Ford Long Beach Assembly Plant Labor Post World War II
September, 1945, Ford Long Beach announced that it would reopen within 60 days if it could find the between 1500 and 1800 men it needed. Since 1942 the plant had been used for a supply base by the Army Air Force and had just been released to Ford. Hiring offices were being set up, and Ford's entire Los Angeles organization was being transferred to Long Beach. Simultaneously, the UAW assured Ford of no strikes and continuous production.
The plant opened in December 1945 with 650 workers. Those who did come to work at the plant worked sporadically as Ford had trouble getting parts. Ford bought parts from anywhere they could find them. If they turned out to be made by non-union suppliers, Long Beach Ford's unionized workers refused to install them. In April 1946, Dearborn had 32 of its suppliers on strike, so the Rouge could not send out components. In May a strike in soft coal curtailed shipment of parts to Long Beach forcing the plant to close on May 17. Two work stoppages alone cost the plant 25,265 man hours. In December it was closed for ten days again due to a coal strike. The plant used slow-downs and cut the work force. The post war strikes affected the whole industry. One man who worked there for six months right after the war drew only about two full pay checks in the entire time. Ford paid him $1.48 an hour ($11.84 a day). The plant had a record of no stoppages in 1947. With this came better labor relations with a local turnover rate of only 16 percent and fewer grievances. Compared to the Rouge, Long Beach was still out of line. Management explained this by saying that the Long Beach plant was situated in a 'floating population' area where thousands of people poured into the state, undecided as to where they wanted to live and work.
In late 1945 with a rising cost of living, the auto workers also demanded a raise in pay. Ford was losing $300 per car and suffering from unauthorized work stoppages. The UAW agreed to be responsible for their workers, discharge leaders of unauthorized stoppages, and Ford in January 1946 agreed to an 18 cent pay raise. Henry Ford II declared that unions were there to stay and advocated "the same hard-headed attention to human factors that we have given so successfully in the past to mechanical factors." Ford suffered no post-war strikes within the company, thus none at Long Beach.
Labor saw steady improvement at the plant after 1947. The Company and UAW/CIO signed a new two-year contract in October 1947, covering a wage increase which maintained the Ford average hourly rate at seven cents an hour greater than the average hourly rate of its principal automotive competitors. It also treated with the Taft-Hartley Act in regard to illegitimate strikes. Like most Ford plants that year, Long Beach employees voted for a straight 11 cent hourly wage increase rather than a pension proposal and a seven cent increase. In July 1948, Ford again agreed to wage increases, this time for 13 cents an hour for employees making more than $1.50 an hour and 11 cents for those making less. At the same time management was pleading with labor to produce quality work and meet new production schedules. Speed ups of the assembly line, however, were controlled by unionization. Hospitalization plans improved, and in 1948 covered salaried workers. The UAW-local 406 at Long Beach was an active bargaining agent, and most of its employees participated in its elections which were dutifully reported in the company newspaper.
Layoffs for model changeovers were routine. For example, beginning in March 1948 the layoffs were for from two weeks to six weeks depending upon how much a worker could contribute to the changeover job itself. Workers were reminded to keep up their premiums on group insurance during the layoff. Strikes at other plants also translated into no work such as a coal strike in 1948. In May 1949, a strike at the Rouge plant caused a crippling parts shortage and shut the Long Beach plant down laying off 1,117 hourly employees. Salaried employees were not affected. It was the first layoff at Long Beach Ford because of strike conditions within the Ford company since 1941. That was the year UAW had won its fight to organize with a 10 day strike. The 1949 shutdown came directly from a shortage of body sides and roof panels. The Lincoln-Mercury plant in Maywood and Richmond Ford closed as well. All hourly employees were given the option to take their vacations during the shutdown period and reminded to pay their insurance premiums. In May 1953 the Canton Forge division plant, a supplier for Long Beach went on strike; Long Beach closed down indefinitely. This time workers were paid for all holidays falling within the layoff period. That year the UAW contract provided for a pension plan, the first such plan for hourly employees in the industry. These kinds of perquisites helped Ford Long Beach keep its work force together.
Impartial umpires representing company-union affairs visited the plant twice a year and examined the grievances. In 1954 the plant and Local 406 had no unsettled cases. Further, hourly employees were averaging $94.21 a week ($106 a week); the annual payroll amounted to $6,500,000. Its record year, however, was 1955, Long Beach's 1,729 employees earned an average of $112,39 a week making the annual earnings $7,887,362. Ford was still keeping his hourly pay above the national average. At that time between a thousand and 1100 hourly employees voted in union elections, as always very high participation. The Company reminded its workers that above wages they were paying all unemployment compensation, pensions, and sharing insurance costs and social security costs, but this was quite normal. The company, its newspaper stated, underwrote an expensive plant safety program, plant medical program, training, and paid for recreation programs. Retirement was automatic at 68.
In July 1958 when Plant Manager Settles announced to his employees that the Long Beach plant would close and transfer them all to the Pico-Rivera plant, Ford Motor Company employees throughout the southland were voting to strike. This would be necessary only if it were needed to bring about a new union contract. On September 19, 1958, Long Beach workers declared anew that they were ready to join in a nationwide strike unless a settlement was reached by negotiators in Detroit that day. The settlement was reached, but the news got out too late to the coast to prevent the local strike. It lasted six hours. Then, a new contract went into effect boosting pay, giving idle workers some pay for up to 26 weeks, increasing group insurance benefits, and adding other benefits fitting to the United States labor picture of the late 1950s. However, due to a parts shortage. Ford Long Beach did not reopen for five more days. Then it sent out telegrams to all its workers telling them to return and hired an additional 50 men.