Chapter 17: Manpower Conservation
In a wartime environment of persistent labor shortages and extensive labor turnover on most jobs, the Manhattan Project’s problems of maintaining an adequate work force almost matched those of manpower procurement. In fact, for a variety of reasons, the District had to contend with an above-average rate of employee turnover, Selective Service demands, and work stoppages. Fortunately, many of the measures adopted to recruit scarce workers, such as granting special fringe benefits and paying above-average wage rates, also helped retain employees on the job. These did not solve all the manpower-depleting problems, however, and the Army had to undertake a number of special measures to conserve the work force.
Labor Turnover: The Problem and Its Cure
Turnover of construction workers at the Clinton and Hanford sites during the first half of 1944, a period of peak employment of this type of labor, averaged about one-fifth of the total construction work force, a rate considerably above that at comparable wartime projects elsewhere in the United States. The rate was slightly higher at Hanford than at Clinton – some 20 percent as compared with 17 percent. Turnover was less serious among plant-operating employees, but still sufficiently high to constitute a continuing manpower problem. Thus at the period of peak operations during the summer of 1945, the gaseous diffusion plant had an average turnover of about 13 percent a month and the electromagnetic and plutonium production plants each a little over 6 percent a month.1
Seeking to reduce excessive labor turnover, Manhattan administrators undertook aggressive countermeasures. As a first step, the District established exit interview offices at its area employment centers near Manhattan installations. Each employee leaving the project – whether voluntarily, for cause, or as a result of reductions-in-force – was encouraged to have an exit interview with District personnel officials. Through this means they were able not only to gain an insight
into the nature of the employees’ major complaints but also, in many instances, to persuade them to stay on the job.2
Ranking high on the employees’ list of complaints was their dissatisfaction with employment conditions, including inadequate wages, excessive hours, and lengthy commuting distance to and from the job site. For example, in mid-1944, 13 percent of the construction workers voluntarily leaving jobs at Hanford and 14 percent of those at Clinton cited some aspect of employment conditions as the reason for their departure. Another recurring complaint concerned living conditions, with more workers in 1944 finding these unsatisfactory at Clinton than at Hanford. Surprisingly large numbers of workers also left to take jobs they viewed as better than the ones they had held on the atomic project. That so many workers could do this was indicative of a major underlying problem in maintaining a work force – the fact that for much of the time in 1943 and 1944 there were more jobs available in the areas near the atomic installations than there were qualified workers to fill them.3
Analysis of data accumulated in the exit interviews indicated that most project employees were interested primarily in earning the highest hourly wages possible. Accordingly, District manpower authorities took steps to make Manhattan wage rates competitive, if not better, than those on other wartime projects. Working through the War Manpower Commission, the National War Labor Board, and other manpower agencies, they secured significant adjustments in Manhattan wage scales, bringing them up to the pay levels of competing projects. Exit interview data also revealed that project workers did not object to long hours if they received overtime pay for time put in beyond the regular workweek. For example, when Du Pont in the summer of 1943 reduced the workweek on construction jobs at Hanford from fifty-eight to forty-eight hours, eliminating most overtime, workers began leaving at a greatly accelerated rate. Only when General Groves personally intervened, directing Du Pont to extend the workweek to fifty-four hours, did employee turnover decline to an acceptable rate.4
The frequency of complaints about living conditions made it evident that new community facilities were needed at Clinton and Hanford. District officials began with a renewed emphasis on securing greater cooperation from the leaders of existing communities adjacent to the sites in the provision of housing, commercial and recreational facilities, transportation, and the other more urgent requirements of project workers temporarily residing in those communities. At the same time, the District made every effort to speed up construction of housing and other facilities in the towns of Oak Ridge and Richland.5
While the District could overcome some glaring deficiencies in employment and living conditions, it could
not hope to provide the comforts and conveniences available in long-established, thickly populated communities. District officials, however, tried to inculcate great toleration and acceptance among project workers for the unavoidable hardships and inconveniences. This was the goal, for example, of an extensive campaign begun in the summer of 1944 to raise the morale of the work force. Through public media – stories in company newspapers, strategically located billboards and posters, and film trailers shown in local theaters – the District personnel office circulated materials designed to appeal to the workers’ sense of patriotism and their pride in contributing to the completion of a difficult job under adverse conditions.6
Despite these countermeasures, absenteeism and labor turnover continued to rise in 1944. After consultation with officials of the War Manpower Commission, District manpower authorities decided to dispatch special investigative teams to Clinton and Hanford. These teams – each comprised of a representative of the Manpower Commission, a labor officer from the Army Service Forces (ASF) headquarters, and an officer from the District staff – conducted thoroughgoing labor surveys of several weeks’ duration.7
Rather surprisingly, the Clinton team came up with a recommendation that no special efforts be made to solve the turnover problem. They reported that the amount of absenteeism and turnover at Clinton was indeed high; in fact, much higher than at Hanford. Nevertheless, the team members felt that District manpower authorities had progressed so far in developing good labor relations and in providing suitable living conditions and community facilities that the problems with the work force no longer posed a threat to completion of the project. Further confirmation of the optimistic report came from the chief of the Labor Branch of the ASF’s Industrial Personnel Division, Lt. Col. John K. Collins. Wishing to consult with the team members on their findings and to assess the situation firsthand, Collins made an inspection visit in mid-May. He concurred that facilities for workers were “uncommonly good,” and discovered that the high rate of absenteeism and turnover indicated in the team’s statistics was not primarily the result of the construction workers’ dissatisfaction with working and living conditions but more directly attributable to the fact that many of them came from nearby farms and periodically had to take time off to do farm work.8
While lacking the glowing optimism of the labor survey reports on Clinton, the report from the Hanford team was highly commendatory of efforts made to achieve the best facilities feasible under rugged circumstances. The team considered employment conditions comparable with those on similar heavy construction projects in progress, and pointed out
the various ways in which management had endeavored to eliminate the more trying and irritating inconveniences. Chief causes for absenteeism and labor turnover, the team concluded, were rumors that misrepresented conditions at Hanford and the recruitment of many older, inexperienced, and less physically able employees who could not readily adjust to the demands of the work. The team recommended that both the War Manpower Commission and the United States Employment Service could assist in reducing labor turnover by taking steps to curb unsubstantiated rumors and making greater efforts to screen out poor risks among job applicants.9
As building of the Clinton and Hanford plants neared completion, the project’s need for construction workers declined. Concerned about the disrupting effect of large-scale reductions-in-force, the District implemented a policy of recruiting the operating staffs from among employees on the construction work force. Because these jobs were more secure and employment and living conditions had greatly improved, the rate of turnover and absenteeism among plant-operating employees was much less than among construction workers. The District, nevertheless, continued a vigorous program of manpower conservation into the postwar period. The most crucial period of plant operation came in the first half of 1945, and personnel supervisors constantly had to counteract the tendency among employees to relax their efforts as Allied victory over the Axis powers seemed assured.10
Special Problems With the Selective Service System
Operation of the Selective Service System created special problems in manpower conservation for the Manhattan Project. Although other major wartime industrial enterprises experienced similar problems, certain factors made Manhattan less able to tolerate losses from its civilian work force to military service. Because of the unique and complex technology involved in many of its operations, the project employed a higher percentage of workers, especially among its scientists and technicians, who had indispensable and often irreplaceable skills. Also, because of the enormous urgency of the bomb development program, the project faced an almost continuous series of construction and production deadlines that could be met only if key employees at all levels could be kept on the job. Finally, because of the highly secret nature of project activities, Army administrators had to exercise great care that compliance with Selective Service regulations did not result in serious breaches of security.11
Faced with these unusual problems, the Manhattan District had to develop special measures for dealing with the Selective Service System to prevent an unacceptable erosion of its civilian
employees. The civilian force was comprised of those employed by project contractors and civil servants assigned to the District headquarters or area offices. The first category of workers constituted the greater problem in terms of Selective Service policies, because this group far outnumbered their federal counterparts; the second category of workers was subject to the somewhat modified Selective Service regulations that governed all civil service employees in World War II. Because Selective Service regulations generally prohibited group deferments, the Manhattan Project, as did every other wartime employer, dealt with its draft problems in terms of the case of each individual worker and mostly at the level of the local Selective Service Board. From the administrative standpoint, especially that of security, this approach greatly complicated the draft problem for District manpower authorities because it meant they had to negotiate with hundreds of different local boards. And in each case they had to decide whether to permit a particular employee to be inducted into service, to request a delay in his induction until he could be replaced, to seek his temporary or permanent deferment, or to have him inducted and then assigned to a Manhattan military unit, such as the Special Engineer Detachment.12
Until late in 1943, when major changes occurred in draft regulations, manpower requirements of the Selective Service System did not present a serious threat to the project. Consequently, the District placed a priority on maintaining security, rather than obtaining deferments for its personnel. Instead of setting up a special staff, the District delegated to project contractors the task of resolving the draft problems of their employees and limited its intervention in Selective Service problems to the relatively few cases involving its own government employees. This policy was generally feasible as long as Selective Service regulations exempted a large body of manpower for family dependency. Project contractors hired most of their workers from this group and also could usually secure replacement for those employees who were drafted from this reservoir of manpower. Inevitably, there were some exceptions. For example, uniquely qualified scientists and technicians could not be replaced by members of any exempted class. In these instances, District manpower officials, with strong support from Secretary Stimson, intervened with Selective Service authorities to obtain deferments.13
After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and America’s entry into the war, the Selective Service had moved steadily toward inducting men from hitherto deferred classes. By late 1943, the need for additional manpower for the armed forces was so critical that the Selective Service informed local boards to consider drafting fathers as of 1 October. Within two months, following passage of congressional legislation extending
and ratifying this policy, the atomic project faced the prospect of losing thousands of key employees at the very time when its own manpower needs were reaching a peak. The draft regulations also placed in question the occupational deferments of many younger scientists, technicians, and skilled workers who had no dependents, for public opinion consistently favored selection of younger men without family responsibilities.14
To avert the deleterious effects of any manpower losses, the District abandoned its earlier hands-off policy and assumed a more decisive role in draft matters by reorganizing Selective Service functions. In late 1943, control over deferment procedures through the District was centralized at the Oak Ridge headquarters under administration of a newly formed Selective Service Section. In December, the section took over the Selective Service functions of the former Clinton Area Engineers Office. Shortly thereafter, in support of its more active participation in draft matters, the District established branch offices in New York City and Chicago and at the Hanford Engineer Works, where the area engineer subsequently formed a separate section to process deferments for operating personnel in the plutonium facilities. Finally, to assist the District’s Selective Service Section in review of draft cases involving project civil service employees, the Secretary of War appointed a regional deferment committee that was comprised of three commissioned officers from the Manhattan District.15
Organized and functioning much like a state Selective Service headquarters, the District’s Selective Service Section instituted a variety of measures that facilitated the prompt resolution of draft problems. It reviewed each draft case and advised the district engineer on procedures to be followed in its resolution, and also regularly issued to project contractors and area engineers circular letters containing all pertinent Selective Service information allowable within the security requirements of the project. Then in early 1944, under the so-called West Coast Plan that provided for deferment of workers in critical war industries, the section successfully obtained for project contractors at thirteen Manhattan establishments (including the Metallurgical Laboratory, Clinton Laboratories, Hanford Engineer Works, and the Kellex Corporation) authorization to defer those employees essential to maintain construction and production schedules. These measures contributed to the relief of state Selective Service directors from personal responsibility for Manhattan District deferments granted earlier – deferments that, under the pressure of manpower shortages in 1944, state directors, not really understanding why atomic project workers were essential, were more and more prone to question.16
A new threat to project manpower needs arose in January, when the Selective Service began enforcing a more stringent policy on occupational deferments for younger men (generally under age thirty). Administrators at Los Alamos, for example, predicted that such a policy would be disastrous for the entire project. Wasting no time, the District’s Selective Service Section began providing local draft boards with detailed data on the educational background, work experience, and contributions to the project of thousands of its younger employees. At the same time, it also urged project contractors to actively support continued deferment of workers classified as disqualified for military service (4-F) or for limited service (LA-1). By the time the war ended, the District had approved and forwarded to the Selective Service System more than thirty-eight thousand original deferment cases and renewed more than ten thousand of these cases. In addition, area engineers had directly processed thousands more.17
In the period after the war, some critics asserted that the Selective Service System had “greatly crippled” the atomic project. Manhattan administrators disagreed, however. According to Colonel Nichols, for example, in the approximately sixty thousand deferment actions handled up through June 1946, “no one has been lost to the project whose services were essential.”18 Certain Selective Service measures had threatened key project operations, but the District’s effective policy of energetic counteraction had enabled Manhattan officials to avert any serious interference with the progress of the bomb development program.
Labor Relations: Union Activities and Work Stoppages
Employer-employee relations was an important factor in the conservation of the Manhattan Project work force.19 Given the industrial character of its activities, these relations naturally centered on questions of unionization and unions. But unusually stringent security requirements greatly circumscribed the extent to which normal labor activities could be pursued. Nevertheless, consistent with the War Department policy established in the early months of the war, the Army permitted workers on the atomic project to carry on union activities as long as they did not interfere with achievement of the major
objectives of the program. This policy excluded, of course, resorting to strikes and any other labor activities that would interrupt war production or compromise security.
To deal with Manhattan Project labor relations problems, the Army relied extensively on experience gained, starting with the period of emergency preparedness in 1940–41, as an employer of thousands of workers in arsenals and depots and on Corps of Engineers construction projects and as administrators of government-owned, contractor-operated (GOCO) plants that produced munitions of war. From this experience the Army learned that the most efficient means for recruiting workers was through those unions affiliated with the Building and Construction Trades Department of the American Federation of Labor (AFL). This method minimized union-organizing and -recruiting activities on the job, because the Army and the AFL had agreed that contractors must maintain a closed-shop policy.
In the event that unions would be unable to satisfy Manhattan’s quotas for skilled and unskilled workers, the Army-AFL agreement permitted contractors to procure them elsewhere, with the provision that they join the appropriate union before starting their employment. When the AFL laborers union could supply only a fraction of the quota needed at the Clinton Engineer Works, the contractors – working with District manpower authorities – turned to the War Manpower Commission and federal employment agencies for recruitment assistance. Recruitment of workers through government channels, however, obviated compliance with the existing policy of union membership. To have required it, General Groves pointed out to District personnel monitoring labor problems, would mean, in effect, that the government was subsidizing recruitment for a labor organization.
The District’s efforts to minimize those union activities likely to impact negatively on construction and production schedules, as well as pose a threat to security, generally were effective. But work stoppages – for the most part, of very brief duration – did occur. The largest number resulted from jurisdictional disputes between crafts. In April 1943, for example, when electricians and ironworkers at Clinton disagreed over the handling of heavy electrical equipment, they walked off the job. The walkout lasted two days, during which 522 man-hours were lost. Some work stoppages occurred over discharge or transfer of employees. Typical was a case in February 1944, when members of the welders union at Hanford struck briefly to protest transfer of one of their members to the night shift, allegedly because of a grudge between the area superintendent and the employee. Time lost totaled 171 man-hours.
Dissatisfaction with wage rates and employment conditions caused a few work stoppages. Plumbers at Clinton walked off the job briefly in December 1943 in protest against a rule requiring that they use a parking lot more than half a mile from the point where they punched their timecards, and millwrights engaged in construction of a plant for the atomic project at Decatur, Illinois, ceased work for a few hours in August 1944 in dispute
over payment of shift time. In one or two instances where a large number of key construction employees were involved (for example, electricians at Clinton in December 1944), the loss of man-hours was considerable (in this case some forty thousand hours). But quick settlement of most disputes averted any disastrous slowdown in the building program.
The District faced far more novel and complex labor relations problems in administering the project’s operating employees. Many operating employees had to be made privy to highly classified data and equipment, whereas most construction employees had no need for secret information. Typically, too, the atomic project’s unique operating processes were far more vulnerable, and labor activity that interfered with operations simply could not be tolerated. Furthermore, most operating employees were not union members and their work did not fit nicely into any of the usual job categories.
Most of the commercial and industrial firms and the research institutions that accepted operating contracts with the atomic project customarily adhered to an open-shop policy. Du Pont, with major operational responsibilities at various project installations, had never been unionized in its private commercial operations. The same was true of the Tennessee Eastman Corporation, operator of the electromagnetic plant at Clinton. Similarly, most of the university contractors were nonunion employers. There were a few exceptions. The University of Chicago had a written agreement with the State, County, and Municipal Workers of America, a CIO (Congress of Industrial Organizations) union, but it had little effect on employee relations at the Metallurgical Laboratory. The University of California recognized the right of the Alameda County Building Trades Council unions to establish pay rates and conditions of employment for all maintenance employees hired by the university.
There were exceptions, too, among the commercial and industrial contractors. The primary business of the community service contractors (Robert E. McKee at Los Alamos, the Morrison-Knudsen Company in the Hanford area, and the Oak Ridge-based Roane-Anderson Company, a subsidiary of the Turner Construction Company of New York) was construction work. They were accustomed to dealing with the construction unions and found that they could secure most of the employees needed for community operation and maintenance through the AFL Building Trades unions. A number of the operators of smaller project plants also normally employed union labor and continued to do so in carrying out their Manhattan contracts. The Houdaille-Hershey Corporation of Decatur, Illinois, for example, which made barrier material for the gaseous diffusion process, signed an agreement with the Building Trades unions. Also, many of the firms manufacturing equipment and materials for Manhattan – such as the Allis-Chalmers Manufacturing Company, Chrysler Corporation, and Hooker Electrochemical Company – already were unionized.
For reasons of security, District manpower authorities frequently had to substitute for government and
union officials in carrying on labor relations with nonunion operating employees. In cases of alleged violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act and the Walsh-Healey Act and in the conduct of inquiries made by the Fair Employment Practices Committee, they served in lieu of government representatives; in the few instances when operating employee elections were necessary, they supervised the balloting; and when federal agencies took the initiative in requesting an investigation of employees or when national labor unions sought to hold elections, they endeavored to persuade the agencies or unions to waive the security-threatening procedure and, failing in this, to let Manhattan carry out whatever procedure was deemed necessary.
Several unions pressed District manpower authorities for recognition as bargaining agents for plant-operating employees at the major production sites. To mediate the issue, each union filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board and requested a formal hearing. The International Brotherhood of Firemen and Oilers filed the first petition in August 1944, seeking to represent the Carbide and Carbon Chemicals Corporation employees who worked at the gaseous diffusion power plant, and subsequently the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers joined with the Firemen and Oilers union in its petition. When the National Labor Relations Board scheduled a hearing for 24 October, District authorities promptly intervened to prevent a serious security threat. They negotiated with board officials, who, in the end, agreed to postpone the hearing. The postponement, how ever, was only a temporary victory for the District, as the mediators indicated an ultimate hearing on the petition was mandatory.
General Groves, determined to find a permanent solution to the labor problems of plant-operating employees, turned to War Department tabor experts for advice and assistance. As Groves saw it, the atomic program had to achieve three objectives: It had to maintain production schedules; its operations had to be protected from sabotage and subversive interference and from disclosure of information useful to a foreign power; and it had to maintain maximum efficiency and economy. The Manhattan commander felt strongly that District labor policies must be formulated to further these objectives, which, he frankly stated, might best be achieved by forbidding unions among plant-operating employees who worked in restricted areas. This policy, as he visualized it, would mean exclusion of all outside agencies (including the National Labor Relations and the National War Labor Boards) and a ban on all types of union activities. Groves immediately granted, however, that so restrictive a labor policy was probably not feasible and the District undoubtedly would have to be satisfied with a compromise arrangement. He suggested a policy that would permit unions, limiting membership in them to employees of those contractors who had signed a secrecy agreement, would forbid outside union representatives, and would require Army inspection and control of all union activities. If disputes should arise that could not be settled in negotiations between the contractor and the union, they would
have to be submitted to the Secretary of War for arbitration.
War Department labor officials were in agreement with General Groves that there was no feasible way for the Army to deny to the project’s plant-operating employees all rights to organize. Their views were summarized in a report prepared in November 1944 by John H. Ohly of the ASF’s Industrial Personnel Division. After conferring with Groves and several other District representatives, Ohly concluded that labor problems at Clinton were similar to those of the Army’s GOCO plants, but there were significant differences: the overall urgency of the atomic project, its employment of several major contractors at one site, its unusually strict security requirements, the sensitivity of its processes to stoppage, and the exceptionally large percentage of its workers residing within a military reservation. Yet these differences, Ohly reported, did not justify denying plant-operating employees the right to organize. “The right to join or associate with others in establishing a union of his own choosing without interference from his employer,” Ohly noted, was a basic right possessed by the American working man, and the War Department consistently had adhered to the policy of permitting employees in war industries to continue to exercise that right to the maximum extent practicable under wartime conditions.20 The extent to which workers at the Clinton plant would try to organize, Ohly believed, depended largely on the attitude of the national union leaders – William Green, Philip Murray, John L. Lewis, and their chief subordinates – toward these efforts. If these leaders should encourage unionization of the atomic plants, Ohly was confident that this labor activity could be accommodated without unduly imperiling the major objectives of the project.
General Groves was willing to go along with the view that production workers should be permitted some organizing activities, but he opposed admission of outside union representatives to project areas and the conduct of public hearings on petitions by labor board officials. He did not succeed, however, in the time gained through several postponements of the union hearings, in attaining an agreement for withdrawal of the petition. Finally, on 24 November, representatives of the National Labor Relations Board notified the District that under the law they must act on the petition and thus scheduled a hearing for 19 December. The Manhattan commander immediately wrote to Under Secretary of War Robert P. Patterson: “We can no longer merely delay action by NLRB. A definite position must now he taken. If the cooperation of the unions could be secured, the problem would be solved. ... In view of the nature and importance of the project, it is not too much to ask them in furtherance of the national interest to refrain from unionizing the Clinton Engineer Works for the duration. This is the only feasible approach to the problem. No
rights are denied and no security is sacrificed.”21
Groves had expressed his views to Patterson in the course of responding favorably to the Under Secretary’s proposal that Manhattan should seek the assistance of James F. Byrnes, director of the Office of War Mobilization, in securing the cooperation of the unions. When Byrnes assented to applying his well-known persuasive powers to securing an understanding with the Electrical Workers and Firemen and Oilers unions, Patterson made the necessary arrangements for a meeting on 5 December. To ensure the support of the major operating contractors at Clinton for any agreement reached at this meeting, Groves, Nichols, and Lt. (jg.) John J. Flaherty, a Navy officer serving as special assistant for labor matters on the district engineer’s staff, conferred in New York on 30 November with representatives of Carbide and Carbon, Tennessee Eastman, and the Fercleve Corporation.
The meeting on 5 December in Byrnes’s office at the White House laid the groundwork for the eventual establishment of a satisfactory policy governing labor activities of operating employees at the Clinton Engineer Works – and, by extension, to those working at the other major atomic installations – for the duration of the war. With Byrnes’s assistance, Groves, Patterson, and Edward McGrady, the Under Secretary’s labor adviser obtained a tentative agreement from A. L. Wegener, head of the Electrical Workers, and Joseph P. Clark, who served in a similar capacity for the Firemen and Oilers, to postpone indefinitely the labor hearings with the proviso that the two unions be permitted to represent their membership in the handling of any grievances that might arise. In the days immediately after the White House meeting, the Firemen and Oilers and the Electrical Workers unions confirmed this agreement, as did the International Association of Machinists, which had petitioned for bargaining rights on 28 November with Roane-Anderson.
The Machinists union also filed a petition to organize the thousands of workers employed by Tennessee Eastman in the electromagnetic plant at Clinton, but held it in abeyance in keeping with the agreement. Some local labor leaders, particularly those in the Electrical Workers union, were reluctant to forego organizing activities, for they were convinced that the operating contractors simply had used the Army to push through the ban on union organization which they desired. Only through the combined efforts of War Department-District labor officials and national union representatives were the skeptical local labor leaders finally persuaded to give the District’s alternative grievance procedures a chance to be tested before renewing their organizational activities.
The procedures adopted for hearing grievances were patterned on those used in GOCO plants. In September 1944, the district engineer directed that all operating contractors at Clinton institute their own grievance procedures, requiring only that the latter conform to general standards laid down by District manpower
authorities. These procedures guaranteed each operating employee equal access to “a fair and complete review of his grievance.”22 They also ensured him a hearing without delay and resolution of his case within thirty days. The employee could take his grievance through the various levels of plant supervision – foreman, superintendent, and so forth – up to a final hearing by a representative of the district engineer. In this final review, the aggrieved worker could be represented by a union steward, who, for reasons of security, must be an employee of the same contractor as the worker.
The question of unions and union activities among operating employees at the other two major atomic installations – Hanford and Los Alamos – never became a serious problem. Workers at Hanford, many of them already members of construction unions, briefly attempted to organize operating employees in the production plants administered by Du Pont. But Lt. Col. Franklin T. Matthias, the area engineer, promptly intervened. Similarly, outside unions requested permission to organize Hanford workers, but agreed to postpone their effort as long as it would constitute a threat to security. Occasionally individual AFL members in the plutonium production plants endeavored to recruit members, but achieved little success.
Most operating workers at Los Alamos were either civil service or contractor employees, some of whom belonged to unions. By late 1944, there were indications that union members generally opposed employment of nonunion workers in civil service positions. In November, a representative from the Office of the Chief of Engineers in Washington, D.C., meeting in Santa Fe with the director of the Thirteenth U.S. Civil Service Region (which now included New Mexico) and local labor leaders, stated that there would be no discrimination between union and nonunion members in the hiring of civil service employees for Los Alamos. In the case of union workers employed at Los Alamos by project contractors, no labor relations problems of consequence occurred during the period of the war.
The modifications required by the Army in the normal labor activities of Manhattan’s operating employees proved to be both workable and effective. In the period of maximum plant operations from late 1944 until September 1945, there was no compromise of security or interruption of production schedules that could be charged to labor activities among operating employees. Furthermore, most production workers came to accept the limitations on their employee rights as being necessary under the circumstances. Consequently, these limitations did not seriously affect employee morale or result in large-scale defections from the job. Perhaps the most concrete evidence of the effectiveness of the project’s labor policies was the almost complete absence of work stoppages from late 1944 to the end of the war. Among the tens of thousands of operating employees at Clinton in this period, there was only one instance of
stoppage – a brief walkout of general repairmen in May 1945 at the Carbide and Carbon installations. Work stoppages of somewhat greater length did occur at several plants producing essential materials for the project in Detroit, in Decatur (Illinois), and in Uravan (Colorado), but none caused serious interference with production schedules. Even in the immediate postwar period, when restraints on union activities inevitably were weakened, work stoppages traceable to employee organizations or grievances were remarkably low. As of the end of December 1946, when the Army was preparing to turn over control of the atomic project to the Atomic Energy Commission, Manhattan production plants had lost only about eighty-six thousand man-hours, or about 0.028 percent of their potential working time, as a result of work stoppages.
From 1943 through early 1945, the Manhattan Project faced relentless construction and production schedules that could only be met if the adequacy and efficiency of its large and heterogeneous work force could be maintained. Consequently, the military and civilian leaders of the project early realized that they must take strong countermeasures against such prevalent manpower-eroding tendencies in the American wartime environment as high labor turnover, the demands of military conscription, and labor union activities. Making use of many of the same War Department and other governmental channels earlier employed for procuring workers for the project, General Groves, the Manhattan District’s manpower staff at Oak Ridge, and the area engineers at the field installations were able to secure approval for such labor turnover antidotes as higher wages and improved housing, to work out special arrangements for retaining critically needed workers with the Selective Service System, and to obtain the cooperation of American union leaders in postponing labor activities that would have jeopardized the production goals and security of the project.