Posts Tagged ‘West Coast’

Laid-off shipyard workers dilemma: Should I stay or should I go?

posted on December 22, 2010

Laura Thomas, guest author

(Second of two articles)

Lon Van Brunt Kaiser Richmond Shipyard worker 1945 from “Fore ‘N Aft” newsletter

As the holiday season of 1945 approached, Kaiser shipyard workers faced an uncertain future on the West Coast. Interviews with workers in the “Fore ‘n’ Aft,” the Richmond shipyard newsletter, reflected some anxiety: “What do I think about the end of the war?” said laborer Lon Van Brunt. “Let’s study about that: I look for it to be hard times.”

The local press reports, often tinged with sentimental hope, insisted that the Dust Bowl migrants were tossing mattresses back on their cars, packing up pots and pans and leaving wartime housing in droves.

“Many couldn’t wait to get ‘back home’ after the war, but they found they didn’t like it back there anymore,” said native Richmond resident Marguerite Clausen in 1985 in an interview conducted with Judith Dunning for the Bancroft Library’s Regional Oral History Office. “They turned around and came back again. And they brought all their families with them.” *

Bernice Rarick, Portland shipyard worker, 1945, from “Bosn’s Whistle” newsletter

Bernice Rarick, a Portland worker reflected that ambivalence when she told the “Bosn’s Whistle,” the northwest Kaiser shipyard newsletter, she was going right back to her ranch in Idaho yet wondered, “It doesn’t seem possible that everyone can go back to normal living again.”

Transplants try to find their place

The women were the first to go despite the fact that some 70 percent in a December 1944 Yard Two survey said they wanted to work. Black migrant workers also struggled to find new employment with the unemployment rate for black men in 1948 about 15 percent, three times the state average.

“News came over that the contracts were cancelled, and that was it,” recalled Margaret Cathey who came from Iowa and worked as a welder. “You didn’t get two weeks notice or anything like that, no. You were just finished.” She was lucky because she found a job with the telephone company, anxious to hire women operators.

A welder at the Kaiser shipyards, Willie Stokes earned $10 a day but, after the war, was only able to find unskilled labor at $6 and was unemployed by 1947. “One day you are an essential worker in a vital industry and the next you were a surplus unskilled laborer essential to no one,” he said in an article, “Willie Stokes at the Golden Gate,” by Cy W. Record published in “The Crisis Magazine,” June 1949.

It took a while for many ex-shipyard workers to find their footing. In an article in “Salute Magazine” in June 1946, writer William Hogan called Richmond, “hangover town” because so many were still living there or had returned in hopes of finding work.

Mostly from rural areas with ways that seemed backward, these workers and their families had been lifted out of poverty working for Henry Kaiser and were destined to prove themselves, especially to long-time Richmond residents.

The Richmond Field Hospital continued to serve Permanente patients after the shipyards closed in 1946.

“I said, ‘Well, here these people are. They’re not going to leave here. This is Mecca,’ ” recalled Clifford Metz, a former Richmond school official who had insisted the notion that the migrants would go back was an illusion.

“I think we went down maybe ten or fifteen thousand people in a short time. Most of them, well, they had learned that they liked it here. Some of them, with the money they had, they could invest. They were not unintelligent people.”

Selena Foster, who came from Fort Worth, Texas, in early 1944, and her husband, Marvin, were among those with that precise idea.  “My husband said to me, ‘We have no home to go back to.’ We had a little money and we found property was fairly reasonable if you could find something to buy,” she said in 1992.

The Fosters did make a trip back to East Texas in a shiny new car that made quite an impression on their family, but they returned to Richmond and within months had bought a home on Hoffman Boulevard and 29th Street, one of the first African-American families to do so after the war.

The uncertainty of that holiday period 65 years ago was soon eased by a postwar economic boom in both the Bay Area and the Northwest. The upturn raised the fortunes of many who arrived back then with little but hope. Over the decades they have become woven inextricably into the cultural fabric of both regions.

*Marguerite Clausen, “A World War II Journey: From Clarkesdale, Mississippi, to Richmond, California, 1942,” an oral history conducted in 1985 by Judith K. Dunning, Regional Oral History Office, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley, 1992.

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Kaiser Permanente’s LA Harbor Area Blossoms after Humble 1950 Start

posted on June 21, 2010

Ginny McPartland, Heritage writer


Kaiser Permanente’s post-World War II public health plan was but an embryo in 1950 when famed labor leader Harry Bridges asked Dr. Sidney Garfield to provide medical care for West Coast longshoremen. The International Longshore and Warehouse Union had just adopted a health and welfare plan for its members, and Permanente’s prepaid health coverage fit Bridges’ vision.

The health plan, then called Permanente, already had services in the San Francisco Bay area, so covering the six or seven thousand Northern California dock workers was no problem. But Permanente’s only presence in Southern California was at the Fontana Steel Plant, 70 miles inland from the Los Angeles harbor area where the roughly 3,000 longshoremen lived.

Kennebec medical clinic in the 1950s

Garfield didn’t have to ponder Bridges’ offer for long. The struggling health plan needed members – desperately. After saying “yes!” to Bridges, Garfield flew into action. He hired a physician to run the longshoremen clinic, found a suitable building in the Port of Los Angeles town of San Pedro and opened for business in about two weeks.

Today, Kaiser Permanente’s South Bay service area, boasts about 190,000 members, a 255-bed medical center, and medical offices in Long Beach, Torrance, Harbor City, Lomita, Carson, and Gardena. The KP South Bay community is celebrating its 60 years of history on Wednesday, June 23, in Harbor City.

It’s been a rough ride

The Harbor area health plan’s six decades of existence can be characterized as a roller coaster ride with its ups, downs, and unexpected turns. The years have brought growth, at times unmanageable, stopgap solutions to facility needs, the San Pedro murder of a popular doctor, and a fire that disrupted operations for a year – not all roses and sunshine.

The early medical group, led by Ira “Buck” Wallin, MD, worked out of a small clinic in San Pedro and had to fight for legitimacy and for staff privileges at any of the area hospitals. They were blackballed by the local medical community for practicing what was called “socialized medicine” when the “Red Scare” was the order of the day. This contention was typical of the anti-group-practice atmosphere anywhere Permanente Medicine established itself.

In the beginning, and for many years, the doctors made house calls and took turns sleeping overnight in a blood draw room in the clinic. They were at the beck and call of the longshoremen and their families. Over the first five years, the ILWU became steadily more impatient with the health plan for delaying construction of a sorely needed Harbor area medical center.

Early Parkview clinic in Harbor City

Meanwhile, the group had expanded to Long Beach – first to an old house and then to the old posh Kennebec Hotel across from the Pike, a popular amusement park in Long Beach. The health plan also opened a Los Angeles clinic and then a hospital on Sunset Boulevard. From 1953 when the Sunset Hospital opened until the Harbor City hospital was built in 1957, patients were shuttled to Los Angeles for hospital care.

After a tussle with the ILWU that threatened the loss of the group, Sidney Garfield and Buck Wallin got the funding to build the Harbor City medical center. The first medical office building, called Parkview, was opened adjacent to the hospital in 1958.

South Bay no stranger to innovation

The South Bay/Harbor City movers and shakers contributed more than their share of innovative ideas over the years. Some examples:

  • In 1964, Harry Shragg, who later became area medical director, was the first in Southern California Kaiser Permanente to perform outpatient surgery, a practice that would become prevalent for its economy and medical soundness.
  • In 1964-65, Buck Wallin and Chief of Medicine William Fawell pursued the idea of discharging patients sooner and providing follow-up medical care in their homes. When Medicare came along in 1965, suddenly (home health care) became one of the ‘in’ things to do.
  • In the early 1970s, Harry Shragg, Internist Jay Belsky, and Medical Group Administrator Ed Bunting worked together to develop a new exam room layout that would leave more room for the patient and the examination table. “It was such a big success that it was adopted and became standard for all of Southern California, Bunting said.

The good, the bad and the ugly

  • In 1967, Dr. Shragg saw the opportunity to help disadvantaged Harbor City people through a local program funded by the federal Office of Economic Opportunity. Kaiser Permanente used its community service funds to provide medical care for 100 participant families.
  • In 1960, Leon Quattlebaum, a well-liked and respected 36-year-old Harbor City OB-GYN, was killed in San Pedro by a local tough who, unprovoked, punched “Q” in the jaw, knocking him to the cement floor and fracturing his skull. The prosecutor at the murder trial said the only reason for the killing was the murderer’s “malignancy of heart.”
  • In November of 1973, a night fire of unknown origin collapsed the three-story Parkview engineering tower and threatened to destroy Harbor City’s medical records and appointments data. The medical offices and appointment center were up and running again in about a week, said MGA Ed Bunting. But it took about a year to rebuild the burned out section at the center and make the complex whole again.

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