Ford Richmond Assembly Plant Unions
In November 1943, two employees at Richmond and an organizer of the United Office and Professional Workers of America tried to organize clerical workers at the Richmond branch. They distributed literature to workers outside the Richmond plant, and they scheduled a meeting between clerical workers and the union at the UAW's Local 560 hall at El Cerrito. The organizing effort continued through 1944. In April 1944, the United Office Workers and the CIO filed a complaint with the NLRB on behalf of an office worker whom Ford had discharged. In August, the army recommended the Richmond Tank Depot for its third Army-Navy "E" Award, which would be the second star on the depot's flag. Because a complaint was on file at the NLRB, however, the army delayed notifying the depot of the award. When Local 560 of the UAW heard of the delay, E.D. Fry, secretary-treasurer of the local, wrote Major Ball a letter stating that Local 560 was not associated with the complaint and that the complaint had nothing to do with production workers in the plant. He said delaying the award was unfair to the plant workers who had achieved the record meriting the award, and he therefore asked Major Ball to lift the objection that was delaying the process.
Another incident that aroused the anti-union concern of Ford management occurred in the spring of 1945, when the plant foremen formed a social group they called the Ford Foremen's Club. They held their first meeting at the Richmond Golf Club, and they instituted a rule that anyone talking about problems at work would be fined a dollar. At the same time, organizers on the West Coast representing the Foremen's Association of America (FAA) were trying to organize a union for foremen at industrial plants. The FAA had been successful in organizing foremen at some automotive plants in Michigan, including Ford's River Rouge plant. To counter the union movement, a group called the California Personnel Managers' Association formed a subsidiary organization called the California Industrial Management Association (CIMA) so that groups like the Ford Foremen's Club could affiliate. The idea was that foremen had a desire to belong to an organization, and by affiliating with the CIMA they would be less susceptible to the possible attractions of belong to a union for foremen. Richmond superintendent W.A. Abbott approved of the steps the foremen had taken and was quick to assure the Ford hierarchy in Dearborn that the Richmond foremen remained opposed to unions. M.L. Wiesmyer wrote back to Abbott, saying the news made him nervous: "We don't think much of the idea of foremen forming any kind of organization whatever." After the initial meeting of the Ford Foremen's Club, however, interest in belonging to an organization began to fade. The group voted not to affiliate with the CIMA, and Ford's labor relations supervisor at Richmond predicted that the club would soon dissolve.
Meanwhile, production workers at the Richmond branch continued to be represented by the UAW, which maintained a closed shop. Once hired, every production worker, whether man or woman, paid the UAW a $5 initiation fee. Monthly dues were $1.50. Workers' complaints were handled under the four-step grievance process established between the UAW and Ford. In 1943, workers filed sixty-nine grievances against the company, and in 1944 they filed 187. Half of the grievances were settled at the first stage in the process in 1943 and two-thirds were settled at the first stage in 1944. Only eight grievances went beyond the second stage in 1943, and eleven went beyond that stage in 1944. One grievance had to be settled by the Umpire (the fourth stage in the process) in 1944. M.A. Williams headed the UAW bargaining unit at the Richmond plant.
An important feature of the labor situation at the Richmond Tank Depot during the war years is that instead of two classes of workers, labor and management, there were four: Ford employees who were members of the UAW, Ford officials, military officers of the Ordnance Department and the Signal Corps, and civil service employees of those two branches of the army. Numerous reports by the commanding officer at the depot describe the generally cooperative atmosphere that existed among the various groups, but one report suggests that comity was not ubiquitous. In his third quarter 1944 report. Major Ball wrote:
"At the beginning of 1944 a study was made of the Ordnance plant organization. Two decisions were reached: first. Ordnance personnel would not be increased; and second, relationship with the Contractor would have to be improved in order to meet requirements of both quality and increasing quantities of vehicles for overseas shipment."
"Everyone in the Ordnance organization was instructed to refrain from any discussion with the Contractor's personnel involving controversial subjects; all such cases were to be reported to the Commanding Officer."
The report gave no hint of what such "controversial subjects" might be. The following quarter, Ball wrote that attitude and cooperation between Ordnance and Ford were excellent. He did, however, describe details of a subject that could possible cause friction in a workplace:
"The general attitude of the Ordnance personnel is excellent. All the personnel take pride in working for the Government and feel that they are a bit closer to the war effort. These factors offset the lower differential in pay between that of Ordnance and the Contractor. However, considering annual leave, sick leave and other privileges, the conditions are fairly equal. There exists a very desirable attitude between the Contractor's personnel and Ordnance personnel insofar as there is close cooperation, geniality, thorough understanding of each one's job and in general reflects mutual respect."