A Spring and Summer of Strikes

In early February 1964, KSC signed an agreement with the Florida East Coast Railroad for the operation of a spur line on NASA property. Eleven nonoperating unions, such as telegraphers and maintenance-of-way workers, had been on strike against the railroad for 13 months in an effort to bring their pay up to the national scale as accepted by 190 railroads in 1962. Violence during the strike had caused suspension of passenger traffic. But the Florida East Coast continued to move freight, and during the week before the agreement two trains had been blown up.11

NASA Administrator Webb had warned board chairman Edward Ball that a paralyzing strike might endanger the nation's space and security program. Vice President of the railroad W. L. Thornton believed that the unions would not shut down the Cape operations because such action would constitute an illegal secondary boycott. Thornton had refused President Kennedy's recommendation for "final and binding arbitration" the previous year. Thornton did not seem to take seriously the pledge of the almost 12,000 spaceport union employees to honor picket lines.12 The railroad, in fact, had tried to operate a train on NASA property before the agreement. A confrontation with NASA security personnel had prevented unloading of the train.13

The nonoperating unions placed pickets at all entrances to the space center and to Cape Kennedy on 10 February, halting construction on the Cape and Merritt Island.14 The National Labor Relations Board obtained a temporary restraining order from the Federal District Court of Orlando on the grounds that in halting space construction, the pickets violated a ban on secondary boycotts.15 The unions removed the pickets on 12 February and the workers returned to their jobs, even though the attorney for the union contended that the Florida East Coast came under the purview of the Railway Labor Act, and thus the National Labor Relations Board had no jurisdiction.16 In his weekly report to Debus, Miraglia correctly assumed that one or two months would elapse before pickets reappeared.17

The meetings that followed between Assistant Secretary of Labor James J. Reynolds and the officials of the railroad transcended the local situation at the spur line to KSC. Reynolds suggested that the President's Missile Sites Labor Commission arbitrate the strike - a proceeding that Ball had steadily opposed for 13 months. When President Johnson spoke at Palatka, Florida, later in the month, a blast blew up a Florida East Coast train 25 kilometers away.18 Ball continued to oppose compulsory arbitration and the dispute dragged on. But wider aspects of the battle did not affect the situation at KSC.

Paul Styles represented NASA at a meeting of the Missile Sites Labor Relations Committee on 20 April 1964. In the previous year, jurisdictional disputes between building trades unions and disagreement over working conditions had caused 33 work stoppages. Styles stressed the need for a new dedication by labor organizations and contractors to adjust jurisdictional disputes without work stoppages. The representatives of the contractors and the union pledged greater efforts to follow the prescribed methods of settling such disputes. Government, labor, and management all felt the meeting successful.19 Actualities were to betray their hopes.

The Missile Sites Labor Relations Committee held a special meeting to avert picketing of KSC and the Cape by members of Steelworkers Local 6020 of Tampa. This union had been on strike against the Florida Steel Company of Tampa for 12 weeks. KSC used steel from this company, and the union felt that placing pickets at the spaceport would bring the dispute to the attention of the public. KSC prevailed upon the union to postpone action until a committee had studied the situation. The committee suggested that a reduction or possibly total elimination of the use of steel from this company would remove the threat of picketing.20 This was obviously a case of a union using KSC as a lever to win a strike against a particular firm.

So many work stoppages occurred during the next few months one might well have thought that the building of the space center would stagger on forever. In late May and early June the ironworkers refused to work for the American Bridge Company in the assembly building, alleging unsafe practices; 736 man-days were lost. Since workers left their jobs contrary to the orders of union representatives, the walkout indicated a loss of control by the union. At the same time, 20 pipe-fitters left their jobs on complex 36B in the cable terminal building. When Akwa Construction Company sent several nonunion workers, the carpenters' business agent pulled out the remaining union workers. The firing of 5 men for allegedly drinking and gambling on the job provoked 129 laborers in the assembly building and 29 cement masons in the industrial area to stay off the job beginning 3 June. Conciliation brought about the rehiring of three of the men on the basis of inconclusive evidence and termination slips for milder reasons for the other two, so as not to impair their chances of future employment. Eight laborers and 9 carpenters walked off the job on 1 June at the cable terminal building and at the site of the communications ducts to protest the hiring of 4 nonunion carpenters. Nonunion men then took over.21 Twenty-five operating engineers left their jobs on 5 June to protest the discharge of one member; 11 man-days were lost. The business agent ordered the men back to work at the direction of the Corps of Engineers.

On the morning of 8 June, Locals 2020 and 717 of the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Ways placed pickets at all entrances to Merritt Island and the Cape at 5 a.m. without giving prior notice. Members of the building trades honored the picket lines, closing down nearly all construction work at KSC and at the Cape. About 4,000 of 4,500 workers stayed away. The railroad trouble had surfaced again.

At a meeting of the Missile Sites Labor Relations Committee on the following day, Paul Styles admonished the building trades unions for violating the no-strike clause - Article 6 of the Project Stabilization Agreement. The committee insisted that the unions needed more effective leadership and that the contractors had to discipline violators of the agreement. Styles urged the heads of 14 building trades unions to get the men back to work. The union officials responded that the workers had refused to cross the picket lines spontaneously and not under orders from the union leadership.22

On the same day (9 June 1964), Styles notified all employees of the Florida East Coast Railroad, its subcontractors, and its suppliers that they had to use one entrance to the Merritt Island area. If unions wanted to picket, they could do so only at the one gate. This decision of the Director of NASA's Office of Labor Relations followed a procedure established at many multiemployer work sites throughout the country and repeatedly upheld by the National Labor Relations Board. At this juncture, Federal District Judge George C. Young ordered the maintenance-of-way unions to cease picketing the railroad at Kennedy Space Center. His temporary injunction would last until the following Monday. Early the following week he extended the injunction until Friday the 19th. In the meantime the National Labor Relations Board issued an opinion that the railroad unions involved, principally the telegraphers and the maintenance-of-way men, fell under its jurisdiction. Judge Young extended the injunction indefinitely.23

And the month of June had barely passed the midway point!

Representatives of the unions and contractors who had signed the Project Stabilization Agreement met in Orlando on 18 June to find out if the unions intended to adhere to the no-strike provision. Representatives of NASA and the Department of Defense attended. The meeting failed to produce any change in attitude of union representatives toward the Project Stabilization Agreement. Basically, the locals resented this restriction agreed to by the international unions and tended to ignore it. International unions, in turn, were not insisting on compliance by the locals.24

Strikes and work stoppages piled one on top of another with such frequency that Debus penned these words at the bottom of Miraglia's weekly notes: "John: The continuation of the 'little' walkouts precipitated by sometimes unknown causes is very alarming. What can be done about it?"25 Jurisdictional strikes especially galled. At one time several jurisdictional disputes took place simultaneously and were to drag on through much of the summer of 1964. Carpenters walked off the job at the assembly building following a dispute with the contractor, Morrison-Knudsen, Perini, and Hardeman, over the assigning of aluminum door frames to the ironworkers.26

In the third week in July, Kearns, who gradually assumed more of Miraglia's duties at KSC, thought it noteworthy to record that no jurisdictional disputes had caused work stoppages during the past week, although three previous disputes were still pending. Now a new area of dispute took center stage. Five plumbers left the operations and checkout building in the industrial area protesting the award of a contract to a nonunion prime contractor who had subcontracted the mechanical work to another nonunion contractor. The strike lasted one day.

Unions began to show concern over the number of contracts that went to open-shop employers. The Brevard Building and Construction Trades Council asked for information on the number of nonunion contractors winning contracts from local government agencies - even though many open-shop contractors did use union workers or subcontracted to firms that had union workers. A cursory check by NASA during late August showed that 94% of the workers on KSC contracts were union men. This represented a rise in nonunion workers from 1.7% in June to 5.8% in August. The percentage of contracts let to nonunion contractors was between 15 and 20%. By dollar volume, however, it was only 5%.27

The Orlando Sentinel for 8 September 1964 depicted NASA's relations with labor as being in decay. To the Industrial Relations Office at KSC, it appeared that Clifford Baxley, the coordinator of the Brevard Building and Trades Council, had given false information to the newspaper, and Kearns recommended boycotting informal, off-the-record discussions whenever Baxley represented labor. In his report to Debus, Kearns mentioned that Baxley did not have to support all unions and that his conduct completely destroyed the purpose of meetings, particularly when the information Baxley gave to the press was not accurate. On Kearns's report, Debus wrote an emphatic "No!" and underlined the word twice. "We cannot take this attitude," he insisted. "Discuss this with Mr. Siepert."28

In line with the insistence of Debus, Kearns wrote the following week:

NASA will continue to attend these informal labor management meetings if they are resumed. Other Government agencies that have participated in these meetings agree that certain rules be established to retain the trust and confidence the attendees must have towards each other in order to assure the success of such meetings. No date has been set for another meeting.29
The long hot summer of 1964 proved frustrating for Miraglia and Kearns; indeed, labor relations were not to improve during the construction period at KSC. One of the most significant strikes came in mid-September 1965, when construction neared its conclusion throughout Merritt Island. Most other strikes had been purely local, or at most regional, such as the strike against the Florida East Coast Railroad. This one was part of a nationwide walkout of Boeing Company employees. The strike directly affected only about 50 members of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers on KSC's Saturn program, and about 225 on the Air Force Minuteman program at Cape Kennedy.30 Revolving around a new contract, it hinged on such issues as the grading of employees, insurance coverage for dependents, and the union shop.

When contract negotiations broke down, the union struck Cape Kennedy and KSC on 16 September 1965. W. J. Usery, regional representative of the machinists, made considerable but fruitless efforts to prevent the walkout of the nonstriking machinists (those who worked for firms other than Boeing). The striking machinists, in general, honored the one-gate picketing procedure that Paul Styles had set down in the railroad strike of the previous year. A large number of construction workers walked off the job for a time in support of the machinists. All the workers from the Marion Power Shovel Co., who had come south to assemble the crawler-transporter, went home.31

Boeing would not grant the union shop request. But the negotiations eventually resulted in a new contract that satisfied the international leadership of the union, and the spaceport machinists voted on 4 October to end the 19-day strike.32

Previous Page Next Page Table of Contents