Colonel Goethals' address at annual banquet of the Society of the Chagres


Material Information

Colonel Goethals' address at annual banquet of the Society of the Chagres Tivoli Hotel, March sixth, nineteen fifteen
Physical Description:
22 p. : ; 24 cm.
Goethals, George W ( George Washington ), 1858-1928
Society of the Chagres
Place of Publication:
Publication Date:


Subjects / Keywords:
Design and construction -- Panama Canal (Panama)   ( lcsh )
non-fiction   ( marcgt )


General Note:
Cover title.

Record Information

Source Institution:
University of Florida
Rights Management:
All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier:
oclc - 854876083
aleph - 30828026
lcc - TC774 .G69 1915
System ID:

Full Text


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Umasti pmuva vwomuvd~lj o

Gift of the Panama Canal Museum


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Fellow Members of the Chagres Society:
Mr. May, the newly elected President of
the Chagres Society, said that there was but
one speech to be made to-night at the banquet,
and that the Committee requested that I make
it. I am not much on speaking except in the
office, and I asked Mr. May if he would pre-
pare the speech. He promised to, do it. I
saw Mr. Baxter a few days after and told him
I expected to make a speech and asked him
to assist in its preparation. Mr. Baxter looked
wooden. Mr. Mcllvaine urged me to come
to-night and make a few remarks, and I told
him I would, provided a speech were prepared
for me. "Oh!" he said, "that would be quite
easy." I have not seen anything of Mr. Baxter
from that time until I met him here to-night.
Mcllvaine said this morning he thought I was
joking. Mr. May came in with a few plati-
tudes and thought I could add to them and
that that would make a sufficient speech.
Mr. May used to be useful; but he has joined
the judiciary. His motto now is manfana.
Eight years ago to-day I sailed from New
York to assume charge of this work. On the


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17th of March, eight years ago, a smoker was
given at Corozal to which I was invited. I
attended. The cheering was all in favor of
Mr. Stevens. Any reference made to his suc-
cessor was met with cold silence. The toast-
master, whom I see here to-night, made some
remarks about the Army, suggesting to a
party of Congressmen who were present, that
if in going around the work they should see
-the men suddenly drop their tools, assume the
attitude of a soldier, and make a military
salute, they should not consider the men "loco",
but simply preparing for the new administra-
tion which was td assume charge. [Addressing
Mr. Kyte.] You remember that, Mr. Kyte?
Those remarks coupled with other insinuations
and slurs upon the Army rather irritated and
angered me, and I made my maiden speech.
At that time I told you men, as you may re-
member if you were present on that occasion,
that I would look after your interests, as they
would be my own; that every man would have
the right of audience-and that promise I
have kept. [A voice: "You bet you have."]
I have attended this dinner to-night not
because I enjoy banquets, but because it is


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probably the last one I will have opportunity
to attend, for after eight years of responsibility
I feel that I am entitled to some rest, so I have
asked to be relieved and hope that I may be
some time during the coming year in order
that a younger man whose energy is unim-
paired may take up the work and carry it
In the spring of 1907, if you men remember,
there were a number of labor questions being
agitated, and one of the first things I was
called upon to do was to settle the wage sched-
ule between the Commission and the loco-
motive engineers, the conductors, and the
steam-shovel crews. Mr. Stevens had de-
clined to deal with the men when they took
the matter over his head and carried it to
the President. Mr. Taft was soon to come to
the Isthmus to discuss the question with the
labor committees and to decide what should
be done in the matter. There are undoubtedly
some of you here who attended the hearing
that the Secretary of War, Mr. Taft, gave
in the Panama Railroad office at Colon. Mr.
Stevens and Mr. Bierd had recommended that
the pay of the locomotive engineers be placed

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on a parity with the pay of the steam-shovel
engineers, as in the States steam-shovel en-
gineers usually got less than locomotive en-
gineers. Mr. Taft feared that if the steam-
shovel men received no increase that there
might be labor trouble. He was not in favor
of increasing their pay to $300 per month,
which they demanded, but thought something
should be done for them. He suggested in-
crease to length of service and I then recom-
mended to him that longevity be granted, and
that length of service should govern for all
classes of service on the Isthmus. [Great ap-
plause.] He could not give longevity to the
steam-shovel engineers without giving it to
the locomotive engineers and maintain the
parity which Mr. Stevens claimed should be
maintained, and he ought not to give it to the
steam-shovel engineers and the locomotive
engineers without giving it to men in other
classes of employment. [Applause.] He was
to give his decision, if you remember, from
Cuba; when he reached Cuba he decided to
postpone the matter until he reached Wash-
ington and conferred with Mr. Roosevelt, then
the President; after his return to Washington

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I received a cablegram asking whether the
longevity should be given at the end of one
year's service or at the end of a greater length
of time.. I suggested 5 per cent at the end of
two years' service with an increase for each
succeeding year. The upshot of the matter
was that an increase was given to transporta-
tion crews, and longevity was to be granted
to the steam-shovel crews, the transportation
crews, and the mechanical trades at the rate
of 5 per cent increase for the first year's service *
and an increase of 3 per cent for each suc-
ceeding year's service. That information was
received by me on a Sunday afternoon by
cablegram. I gave the word out the next
day, and you know the result. The loco-
motive engineers with an increase to $210 per
month when qualified to operate on the main
line were well pleased, but the steam-shovel
engineers considered that they had not re-
ceived proper recognition and determined to
withdraw their services from the Canal. A few
days subsequently I received by mail a copy
of the President's decision, which gave 3 per
cent increase for the first year's service and
3 per cent for each succeeding year. I had



!already announced 5 per cent for the first
'year. I determined I would not break faith
with the men, and I adhered to the 5 per
cent, subsequently explaining the situation to
thea President and securing his approval of
I my action.
If you remember, the Appropriations Com-
mittee of the House first visited the Isthmus
in November of 1907. Among the other things
they criticised was the longevity pay. In the
S meantime the pressure for an extension of
longevity had become great, for other men
who were doing equally valuable service and
who were receiving no recognition for length
of service other than their straight pay,
thought they should also be granted the lon-
gevity increase. [Applause.] When I visited
Washington in 1907 I saw the Secretary of
War and explained the situation to him; I
showed him that the men were not being justly
treated who had not received increase for
longevity as I had in the first instance recom-
mended. However, the congressional criti-
cism had been so strong he stated he would not
grant the increase unless Congress specifically
authorized it for classes of employees other

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than those already included. In the spring
of 1909 the pressure became more than I could
withstand. I took it up with the Congres-
sional Committee and told them longevity
should be given to everybody or to nobody.
The upshot of it was that Mr. Tawney .old
me that the committee had. decided to with-
draw longevity for everybody. I asked him
if he considered that this would mean a re-
duction in the pay of the men already re-
ceiving it. He said he had not-that the bill
had not been drafted, but that they would take
it up with me when they came to frame up the
bill. I went to President Roosevelt and ex-
plained the situation to him, and he drafted
a letter to Speaker Cannon asking that the
prohibition against longevity be withdrawn,
and that longevity be extended to everybody,
applying to all classes equally. I took that
letter to Speaker Cannon and had quite a
session with him. He was opposed to it;
opposed to it not because he did not think the
men should have longevity, but because it
created an undesirable precedent, and efforts
were being made for similar privileges in the
Government service in the United States. He

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did not believe it should be granted, and on
that account a clause was inserted in the Sun-
dry Civil Bill enacted in 1909 which limited
longevity to that which had been acquired up
to that time. Attempts have been made since
| then for longevity, and my position always
has been and always will be that longevity
,,should be given to all or to none. [Great
When the Secretary of War, Mr. Garrison,
visited the Isthmus a couple of years ago a
committee secured from him a letter to the
effect that there seemed to be some equity in
the claim that longevity should be paid to
those whose conditions of employment specif-
ically specified that they would get longevity.
A year ago I went to Washington. The order
had already issued in connection with the re-
organization. I found the unions who were
represented in Washington determined as far
as possible to put through longevity for
those whose conditions of employment called
for longevity, making use of the Secretary of
War's letter. That would have affected a
comparatively small number of employees,
and would not have made it applicable to those

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who had not enjoyed its privileges previously.
When the Panama Canal Act was first
brought to the attention of employees I had
assured the men that as far as it lay in my
power I would continue the construction wage
scale until the completion of the construction
work. I discussed the matter with President
Taft when he was here in 1912, and he said .
he would see that no objection was made to it
if I took the responsibility. When I discussed
the question with the Secretary of War, in
1913 he stated that a strict compliance with
the law would not permit a continuance"bf o f ;
the wage scale as it then existed, and, if you
recall, a year ago we issued information stat-
ing what the wage scale would be under the
operation and maintenance of the Canal. I
then told the committees of the labor organi-
zations who came to interview me that if I
could not get the construction wage scale con-
tinued during the construction period, I would
do my best to stave off the rent proposition
until the construction work was completed,
or at least for one year. A year ago when in
Washington I took up with the leaders of the
House the question of longevity. I called

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attention to the letter the Secretary of War
had given on the subject to some of the labor
unions on the Isthmus, and explained to them
that the attitude I had always taken and still
held was that longevity should be given to all
or to none. It was absolutely impossible to
secure legislation giving longevity to all. It
was extremely doubtful if longevity could be
secured for the few who had previously
enjoyed its privileges, and whose contract
of employment embodied the suggestion. I
met with the representatives of the labor
unions in the States and explained the
situation to them; I proposed to them that
we cut out longevity since there was no
hope of getting it for all; stated that I
would do my best to defeat longevity for
the few; and suggested that they join with
me in maintaining the construction wage
scale until the end of the construction period.
The labor leaders there did not feel that they
could take the necessary action without con-
sulting with the men on the Isthmus. Time
did not permit of this, as the Urgent Deficiency
Bill had passed the House and was then in the
hands of the Senate Committee; I had made


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arrangements with the Senate Committee for
a hearing on the proposition, and the labor
leaders agreed the following morning before
I went to the committee that they would not
attempt to interfere with any legislation I
might suggest looking toward the retention
of the existing wage scale. I had had a con-
ference with the Appropriations Committee of
the House and explained to them the situa-
tion-that I had promised the men in 1912
that I would do what I could to maintain the
construction wage scale until the completion
of the Canal, and they stated if I could con-
vince the Senate Committee and get a clause
introduced confirming it, they would inter-
pose no objection. The result you already
know. Longevity was knocked out but the
wage scale was maintained, and this benefited
a greater number of people than the reestab-
lishment of longevity applying to the special
classes as before would have done. That is
the situation on longevity.
Another point that has agitated everybody
here to-night is the rent question. When the
members of the Committee of Congress in
1907 visited the Isthmus they had very much


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to say not only on the liberal wage scale, but
also on the privileges accorded to employees.
If you remember, they visited every type
house on the Isthmus, including mine. It
was at that time that a Member of Congress
suggested that they go upstairs in my house
in order that they might see how we lived.
This rather angered me; I did not think it
any of their business. He remarked that as
I got such a house with a salary of $15,000 a
year, he presumed that if he were on the Isth-
mus, his salary being $7,500, he would get
a house of proportionate size. I told him- that
he was mistaken; that if he were on the Isth-
mus he would not get anything near $7,500
a year. The laugh was on him. We had
visited Empire and Cascadas and were re-
turning to Culebra to hold hearings in the old
Administration Building. If you remember,
in those days the electric current was turned
on at 11 o'clock to operate the fans in the
hotels, and as we drove up the road at Culebra
every porch light at Culebra was burning.
To the members of the committee this was
a waste of electric current-a useless expen-
diture of Government funds-we were getting

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too many privileges, and did not deserve what
we got; and the rent business started in 1907
when the committee visited the Isthmus. As
the result of that visit the money asked for
constructing quarters was limited to the needs
at that time and effective January 1, 1908, the
conditions of employment were changed by
which married quarters were not to be pro-
vided, though given if available. From this
resulted lists 1 and 2 for quarters. The rent
question has been agitated by every com-
mittee that has visited the Isthmus since that
date. In 1912 when we decided to move the
headquarters to the Pacific end, money was
needed for new quarters and for the transfer
of old. At that time we hoped to have money
enough to build, or rebuild, quarters for prac-
tically everybody. The slides and other con-
tingencies prevented. I asked for an appro-
priation of $2,000,000. and it was given with
the understanding that rent would be charged
as soon as the houses were completed. I
staved this off with the suggestion that rent be
charged only when the reorganization became
effective. Every committee that has been
down here since 1907 has strongly objected to

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the privileges. I have never objected to labor
| committees interviewing committees of Con-
gress when here. If they secured by con-
gressional legislation any additional privileges,
and the cost of the Canal was increased there-
by, the responsibility was theirs and not mine.
I never attended any of these hearings, be-
cause I desired the men to have full liberty to
make their talks to the committees without
any interference by officials. This November
a committee visited Congress and put up
their complaints. Their complaints covered
everything; the congressional party were im-
pressed by the fact that there was not one
good thing on the Isthmus for which anybody
would care to remain, and the rent proposition
became more intense, finally forcing the mat-
ter to a head. The question finally resolved
itself down to getting the cheapest rents that
were possible for employees. Members of the
Congressional Committee thought that the
apartments in the new four-family type should
rent at $30 per month, and the others in pro-
portion. You know how the scale of rents is
determined in the States-the cost of the
property, the cost of repairs, the cost for


schools, the cost for prisons, the cost for
sewers, water, streets, roads-all of these and
other expenses are taken into consideration in
one way or another, but none of that is taxed
to the employees here, and we have made the
scale practically on the basis of the cost of
repairs, throwing in the furniture. The matter
could not be staved off any longer; it had to
be accepted, and it had to be accepted on the
best terms that could be secured for the em-
ployees. So much for the rents.
A committee has just gone to Washington
to see if they can get the order revoked. As
I told them when I saw them last Sunday
morning, I wished them Godspeed, for if it
helps them it helps me and helps us all.
Whether they will or not remains to be seen.
Congress is not in session, and the President
may be induced to view the matter from a
different standpoint. It is claimed by some
that rent is an effort to reduce wages. The
rent is one thing and the wage scale is another.
When the new organization went into effect
a year ago, I knew that the time was coming
when rents would have to be charged-when
the Congressional Committee would not stand


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for an appropriation necessary for repairs,'
furnishing, and everything else. The con-
ditions of employment prescribe that rents will
be charged under such rules and regulations
as the President may prescribe. We succeeded
in putting it off for nearly a year. Employees
were notified that if they cared to continue
in the service, they would do so under the new
conditions of employment, and that unless they
resigned before April 1, 1914, they would be
considered as agreeing to the conditions of
employment. Those now employed accepted
the rent provision. I received to-day the
minutes of the mass meeting that was held at
the Casino when the committee was selected
to discuss this rent question, and I find in
it a statement by Father McDonald that
when an attempt is made to reduce the wage
it is always the men at the bottom who suffer.
I desire to say that that statement, so far as
the Canal is concerned, is not true. The wage
scale on the Isthmus has always been a diffi-
cult one to handle; there has always been in-
equality; clerks have not gotten the same
proportionate pay as locomotive engineers
and some other men in the mechanical trades,

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nor have draftsmen; so when the Panama
Canal Act was framed I advocated an in-
crease over that received in the States ap-
plicable to all classes, and I advocated a cer-
tain percentage of increase. The great diffi-
culty with the Government service is that
Congress usually appropriates for certain posi-
tions and specifies the pay of the several
positions, from which there is no escape. An
effort has been made from time to time to
apply this system to our appropriations, but
thus far it has not been done. As a result the
Government employee in the States gets the
same wage from year to year; there is not, as
there is in civil life, an increase commensurate
with greater efficiency and enlarged duties.
Nor does it keep pace with prevailing scales
in outside establishments. I was anxious to
have fixed for the Canal service a wage scale
higher than that paid in the States, and at the
same time one that could be adjusted to the
increases when they occur; we succeeded so
well that the bill provides for a 25 per cent in-
crease. At the time the bill was up I stated
that the salaries of the higher positions were
too high and advocated a reduction. The sal-


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ary of the Governor was fixed at $10,000, so
when I accepted the place a year ago I ac-
cepted a reduction of about 333 per cent.
When a year ago I advocated the retention
of the construction wage scale, the labor or-
ganization representatives asked me afterward
if they could not work for a restoration of my
pay. I told them no-that my pay made but
little difference-that it was the pay of the
men on the Isthmus with which I was most
concerned. My pay to-day is one-third less
than it was a year and a half ago, though we
are still engaged in construction work and the
responsibility has not decreased. The sug-
gestion came up that most of the Governors
of the States are furnished houses free of
rent. I said, I stand with the men; if they
pay rent, I will. Father McDonald's state-
ment is not true as illustrated by the
Panama Canal.
There is one other subject I desire to touch
upon-a subject that I understand has been
under discussion on the Isthmus for the past
three or four days-and that is, the promotion
given to the service people; officers of the
Army, Navy, and Marine Hospital Corps.


Mr. Taft, in his message of 1912, recommended
that I be promoted to the position of Major-
General in the Army. [Great applause.]
Two friends of mine in Congress, one in the
Senate and one in the House, immediately
introduced bills for that purpose. I wrote
Sand told them service men should have no
promotion, unless promotions could be given
to all alike. That attitude I have consistently
maintained. It is a source of regret to me that
the bill ever passed. Civilians built the Canal;
not the Army; when the Army people leave
here they are retired and looked after by the
Government, whereas the civilian must get
out and hustle to make a living for the rest
of his days; and I have always opposed it.
So far as longevity is concerned, gentlemen,
I am ready to help you in every move you
make, as I have always been ready to help in
any move for the men on the Isthmus, but I
Swill not help unless the move includes every-
; body and all classes.
; For sometime we have been endeavoring
* to secure a civil service status for our em-
S* ployees and after conference with the Civil
I Service Commission in January last, an Ex-
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ecuti\'e Order %was issued giving to employees
;of the Canal who served satisfactorily for two
;; years prior to January 1, 1915, eligibility of
}i transfer to similar service in the United States
y without examination. This has already helped
: some former employees to secure employment
S and will probably assist others.
There is only one thing more I want to say.
We are gathered here to-night, not in the hope
^ of something yet to be accomplished, but of
i, actual accomplishment-the two oceans have
been united. The slides hinder and prevent
navigation for a few days, but in time they
will be removed. The construction of the
Canal means but little in comparison with
its coming usefulness to the world and what
it will bring about. Its completion is due to
i the brain and brawn of the men who are
Gathered here-men who have served loyally
I and well, and no commander in the world ever
|had a more faithful force than that which has
; worked with me in building the Panama Canal.
S [Prolonged applause.]


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