmental climate of Los Angeles at that time.

The corner of Sunset Boulevard and Edgemont Street certainly looks different now. Back then, it was surrounded by small two-story buildings and adjacent to the forested Barnsdall Park on Olive Hill. The Park was the former estate of Aline Barnsdall, who donated it to the city of Los Angeles and hired noted architect Frank Lloyd Wright in 1917 to design an extensive complex of structures. It was never completed, but the site still exists as a cultural and arts center.

The commitment to building a new hospital was a major event that included the participation of Los Angeles heavy hitters – real estate developers, hospital administrators, labor leaders, and politicians.

"Designed by the Portland architectural firm of Wolff and Phillips, and now under construction by general contractor C.L. Peck of Los Angeles, the Permanente Foundation Hospital at Sunset Blvd. and Edgemont St. in Los Angeles is a non-profit, charitable trust of the Henry J. Kaiser family. The 210-bed hospital is being built to help alleviate the critical need for hospital beds and service in the Los Angeles area."

“Designed by the Portland architectural firm of Wolff and Phillips, and now under construction by general contractor C.L. Peck of Los Angeles, the Permanente Foundation Hospital at Sunset Blvd. and Edgemont St. in Los Angeles is a non-profit, charitable trust of the Henry J. Kaiser family. The 210-bed hospital is being built to help alleviate the critical need for hospital beds and service in the Los Angeles area.”

The press release accompanying captioned photos of the ceremonial groundbreaking November 7, 1951, told us the key facts:

City officials and heads of other hospitals in Los Angeles extended their welcome to the Permanente Foundation’s new $2,500,000 hospital at ground-breaking ceremonies Wednesday afternoon, November 7, on the northeast corner of Sunset Boulevard and Edgemont Street.

Adjacent to Barnsdall Park, historic landmark of the city, the new hospital will consist of a seven-story building with 210 beds and complete surgical, obstetrical, laboratory, x-ray, pharmaceutical and emergency facilities.

The hospital, which is being built by the Foundation to help alleviate the critical need for additional hospital beds and service in the Los Angeles area, was welcomed at the ceremonies by City Councilman Ernest Debs, Methodist Hospital Administrator Walter Hoefflin, Hollywood Presbyterian Hospital Administrator Paul C. Elliot, and Cedars of Lebanon Hospital Administrator Emanuel Weisberger.

Others participating in the ceremonies were realtor Lawrence Block, who negotiated the Foundation purchase of the hospital property; Permanente Foundation Controller Paul J. Steil, and Brian M. Kelly, Permanente Health Plan Manager.


Map of hospital site, circa 1955.

Representing employment groups, whose participating membership in the Permanente Health Plan now totals approximately 50,000, were Joseph T. DeSilva, secretary, and Lee Barbone, president, Retail Clerks Union, Local 770, Los Angeles; A. A. Carpenter, United Steel Workers of America, Local 1845, Maywood, and W. L. Emblen, Permanente Health Plan Representative at Kaiser Steel in Fontana.

Employers’ representatives attending the ground-breaking included O. G. Lawton, president of the Food Employers’ Council.

The Permanente Foundation Hospital, designed by the Portland architectural firm of Wolff and Phillips, is slated for completion by Fall of 1952. C. L. Peck of Los Angeles is the general contractor.


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Henry J. Kaiser’s Early Support for Merchant Marine Veterans

posted on November 19, 2015

Lincoln Cushing, Heritage writer


War is hell.

One of the grim metrics of conflict is the casualty rate. During World War II no branch of the U.S. Armed Forces suffered as high a proportion as those who served in the American Merchant Marine – and who weren’t even in the military. Merchant mariners suffered the highest rate of casualties of any service, losing 3.9 percent of their 243,000 members, more than the 3.7 percent of the U.S. Marines.

Fore'n'Aft, 1944-10-06

Photo from article about United Seamen’s Service center in San Francisco; Kaiser Richmond shipyard newspaper Fore’n’Aft, 10/06/1944.

An earlier blog post laid out the background on the role of the wartime Merchant Marine and their struggle for respect and benefits. This year two legislators introduced HR563, the World War II Merchant Mariners Act, which would recognize surviving seamen “for their bravery and sacrifice” and award them $25,000 each.

However, few know of the support that famed World War II shipbuilder Henry J. Kaiser offered those mariners during the war, and how that support exemplified his commitment to nondiscrimination in serving communities.

With the urging of maritime unions, the United Seamen’s Service was created August 8, 1942, by the War Shipping Administration with the approval of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. It sought to provide facilities for rest, recreation and safety for seafarers who carried troops and war materials to ports in the war zones. Eventually more than 125 locations would be established worldwide.

It was turned over for private operation and ownership on September 13, 1942. Henry J. Kaiser was the first president, and the War Shipping Administration’s Admiral Emory S. Land was chairman of the board. Joseph Curran, of the National Maritime Union, and Harry Lundeberg, of the National Seafarer’s Union, were vice presidents.

Andrew Furuseth Club, United Seamen's Service postcard- 1943

Andrew Furuseth Club, United Seamen’s Service postcard, 1943

“United Seamen’s Service Opens Recreational Club” in The New York Age from October 17, 1942, touted the the first USS facility. The club was named for Andrew Furuseth (1854-1938), a central figure in the formation of two influential maritime unions: the Sailors’ Union of the Pacific and the International Seamen’s Union. A Kaiser-built Liberty ship named for Furuseth would be launched from Kaiser Richmond shipyard number 1 the next month, on September 7.

Officers and men of the American Merchant Marine, many of them survivors of ships sunk by the enemy, cheered as the United Seamen’s Service opened for their exclusive use, the first of a coastal chain of recreational clubs at 30 East 37th street.

The staid, brownstone, four story building, owned by Mrs. Julius S. Morgan and situated within a few doors of J.P. Morgan’s home, was “dressed” for the occasion from roof to basement with code flags and burgees, as a band played nautical airs. Accustomed to cramped accommodations aboard ship, the seamen praised the club’s spacious and luxuriously appointed lounge rooms, game rooms, library, and the dance floor with its modernistic bar.

Speaking at the opening of the club, Douglas P. Falconer, national director of United Seamen’s Service, declared that the neglect of human needs of seamen was a disgrace to the nation. He promised that his organization would do its utmost to “rub out that disgrace.”

"Merchant Seamen Have Own Club" 1942-10-22

“Merchant Seamen Have Own Club” wire photo, 10/22/1942

In describing the program of the United, Seamen’s Service…Mr. Falconer said: “We’ll look after every American seaman picked up by a rescue ship and landed in a strange port far from home. If he needs medical care, well see that he gets it on the spot. We’ll replace his lost clothes and papers, notify his folk at home. We’ll see that he gets proper food and rest and freedom from worry over how he’s going to get back home and on another ship. For that’s all the men themselves ask is a chance to get patched up so that they can go to sea again!

A postcard for the club noted that, in addition to coffee and home-cooked food, the club had “medical and social services staff in daily attendance.” That’s care and coverage together.


A January, 1943, article “All Seamen Are the Same” in The Crisis (the magazine of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) praised the USS’s impact in the fight against racism and discrimination:

The United Seamen’s Service is outstanding in that the set-up makes no provision for discrimination because of race or creed. Rest homes are planned in many of the southern seaboard communities where merchant seamen will live together without special provisions being made for Negroes…

With the existence of separate USO [United Service Organizations] centers within the army camps and separate canteens for white and Negro soldiers, the action of the United Seamen’s Service presents a lesson in practical democracy that may well be copied by many other groups, including the United States Navy, Army, and Marine Corps.

Henry J. Kaiser was called the “Patriot in Pinstripes” for his contributions during World War II, but his social justice legacy extended to Home Front veterans without uniforms as well.


Also see:
The USS / American Merchant Marine Library Association currently

Blog posts:
Thousands of Merchant Seamen Lost Lives in World War II
Henry Kaiser and the Merchant Sailors Union: The Curious Case of the SS Pho Pho

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Blog updated 11/20/2015


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Order in the house! The Importance of Classification and Taxonomy

posted on October 1, 2015

Lincoln Cushing, Heritage writer


Article about helpful role of Physical Demands and Capacities Analysis, 1944-06-01; KPNW Discrete Collection, box 18

Article about valuable role of Physical Demands and Capacities Analysis, 6/1/1944

By now, everyone’s heard the jokes about the new International Classification of Diseases, the disease and health problem taxonomy standard managed by the World Health Organization. ICD is the latest in a series of efforts to classify diseases, starting in the 1850s. Originally called the International List of Causes of Death, the WHO assumed responsibility for the ICD when the organization was created in 1948. ICD version 10 (or ICD-10) is the newest code set. October 1 is the date on which ICD-10 compliance is required by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

With 68,000 discrete diagnosis codes (as opposed to the previous 14,000), we are now able to define diagnoses at a very precise level of detail. Very, very, precise – such as “V97.33XD: Sucked into jet engine, subsequent encounter” orY92.146: Swimming-pool of prison as the place of occurrence of the external cause.” Yes, these are actual codes.

But, jokes aside, precise classification has its merits. It strengthens the storage and retrieval of diagnostic information for clinical, epidemiological and quality purposes. ICD descriptors also provide the basis for the compilation of national mortality and morbidity statistics. Kaiser Permanente has actively joined other health care providers in this massive project.

However, Kaiser health care practitioners during World War II were also trying to use precise descriptions to improve health, in a slightly different way.

Sample page from Physical Demands and Capacities Analysis, published by the Region XII War Manpower Commission, Bureau of Manpower Utilization, Division of Occupational Analysis and Manning Tables, San Francisco, CA, and the Permanente Foundation Hospitals; 1944-05

Sample page from Physical Demands and Capacities Analysis

In May, 1944, the 627-page dense tome Physical Demands and Capacities Analysis was published as a joint project of the Kaiser Foundation Hospitals and the Occupational Analysis and Manning Tables division of Region XII War Manpower Commission. The physician in charge of the study was Clifford Kuh, MD.

One of the primary goals of the Analysis was to make sure that individuals were assigned to jobs which they could perform without risk to their health. The study detailed 617 distinct job titles in the shipyards, from “Asbestos Worker, Cutter” to “Window Cleaner.” Although the Richmond shipyards did have the opportunity to use pre-placement physical examinations prior to hiring, the study provided the basis for accurate review of work-related health problems and suggestions for reassignment. During a short three-month survey period, only three workers had to leave their assigned job due to physical failure. During the four war years Kaiser’s yards employed almost 200,000 people.

An article in the Call Bulletin touted the survey, quoting William K. Hopkins, regional director of the United States War Manpower Commission:

“While the study has in mind the placement of all workers, the technique on which it is based will be invaluable in the post-war period – when tens of thousands of returning service men and women will have to be fitted into new jobs. I am particularly impressed with the study’s positive approach in emphasizing what a worker has the physical capacities to do, rather than the handicaps, often minor, which tend to prejudice his employment.”

Kaiser Permanente, building and using precise medical data for social benefit since 1944.


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Honoring Journalism that Celebrates Labor

posted on September 4, 2015

Lincoln Cushing, Heritage writer


Fore ‘n’ Aft journalist/illustrator Virigina Olney

Labor Day is an opportunity to celebrate workers and their contributions. But often the workers that don’t get visibility are the very ones too busy writing about it – labor journalists.

In the World War II Kaiser shipyards, a revolution took place in industrial production – massive numbers of ships were turned out in record time by ordinary/extraordinary Home Front citizens, many of whom had never even seen a ship before. But telling that story was also work, and it fell to the editorial team of the weekly shipyard magazines. Fore ‘n’ Aft reached those in the four Richmond, Calif. yards, while The Bos’n’s Whistle was for the three yards in the Portland, Ore. region.

Traditional journalism was simply not capable of reaching the new workforce. The editorial staff had to evolve to reflect the views and interests of women and people of color. The biggest change was bringing women on board. Writers and illustrators such as Virginia Olney and Emmy Lou Packard brought a fresh perspective to industrial journalism, and their pioneering was supported by external media partners such as African American photographer E.F. Joseph.

Fore'n'Aft, 1943-07-30

Mary Chapman, field reporter for Fore’n’Aft, 7/30/1943

Fast forward to Kaiser Permanente now, with a diverse staff producing content for publications such as Hank (named after Henry J. Kaiser) aimed at both a labor audience and its management and physician partners. The ground broken during World War II continues to this day.

There’s an old expression – “Nothing about us, without us, is for us.” That holds true for authentic journalism as well as anything else, and this blog honors those unacknowledged workers who get the message out.


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Exhibition on the changing face of media in the WWII Kaiser Richmond shipyards

posted on August 27, 2015

Emmy Lou Packard: Drawing New Conclusions in the Kaiser Shipyards
Exhibition at the Rosie the Riveter National Park September 5th through the end of January 2016

For many, the shipyards was the first experience in working alongside people of different races; here, black-white cooperation is graphically reinforced by the positive and negative shadowing of the ship they have built together behind them. 2/22/1945

For many, the shipyards was the first experience in working alongside people of different races; here, black-white cooperation is graphically reinforced by the positive and negative shadowing of the ship they have built together behind them. 2/22/1945

On Saturday, September 5th, Lincoln Cushing from Kaiser Permanente Heritage Resources will open an exhibition about the graphic art of Emmy Lou Packard who was employed by the Kaiser Shipyards during World War II in Richmond, California.

The World War II Home Front was truly a setting where “ordinary people did extraordinary things.” One of the best records of that dynamic period was the weekly Kaiser Richmond shipyard magazine Fore ‘n’ Aft, with news and stories of a war industry in which new workers were doing new jobs in new ways.

California artist Emmy Lou Packard (1914-1998) was on the Fore ‘n’ Aft staff and contributed approximately 100 illustrations. Packard’s work was patriotic without resorting to racist jabs or stereotypes; she portrayed workers with dignity and character. She drew women’s experiences from a woman’s point of view – numerous vignettes are of children (one of her regular subjects later in life), home life, and the challenges of survival and adjustment in a tempestuous time.

This exhibition features large reproductions of exemplary graphic art Packard made between 1944 and 1945, filling in a significant void in Home Front history, art history, and even of Packard’s own documented career.

The exhibition is curated by Kaiser Permanente historian and archivist Lincoln Cushing, and is sponsored by Kaiser Permanente in partnership with the National Park Service. Many of the images are from the Richmond Museum of History.

The wartime Kaiser shipyards offered extensive child care facilities and family health care. 1/26/1945

The wartime Kaiser shipyards offered extensive child care facilities and family health care. 1/26/1945

The exhibition is displayed in the lower level of the Visitor Center and will be available to the public through January of 2016.

The Rosie the Riveter Visitor Education Center is open seven days a week from 10 AM to 5 PM and is located at 1414 Harbour Way South, suite 3000, Richmond, CA 94804. For more information and directions to the Visitor Education Center, please call (510) 232-5050 x0 or visit their website. Admission to the Visitor Center and all park sites and programs is free.

If you would like to receive information about upcoming park events, visit and sign up for the email newsletter. The Rosie the Riveter Trust is the nonprofit association that is building a community of support for this national park.


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Black World War II shipyard workers play ball

posted on February 20, 2015

Lincoln Cushing, Heritage writer


Boilermakers A-26 catcher. June 18, 1942.

Boilermakers A-26 catcher, Oakland, June 18, 1942. Photo by E.F. Joseph.

Some pictures may tell a thousand words, but others are mute until prompted to their stories.

Recently I’ve had the pleasure of working with a remarkable collection of vintage photographs taken by Emmanuel Francis Joseph. Born on the Caribbean island of St. Lucia, E.F. Joseph was among the first professional African American photographers in the San Francisco Bay Area. He documented personal and public events, mostly within the local black community, from 1930 until his death in 1979.

His life’s work almost went to the recycler, but social services organizer and family friend Careth Reid stepped in and saved it. Since 1980 she has been the caretaker of the approximately 10,000 large-format film negatives which will eventually go to the Special Collections Library at San Francisco State University for full processing and cataloging. (Reid earned her master’s degree in social science from SFSU in 1970.)

The World War II Kaiser shipyards in Richmond, Calif., were the crucible for shaping what today we know as Kaiser Permanente, and during the war Joseph worked in the shipyards as a photographer for the Office of War Information. Many of the best known photos of black employees in those yards were taken by Joseph, including iconic black women welders and launchings of ships named for famous African Americans.

Boilermakers A-26 team with manager, June 18, 1942.

Boilermakers A-26 team [with manager and coach?], Oakland, June 18, 1942. Photo by E.F. Joseph.

But research using the negatives under Reid’s care is expanding the documented history of the black shipyard workers beyond the shipyards. These photos collectively compose a treasure trove for amplifying the historical record.

Joseph filed his negatives in small annotated paper envelopes, which Ms. Reid has sorted into scores of subjects; one set of negatives under “Unions” was labeled “Boiler Maker Baseball Team” dated June 18, 1942.

We know that the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Iron Ship Builders and Helpers of America was the largest and most powerful union in the shipyards, and that it refused to hire black workers (and, at first, women as well). But wartime pressure to expand the workforce resulted in the use of the shameful separate-and-unequal “auxiliary unions.” There were three such auxiliaries in the Bay Area: A-26 (Oakland), A-36 (Richmond), and A-33 (San Francisco).

Boilermakers A-26 pitcher, with Herrick Iron Works sign in background. June 18, 1942.

Boilermakers A-26 pitcher, with Herrick Iron Works sign in background. June 18, 1942. Photo by E.F. Joseph.

The snappy jerseys in these photos tell us that this team was from A-26, composed largely of workers at the Moore Dry Dock Company. During the war Moore built over 100 ships for the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Maritime Commission; it ceased operations in 1961.

Joseph did not record the location of this shoot, but one photo offers a clue. A large sign is visible across the street on the side of the Herrick Iron Works, which at that time was at 1734 Campbell Street in Oakland. So, this field was on the site of the present Raimondi Park, a City of Oakland recreational field named after Ernest “Ernie” Raimondi, a white Moore Dry Dock worker and former professional baseball player on a Moore-sponsored company team. Raimondi was killed in combat while serving in the U.S. Army in France on Jan. 26, 1945, and the park was dedicated in 1947. Moore Dry Dock was located less than a mile away at the foot of Adeline Street on the Oakland Estuary.

In one dynamic photo of a bunt, the setting summer sun casts a long shadow of E.F. Joseph and his camera tripod. More than 70 years later, my white-gloved hands are carefully loading that 4×5-inch silver-based film negative into a digital scanner.

Boilermakers A-26 team, with E.F. Joseph shadow. June 18, 1942.

Boilermakers A-26 team, with photographer shadow. June 18, 1942. Photo by E.F. Joseph.

Who were these men? Did any of them move up into the postwar Negro League? Are there any E.F. Joseph photos to be found about a Kaiser Richmond A-36 team? These are just some of the questions that are opened up by these remarkable photographs. History never sleeps, and research finds new paths. Batter up.


Photographs courtesy Careth Reid / E.F. Joseph Collection. All rights reserved.

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Henry J. Kaiser confronts labor practice of “colored laborers in bondage”

posted on February 12, 2015

Lincoln Cushing, Heritage writer


The Mississippi River flood of 1927 has been called “the most destructive river flood in the history of the United States,” and major efforts were launched in the following years to rebuild levees. The Warren Brothers contracting firm invited Henry J. Kaiser’s company to share in a minor portion of the extensive levee repair and maintenance work between Tennessee and Mississippi.

At first Kaiser hoped to use his powerful LeTourneau earth moving machinery, but the Mississippi mud stuck to the equipment in a most uncooperative manner. The project ended using human and animal labor, which frustrated Henry Kaiser’s “get things done quickly” style. But accepting the forces of nature and people would be a good lesson for his road-building projects in Cuba from 1928 to 1930.

Kaiser Le Tourneau earth movers

LeTourneau heavy construction equipment at Philbrook Dam (near Paradise, Calif.) circa 1926.

Working in the South was uncomfortable for Henry Kaiser for ethical reasons as well. He was an unconventional employer who believed that “labor relations were nothing more than human relations” and was one of the most progressive industrial leaders of his time regarding equal treatment of women and people of color. Those values were challenged during this contract.

Leonard Blaikie, labor writer for the Oakland Tribune, wrote this vignette for a special insert on the opening of the Ordway Building (currently the main headquarters of Kaiser Permanente) on Feb. 28, 1971. Alonzo Benton (“A.B.”) Ordway was Henry J. Kaiser’s first employee and longtime and trusted operations manager.

Kaiser and Ordway ran into another practice which went against their grain while building small levees along the Mississippi River, between Memphis and Natchez, in the late 1920s. In addition to lacking the right equipment for the job, Ordway said they found they were at a disadvantage because they believed in paying their laborers their hourly wages in cash.

“Most of the Southern contractors, to all intents and purposes, held the colored laborers in bondage,” he explained.

“By this I mean the workers had to purchase all food and supplies on credit from the contractors at prices higher than the going rates. Therefore, the labor costs for the Southern contractor were nowhere near ours.

“None of us liked the area and we were glad to get out in 1929.”


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The World War II Kaiser Richmond shipyard labor force

posted on January 9, 2015

Lincoln Cushing, Heritage writer



Page from “Manpower, Housing and Transportation Studies – Richmond Shipyards, Richmond, California” April 10, 1943

It’s well known that the World War II home front industrial work force accomplished remarkable feats, especially given that the traditional labor pool – healthy, young, white males – was off fighting the war. The seven Kaiser shipyards were at the forefront of this new workforce building ships in new ways in new facilities. But what has been difficult to discover is exactly which occupations these workers were engaged in and which unions represented them.

Part of the task of an archivist is to review existing content in a collection and glean newly desired information from those resources. In one such survey of the Kaiser Permanente Heritage Resources archive I recently came across a handmade, unpublished report which had been previously overlooked, “Manpower, Housing and Transportation Studies – Richmond Shipyards, Richmond, California” dated April 10, 1943. Our copy was the originally the property of David A. Oppheim, an executive in Kaiser’s Aircraft Division in Oakland.

Among the remarkable data displays was a chart that listed every occupation under each of the 27 unions representing over 79,000 workers in the yards. All four of the Kaiser Richmond shipyards were fully operational by the date of this report, which was issued about the same time as the workforce peaked (women workers would peak again in mid-1944).

14 locals were under the Bay Cities Metal Trades Council of the Pacific Coast Metal Trades Council, and 13 under the Contra Costa and Alameda County Building Trades councils. The Boilermakers Local 513 was by far the largest trade, with more than 38,000 members. Some trades – such as shipwrights and blacksmiths – had only a few hundred; the smallest trade was the glaziers, with four members.

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Description of job classifications, new employee orientation manual “How’dy Stranger” for Northwest Kaiser shipyards, circa 1942

Though this data does not tell us how many of these occupations were held by women, we know the general contours. An excellent resource on this subject is Frederic L. Quivik’s Historic American Engineering Record report Number CA-326-M supporting the creation of the Rosie the Riveter World War II Home Front National Historical Park:

In February 1943, women comprised 13.7 percent of all production workers at the Richmond shipyards, including 40.7 percent of all laborers, 37.1 percent of boilermakers, 19.4 percent of welders, and 18.8 percent of burners, 11.5 percent shipfitters, and only 4 percent of other production job categories. In addition, 48.2 percent of the office and clerical workers at the Richmond yards were women. Yard 2 had the highest percentage of women workers, both in production jobs (17.3 percent) and office and clerical jobs (62.1 percent). By June-August, 1944, women comprised over 27 percent of all laborers at the Richmond shipyards. They were 41.1 percent of welders and 33.4 percent of burners, while only 19.1 percent shipfitters and 17 percent of machinists were women. Peaks for the individual shipyards varied.

We also don’t know how many of the Boilermakers (full name: International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Iron Ship Builders and Helpers of America) were hired under the shameful “Auxiliary Number A-36” created as a second-class entry for black workers. Before the war started, workers in the Boilermakers were entirely white and male, but as the available workforce shifted and pressure mounted for the union to change their practices they “solved” the problem of black workers in their ranks by creating a separate-and-unequal auxiliary.

This practice was much criticized, and violated federal regulations prohibiting racial discrimination in the workplace. Black workers at Bechtel’s Marinship shipyard in nearby Sausalito resisted the Boilermakers’ racist union membership policies; a lengthy court battle and intervention by President Roosevelt’s Fair Employment Practice Commission finally resulted in a favorable ruling in early 1944, which was upheld in January, 1945 by the California Supreme Court. Unfortunately, by then the war, and shipyard production, was almost over.

The shipyards are long gone, as well as any vestiges of Kaiser Industries, but Henry J. Kaiser’s legacy continues in the health plan he was so proud of. And one of the smaller wartime shipyard unions is now the largest union in Kaiser Permanente’s Labor Management Partnership – the Building Service Employees International Union (the 93 janitors), which became the Service Employees International Union in 1968.


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Pacific Coast Metal Trades locals employment data, from “Manpower, Housing and Transportation Studies – Richmond Shipyards, Richmond, California” April 10, 1943


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Contra Costa and Alameda County Building Trades locals employment data, from “Manpower, Housing and Transportation Studies – Richmond Shipyards, Richmond, California” April 10, 1943




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Henry J. Kaiser sticks up for union labor at Brewster Aeronautical

posted on May 13, 2014

Lincoln Cushing, Heritage writer


On Jan. 29, 1954, Henry J. Kaiser delivered the keynote address at the Seminar on Human Relations in San Bernardino, California.

This conference, sponsored by the University of California and the United Steelworkers of America, brought together labor leaders, anthropologists, educators, and other intellectuals to explore productive and creative ways to work.

Kaiser’s speech was titled “Human Relations: The Key to Abundant Happiness,” and one of the lessons he drew upon was his wartime management of Brewster Aeronautical Corporation, which had plants in New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.


Brewster F3A-1 Corsair landing on a WWII aircraft carrier.

Brewster was manufacturing F3A-1 Corsair fighters but had been ineptly managed and inefficiently run.  In 1943, as a favor to Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox, Kaiser agreed to try and turn the company around.

Kaiser displayed a remarkable sensitivity to the role of organized labor and to the practical mechanisms of management’s role:

“The blame for the atrocious situation was heaped by the government and the press upon the union leader, Tom DeLorenzo, who was called a liar, a criminal, and worse.

“I shall never forget my first meeting with De Lorenzo, the accused troublemaker. His attitude was that all managements were dishonest, unreliable and untruthful, and only outright battle would handle management.

“I said to De Lorenzo, ‘Can’t you and I work on the basis of being truthful with each other?’

“‘No,’ he answered, ‘it won’t work. I’ve tried it too many times and always get double-crossed.’

“Quietly I said, ‘Well, Tom, do you think this would work? Suppose when you come in to see me from day to day and you are going to lie, you say, ‘I’m going to lie to you today.’ But on the other hand, when you are telling me the truth you say, ‘Now I’m telling you the truth today.’

“Much to my surprise, he said, ‘That might work. I’m willing to try it.’ Many times when he came in amid the nightmare of problems, he would say, ‘I’m going to lie like hell to you today! But this is my position!’

“As time went on, more often he’d come into conferences and say, ‘I’m going to tell you the truth today.’ Tom DeLorenzo had left in him some of the spark of decency that is in every human being and when appealed to, is released.

“The thrilling sequel is that Tom DeLorenzo pitched in shoulder to shoulder with management to do the patriotic job of cleaning up the Brewster mess. Man-hours per plane were slashed to one-third; the padded work force was cut in half; yet the production of planes was multiplied nearly 30 times.”


HJK speaking at Fontana, Calif., blast furnace dedication, 1942

Despite Kaiser’s success, this productive relationship was ridiculed by anti-labor forces in the U.S. Government. House Resolution 30, “Authorizing and Directing and Investigation of the Progress of the War Effort,” had begun in 1941 and resulted in a series of hearings.

Congressman Melvin J. Maas (Minnesota) was the principal interrogator during a heated hearing Nov. 30, 1943. Maas was a tough Marine, a veteran of both WWI and WWII, and had little tolerance for anything that smacked of war profiteering. He lit into Kaiser, but Kaiser gave as well as he got[i]:

Mr. Maas: “Mr. Kaiser, [you wrote that] ‘the responsible union leaders at the Brewster plant assure management of their desire that we should continue, and give assurance that we will receive the support and cooperation of labor in order to achieve an increase in plane production for the maintenance of the war effort.’

“They have opposed every other manager, but they do endorse your management. Why? What makes you think that they endorse your management while they opposed every other management at Brewster?”

Mr. Kaiser: “I guess I have confidence and faith and trust.”

Mr. Maas: “Of course, if you give (him) all the candy he wants, he’s (on your side), isn’t he?

Mr. Kaiser: “That isn’t what I said. You are making a statement that I am giving them the candy; I am not . . .  I told [DeLorenzo], if you are [interested in the well-being of your union members], it is necessary to make them so efficient that . . . when we are going into the postwar era, they can exist and live, produce and create in a competitive market and make a living for themselves and their families. Tom, the sooner you start moving in that direction the greater will be your service to your members.’ ”

Truly, Henry J. Kaiser believed in his motto, “Together we build.”

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[i] Henry J. Kaiser – Western Colossus,  Heiner, 1991, pp162-164

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