Moonport: A History of Apollo Launch Facilities and Operations

The Center's Labor Policy

Such was the industrial climate at the Cape shortly before NASA was challenged to send men to the moon. Only four days before President Kennedy gave that call on 21 May 1961, he signed Executive Order 10946, establishing the Missile Sites Labor Commission, with Secretary of Labor Arthur J. Goldberg as chairman. He and three representatives of management were to establish policies and procedures that were intended to improve labor relations within the missile and space industry. Section 2 of the order provided for the establishment of local on-site committees to anticipate problems and to prevent their becoming acute. The Missile Site Labor Relations Committee at KSC included one representative of each of the following: the Defense Department, NASA, building contractors, the Building and Construction Trades Department of the AFL-CIO, the industrial contractors, the industrial unions, and the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service.4

The work of the committee, coupled with other factors, resulted in a marked decrease in man-days lost at the Cape. The threat of further action by the McClellan Committee weighed heavily. McClellan introduced Senate bill 2361, which would have outlawed strikes and called for compulsory arbitration at strategic defense facilities.5 One of the most important achievements of the Missile Sites Labor Commission at the Cape stemmed from a series of meetings between representatives of the Department of Defense, NASA, building and construction contractors, and international and local building trades unions. On 20 February 1962, they agreed to the Project Stabilization Agreement that standardized local arrangements between various unions and contractors. Two years later all parties were to accept a slightly revised agreement for three years more.6

A major dispute between NASA and certain of the building trades unions concerned the point where construction work ended and installation of equipment began. Further, the Air Force and NASA took different views on this question. Contractors working for the Air Force early reached an understanding with the construction unions and established an unwritten range policy to allow construction trades to install almost all ground support equipment. NASA never really accepted this policy.

Because of the research and development nature of its work, NASA maintained that each missile firing was essentially a laboratory experiment for the purpose of gathering data, testing feasibility of design concepts, operational techniques, and future development; and, therefore, all ground equipment, including launch controls, plumbing, and instrumentation that connected directly with the missile formed an integral part of the missile system. Thus, all such equipment should come under the direct control, from installation to final use, of the NASA missile teams. NASA saw many advantages to this viewpoint. It ensured quality control, increased reliability, reduced cost, and rendered unnecessary elaborate contract specifications for installation of launch facilities. At times, too, KSC saw the advisability of having the firm that built a piece of equipment bring its own workers to Florida to assemble it. The next chapter will discuss this issue with regard to the crawler-transporter - and the union disapproval that resulted. In line with NASA's attitude, and in spite of the Air Force's unwritten policy differing from NASA's, some Air Force missile contractors would have preferred to have their own personnel do the entire job. This had come up in at least one significant case with Convair before the Senate hearing on work stoppages at missile bases.7

The Air Force had also drawn up ground rules that allowed the use of nonunion contractors, but never on the same specific job as a union contractor, such as inside the same blockhouse at the same time. The Air Force, further, won an agreement that disallowed picketing on the Cape itself. Although the commanding general readily listened to the complaints of labor leaders, the Air Force rarely intruded in disputes that arose between contractors and their workers.8

NASA did not duplicate all these policies. As a result, many unions had one set of rules east of the Banana River and another on the west bank, and the difference showed from time to time. On one occasion, construction unions walked off their jobs, causing a loss of 491 man-days to NASA contracts and 3,867 man-days to NASA-financed Corps of Engineers contracts. At the same time, Air Force contracts and Air Force-financed Corps of Engineers contracts of about the same size did not lose a single man-day.9

As the Launch Operations Center moved toward the period of construction, its Industrial Relations Office increased in importance. In June 1963, Oliver E. Kearns, who had worked with the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service in Toledo, and before that had been field examiner with the National Labor Relations Board in Seattle, became Industrial Relations Officer. Later in the year, John Miraglia, who had worked in industrial relations for NASA at the Cape, returned to the Space Center as Industrial Relations Chief, with Kearns as his deputy. In the NASA-wide administrative reorganization of early 1964, Paul Styles became Labor Relations Director, with Miraglia his deputy. With this new office added to his duties at KSC, Miraglia served as trouble-shooter at NASA centers throughout the country.

Miraglia had experience both as a textile worker and a representative of the textile workers' union and had worked with the National Labor Relations Board. He understood that many labor problems were emotional as well as economic and that the first essential was proper communications.10 He and Kearns would have plenty of opportunity to develop the art of communication and to extend their patience to the limit during 1964, an especially trying year. But all the construction years at Kennedy Space Center would prove exasperating.