Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt to Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels
September 25, 1917.
MEMORANDUM FOR THE SECRETARY
Norfolk Labor Situation
This is the only Yard in which men have actually quit work. The new wage schedule for all Yards was announced a week ago. This schedule gave increases all along the line, and while the maximum rate has, in some cases, not gone up more than six or seven per cent, the general result is about a ten per cent increase. During the afternoon on Saturday1 the various trades at Norfolk notified the Industrial Manager that they would not return to work on Monday unless they were given an immediate increase. The demands were, in general,
first, that the metal trades receiving less than the highest paid metal trades should receive the rate of the highest trade. Mr. Gompers2 took immediate steps through the Presidents of the International Unions to ask the men not to go out on Monday, and to state that the matter would be taken up immediately with the Department. In spite of this the men are still out at the present time, and after conferences today with American Federation of Labor officials it has been decided to call a meeting of the heads of the International Brotherhoods as soon as they can be brought to Washington, and in the meanwhile the Internationals will again do everything possible to have the men return to work tomorrow morning.
The history of the present trouble is, in general, as follows:
About four years ago certain metal trades, such as molders, blacksmiths, and sheet metal workers, received as a general rule throughout the country forty or fifty cents a day less than other metal trades, such as machinists and coppersmiths, and during the past four years there has been a constant tendency for these lower paid trades to receive greater advances than the higher paid trades, with the result of bringing them more nearly to the same level. This process continues but has not yet, according to the data obtained by the Wage Board this year, brought about the same level of wages. In other words, as a general statement, boilermakers, blacksmiths, etc., get slightly less on the average on the outside than do machinists and coppersmiths. The wage scale adopted by the Board composed of representatives of the War, Navy and Labor Departments this year recommended for machinists at Norfolk $4.56 per diem, an increase of twenty-four cents over the previous rate. In the case of the molders and blacksmiths (shipsmiths), the rate recommended was $4.48 per diem, also an increase of twenty-four cents over the amount paid last year. The data obtained justified this action in the opinion of the Board.3
<I might add that under the law we are to pay the average paid for the same kind of work in the vicinity>
Source Note: TDS, DLC-MSS, Josephus Daniels Papers, Special Correspondence, Roll 59. Document is on: “NAVY DEPARTMENT/WASHINGTON,” stationary, with “ADRESS REPLY TO/THE SECRETARY OF THE NAVY/AND REFER TO INITIALS/AND NO” in the top left-hand corner.
Footnote 1: 22 September 1917.
Footnote 2: Samuel Gompers, President of the American Federation of Labor.
Footnote 3: Roosevelt is referring to the War Industries Board (W.I.B.), a governmental agency created to fix prices for labor and products to benefit the War effort and avoid disruption in labor from strikes. Even with the W.I.B., there were more strikes in 1917 than at any time in United States previously. Kennedy, Over Here: 260-262