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Interview with Brenda Adams Scruton, June 29, 2004


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Narrator affiliation: Senior Employment Representative, Reynolds Electrical and Engineering Company (REECo)

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Scruton, Brenda Adams. Interview, 2004 June 29. MS-00818. [Transcript]. Oral History Research Center, Special Collections and Archives, University Libraries, University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Las Vegas, Nevada.


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Nevada Test Site Oral History Project University of Nevada, Las Vegas Interview with Brenda Scruton June 29, 2004 Las Vegas, Nevada Interview Conducted By Shannon Applegate © 2007 by UNLV Libraries Oral history is a method of collecting historical information through recorded interviews conducted by an interviewer/ researcher with an interviewee/ narrator who possesses firsthand knowledge of historically significant events. The goal is to create an archive which adds relevant material to the existing historical record. Oral history recordings and transcripts are primary source material and do not represent the final, verified, or complete narrative of the events under discussion. Rather, oral history is a spoken remembrance or dialogue, reflecting the interviewee’s memories, points of view and personal opinions about events in response to the interviewer’s specific questions. Oral history interviews document each interviewee’s personal engagement with the history in question. They are unique records, reflecting the particular meaning the interviewee draws from her/ his individual life experience. Produced by: The Nevada Test Site Oral History Project Departments of History and Sociology University of Nevada, Las Vegas, 89154- 5020 Director and Editor Mary Palevsky Principal Investigators Robert Futrell, Dept. of Sociology Andrew Kirk, Dept. of History The material in the Nevada Test Site Oral History Project archive is based upon work supported by the U. S. Dept. of Energy under award number DEFG52- 03NV99203 and the U. S. Dept. of Education under award number P116Z040093. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in these recordings and transcripts are those of project participants— oral history interviewees and/ or oral history interviewers— and do not necessarily reflect the views of the U. S. Department of Energy or the U. S. Department of Education. UNLV Nevada Test Site Oral History Project 1 Interview with Brenda Scruton June 29, 2004 Conducted by Shannon Applegate Table of Contents Introduction: born Hollywood, FL, education, move to Las Vegas, NV to work for REECo ( Human Resources) at the NTS ( 1962) 1 Marriage and family ( 1964), relocation of office from Mercury to Highland ( Las Vegas) 2 Life at Mercury, salaries and subsistence at the NTS 3 REECo as support agency for contractors 5 Employment applications and security requirements 6 Promotion to senior clerk and transfer to Compensation and Benefits 7 Promotion to personnel assistant, work with labor unions, Culinary Union strike, establishment of Office and Clerical Union 8 Security clearances and procedures 12 Hiring policies for crafts unions 13 Benefits policies for NTS workers 15 Work as personnel processor 16 Promotion to employment representative and senior employment representative, retirement from REECo ( 1995) 17 Details about REECo Human Resources Office, company culture 19 Recruitment of employees for REECo 22 Diversity issues at the NTS 26 Camaraderie of NTS workers 27 Conversion to computers and security issues 28 Advancement, promotion, raises, and accountability to labor unions 31 Expectations for personal appearance on the job 34 Creating a new job position 35 Handling workmen’s compensation 37 Experience with testing 39 Engaging and educating people about the work of the NTS 40 Use of film badges and exposure to radiation 41 Position on nuclear energy and weapons, and opinion about working for REECo at the NTS 42 Commuting to and living at the NTS 43 Security at the NTS 47 Tours and impressions of underground facilities 48 Conclusion: overall good experience working for REECo at the NTS 49 UNLV Nevada Test Site Oral History Project 1 Interview with Brenda Scruton June 29, 2004 in Las Vegas, NV Conducted by Shannon Applegate Brenda Scruton: I was born in Hollywood, Florida. And I went to high school there and graduated from there. And I met a young man who was in the service and stationed at Marine Corps Station in Miami and we became friends. And his home was in Las Vegas, so when he got out of the service, which was in 1958, also the year I graduated, he came back home and started working at the test site. And he came— well, I came out here in 1960 to visit his parents, met them, and went back home. And then in 1962 I came out here with a girlfriend of mine named Linda Bush, and we both applied to REECo [ Reynolds Electrical and Engineering Company]. At that time you had to have a security— it wasn’t a complete security check but just a brief security check. So we put our applications in and then we took off and went to Disneyland and San Francisco. We had a classmate that lived in San Francisco and we went to visit her. And then we came back and we started working at the test site. We were both in human resources, or personnel, and she was a secretary to the department manager and I started working as a clerk- typist. I worked doing initially typing exit interviews, so when people would terminate from the company, we would interview them as to why were they leaving— if they had any comments to make about supervision or if they had any problems with management or our work policies or whatever. So I would do that kind of thing. And then as I had said earlier, I went out on loan a couple of places, once with the supply department for about six weeks and then once for a company that was in the forward area. UNLV Nevada Test Site Oral History Project 2 Working in human resources, I really never made it much past the forward area. I never really went out to Area 12 and the CP [ control point] where I know Duane [ Lawrence] had worked out in these places, and my husband had worked out in those places too. Eventually I did get out into those areas, but initially I just pretty much worked in the base camp, which was Mercury. I lived in a dormitory on site. It was Dormitory 103, and I shared it with the girl that I came out from Florida with, Linda, and we lived in that dormitory for a year. And then I got married, and still lived out at the test site, but at that time they had housing for married couples, and they were trailers. And so I lived there for another year, and then my husband and I bought a house in Las Vegas and we moved into that. And I had a baby in 1964. Was off on maternity leave for a little while, then I came back. So I really lived and worked out at the test site for two years. When I came back from maternity leave, after having Stacy I probably worked another couple of months because— she was born the end of May. Then we— I think, probably in October or November of that year, which would’ve been in 1964, not all of personnel but the majority of everyone in personnel moved to a Highland location. That was the name of the street. It’s still there, but of course none of the buildings— I mean the buildings are still there— that’s where we worked for a long time because a lot of it was we were processing in so many people to work at the test site, it was just a better location to accommodate the people that were applying for positions. Now, the only part of personnel that stayed at the test site was— Bob Lunes ran the group— and what they did was they acted as a support agency to the other laboratories that were there, and the other companies. And they did exit interviews there, when people terminated. And they also had a branch of the recreation— all the recreation aides worked under human resources, UNLV Nevada Test Site Oral History Project 3 and of course they were all out there because the swimming pool was there and all the other recreational facilities. Shannon Applegate: The Steakhouse? Yes. My husband, when I first married him, was in housing, and then when one of the managers quit, they promoted him, so he ended up to be the housing and feeding department [ 00: 05: 00] manager. But he also hired in as a clerk and he went up to the department level. And so he was in charge of the Steakhouse for a while. Oh, was he? Yes. So did you get to eat for free? No. But it never really cost very much to eat out there. You could eat for seventy- five cents, a dollar- fifty. It was just nothing really. And you know the years that we lived out there, I saved so much money because they gave us subsistence for living out there. We got paid five dollars a day subsistence if you were in Mercury or the base camp, and then seven- fifty if you were anywhere other than that. And so we could pretty much live on the subsistence and just stash away our salary. But I mean the salaries— I think when I hired in, I hired in as a clerk- typist. My hire date was August 10, 1962 and I was a clerk- typist and I made $ 1.67 an hour. And then about six months later, I got promoted to a senior clerk. Now, both of those were clerical positions, and I think I got promoted at $ 1.75 an hour. And so we were making those types of wages, but yet we were living— I mean our housing was very inexpensive— didn’t really cost anything. Food was inexpensive. Were those wages comparable to other wages at that time, or were they higher or lower than average, or—? UNLV Nevada Test Site Oral History Project 4 Well, when I left Florida, I was working for a company making forty dollars a week, and by the time the taxes were taken out of it, I probably walked home with twenty- eight dollars a week. So when I got here, I thought I was rich. I didn’t even cash my paychecks for about six weeks, and then somebody from payroll contacted me and they said, What are you doing with the paychecks? I’m just looking at them. I says, I’m going to send them home to my daddy so he can put them in the bank. So you were able to live on your per diem. Yes, and we could just save that. The first year at the test site that’s what I was making, $ 1.67 and $ 1.75, because I was a senior clerk for a long time, about I think eleven years. Of course, I made pay increases every year, but that first year, I don’t think I was probably making anymore than— well, less than two dollars an hour. And I had saved four thousand dollars in one year. I was going to buy myself a new Corvette, because that’s what they cost at the time. But as it was, I didn’t do that. Probably a good thing. I probably would’ve wrapped it around a telephone pole and killed myself or something. So anyway— Did you have to pay rent when you lived at Mercury? Well, yes, we did, but it was only like fifty cents a day or something, really, it wasn’t anything at all. It was so inexpensive to live there. And of course, we ate at the cafeteria. And a lot of people will say, Well, what did you do back then for excitement? Living in the dormitory, there were so many girls there, and of course, they had dormitories for men too. And we would get together and have little parties or just get together and go to the movies, because we had a movie theater. It was not a real fancy thing; it was just a big Quonset hut, but they set up a movie theater. No popcorn but we’d go— they showed different movies all the time. And they had recreation facilities and it wasn’t— I mean it kept us busy. We had a good time back then. Did you make good friends? UNLV Nevada Test Site Oral History Project 5 Yes, I really did. Was everybody pretty friendly? Very friendly, yes. Like I say, most of the dormitories had two girls to each room, and I suppose with the men’s dormitories it was probably the same. Some of those people worked together and lived together, and others just lived together. But they worked for the same company, and some of them worked for different companies, because it wasn’t just the REECo people that used those facilities. It was all of the people. I mean all the contractors that were out there from time to time. And at one time we were— well, we were the largest contractor. I think when I hired in, we had over six thousand people at that time, which was a lot. We dropped to below a thousand people. It would depend on what was going on at the time. We’d hire a lot of people, we would lay them off. We’d hire people, we’d lay them off. There was a constant— with people coming and going all the time. But REECo acted as a support agency to the other contractors that were there, and what they would do is they would say, Well, we want to do an experimental test, and they would get in touch with us and they would say— well, not at my level but [ 00: 10: 00] higher- ups, they would say, For this test, we need to hire approximately twenty electricians and we need fifty laborers and we need this and we need that, and we’re going to need these people for a period of six months to conduct whatever test we’re doing at the time. And so that’s what we would do. We would contact the labor unions and the labor unions would send people to us, and of course we would have to interview them quite extensively because these people had to also qualify to have security clearances because— I’m going to pause it right here. Sure. So you were saying REECo was a support to all the other contractors. UNLV Nevada Test Site Oral History Project 6 Yes. So you would support other contracting companies as part of REECo? Yes, that’s right. We did our own and so a lot of those people we would hire would be for us. And we would hire maintenance people, construction people, clerical, technical, management, engineers, everything. We would just need to know what it was that we needed. So the departments would complete what we called a personnel requisition for whatever it was that they needed, and then we would contact those people and try to get them on the payroll. But like I said, not only did they have to be qualified for the position they were applying for, but they also had to be qualified for the security clearance. And so you couldn’t hire somebody who just got out of prison for killing his mother. You had to be selective, and a lot of times— well, we did run a lot of investigative checks on people because that would be about the only way you could qualify them security- wise to go out there. So would you filter first the applications and just go through—? Right. What would be some red flags that would be filtered out? Well, so many— because we would have to have them account for their last fifteen years of whereabouts, so that’s very difficult for some people to do, especially if you’ve moved around a lot— you’ve been a plumber and a pipe fitter and you’ve worked in Alaska and you’ve worked in Louisiana and you’ve worked here and you’ve worked there— and we would have to work with those people to make sure that we knew where they were. If they were unemployed between their positions, we needed to know how long were they unemployed, where were they residing at the time. And so we just had to make sure that we had all of that information, because if we couldn’t get a security clearance or if they were not qualified for the position that we were hiring UNLV Nevada Test Site Oral History Project 7 for, then you’d have other problems. Say you have an accident and the accident you have is based on the fact that the person didn’t know what they were doing. Well, then it comes back to us: Well, they said they were doing this. We verified they were doing that. So, those kinds of things happen. But getting back to me, when I worked as a clerk- typist I pretty much just did exit interviews and those kinds of things. Then when I got promoted to the senior clerk, I went to work for compensation and benefits. At that time I was working with employee appraisal forms, because every employee that was management, clerical, or technical, once a year would be reviewed for a merit increase. Sometimes there were no merits. Sometimes there wasn’t enough money. But they still had to have that review done on how they were doing on their job: if they needed to improve, what they needed to do to improve. So I did that for a long time. Was there a form? Yes. So there was a standard form. And would you go over it with the employee, is that—? Well, no. What we would do is we would send them out to the department managers and then they would pass them on and they would do their own evaluations on their employees. Then they would send them back to us, and then we would have to check them to make sure that everything was made out completely. And if they wanted to promote someone, a lot [ of] times that appraisal was also required. It wasn’t always just for merit increases. A lot of times it was to qualify them for a higher- paying position. And then we got involved with the budgets because with the budgets you would have so much money that was for merit increases and also for promotions, reclassifications. So I was in charge of that also. And so I did that for, well, a lot of different phases of compensation benefits, because we would write job descriptions on individuals where UNLV Nevada Test Site Oral History Project 8 we’d have to go out and interview them, find out what they do, to come up with the basic job description, what was required. That’s interesting. Who did you interview? Oh, all kinds of people: management, clerical, technical. We didn’t get involved with the craftsmen because the craftsmen always were referred through the labor unions, so the unions basically said, Those people are required to do what they’re doing. Then we would have to verify that the union was truthful in sending us those individuals and that they were really qualified for that job. That was another job that I did after the one I’m talking about right now. So anyway, I was in that position for eleven years, but doing a variety of different jobs in [ 00: 05: 00] employee benefits. Then I got promoted to a personnel assistant. Now, that’s when I was working directly with the labor unions, and they would send people to us and we would have to qualify them to work in Las Vegas and also the test site, but mostly the test site. Weren’t there some labor issues with REECo? Oh, there were always labor issues, but most of those were handled by labor relations people, not necessarily human resources people. I mean we would get involved because labor relations would say, This is the dispute and we need some information. We had access to all of the personnel records. In our file room, we had two folders on each individual. We had a personnel folder and we had a security folder. So only certain people had access to the security folders because it was of a confidential nature. So labor relations would get in touch with us and they’d say, We’re investigating whoever, and then we would have to maybe write a letter to labor relations saying, We have reviewed his personnel security files and we find this is what his background was, whatever was in dispute. So we would assist them a lot UNLV Nevada Test Site Oral History Project 9 with their jobs. But they were really the ones that got involved with the negotiations when the labor unions wouldn’t want to increase wages or benefits or vacation or whatever they wanted to do. It was always the labor relations people that did that. Now, when labor relations people— because they’re only effective in their job for so long— they get so involved with labor unions that you had to change those people out from time to time because they just got to know too much stuff. Would they get too comfortable, do you think, or what do you mean by—? Well, no, I don’t think that they would get too comfortable, but they would get to know all of the business agents too well, and then after a while, Well, I don’t know if I trust that one because he’s done this, and you know, Last year they did that and that wasn’t the right thing to do, and so every now and then it was good for the company to change out their labor relations and their EEO [ Equal Employment Opportunity] people, the equal opportunity people. But most of the time, they would end up in personnel, in human resources. That’s kind of where all the old EEO people came to— Oh, OK, they were put out to pasture. Yes, they would come work for us. But you know it was kind of handy to have them around from time to time because then whenever the new ones would come on, then they’d have to [ ask], Well, what do you know about this business agent? And what about this employee? Well, that person would say, Oh yes, well, I know lots about that. But you had to move them around every now and then because they just got to know— it was uncomfortable for them. I mean you could tell after a while that they just needed to do something different because it just got tiresome over a period of time. Was there a lot of confrontation? UNLV Nevada Test Site Oral History Project 10 In labor relations? Yes, there was. Let’s say for instance if an electrician had a problem with management or whatever, they would go to labor relations to file a grievance against that particular supervisor. And then the labor unions would always get involved with, That person’s a good person. He’s one of our brothers, and so you had that constant thing that was always going on. Oh yes, they had lots of problems with people. Now, there was never a strike, right? But there was— There were strikes. Were there really? Yes, many strikes over the years. In fact, one time I remember— when I was still a senior clerk— when the culinary union walked out because they didn’t like their contract, and so they went on strike. But we still had all these other people at the test site that were working there. Now, we’re sixty- five, seventy miles out in the desert, and so it’s not like they can come into Vegas and go to Wendy’s for a hamburger. So what they did was they took all of us office help and we had to go to work in the cafeteria during the strike. So here I am, in this God- awful big warehouse, and I go in there and I says, OK, what am I supposed to do? They said, Start peeling carrots. I said, OK, where’s the carrots? [ They said] Well, that garbage can’s full of carrots and that garbage can’s full of carrots. Well, pretty soon I was orange from here up to here with carrots. But we did that for quite some time. And we had managers making very good money that were pot- washers during the culinary strike. Now, we couldn’t take people that were covered by a union and make them do this. All the people that worked in human resources were non- union, so they could [ 00: 10: 00] UNLV Nevada Test Site Oral History Project 11 pull on us to do those kinds of things; of course, they could pull on people in management because they were non- union also. How long did you have to do that? I only did that for about two weeks. I didn’t do the carrots for a long time. I only did carrots for a couple of days, and then I got into the lettuce. And so then they had me chopping vegetables. At one time, they decided I wasn’t fast enough chopping vegetables, so I got thrown out of there. How many meals did you guys have to make? The cafeteria a lot of times was open twenty- four hours a day. But there were only times where maybe you could get things out of the vending machine because basically they were open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. But then you had people that were working other shifts too. I mean we had day shift people, we had swing, and we had graveyard people. So we had to have facilities open all the time in order for those people to be able to eat. So did you have to cover any of the graveyard shifts? No, I just worked because my regular shift was working the day, so whenever they went on strike, I just worked during the day. Now, my husband he was working in housing at that time, and so they were pulled in to do some of that stuff too. Oh, yes, there were a lot of strikes over the years. We had people like Martin Sheen. And, oh, the tall— well, he’s not really all that tall— Kris Kristofferson; there were others too that would picket the test site at Easter because they just did that every year at that time because they were against nuclear testing. I mean they don’t do it anymore, but they would do this every year and then they’d get thrown in jail every year, and then the next year they’d be back and doing it again. So I mean there were always strikes going UNLV Nevada Test Site Oral History Project 12 on at the test site, all the time. Not so much in the later years that I worked there, but in the early years; yes, it happened quite often. Really. What about any other labor strikes within? Like did the miners or the craft people—? Yes. The miners always belonged to the laborers’ union and they would strike also. All of those unions would strike from time to time. I can’t think of any right now that never went on strike. Then as time went on, we established an Office and Clerical Union also. Oh, you did? Yes, but those people that were in human resources were never covered by a union, but many of the other clerical people were. Why weren’t you guys covered by a union? Well, I think they had decided, because of the nature of the work. We’d get involved in and going back to the personnel folders and the security folders, we had access to that type of information on individuals, and they just thought we should be exempt from the union. They’d keep you happy on their own. Yes. Right. And it worked out very well for us. I mean I never really wanted to be in a union per se, but they did establish an Office and Clerical Union over the years, and now that Bechtel has that [ contract], I don’t know if that [ union] exists or not. Did you have an extra security clearance because you were seeing all these—? No, I just had the regular Q- clearance, and that’s what most of the people had, except for the people that worked in the forward areas. They would have different types of clearances, but working in areas that I never really went to. Did you have the files locked up in anything other than—? UNLV Nevada Test Site Oral History Project 13 We would lock the files up every night. Well, we had a file room. Way back in the early years, we would lock each and every cabinet, one by one. But as time went on we ended up with a file room, so we would just lock up the whole room every night instead of lock up all those [ cabinets]. We had lots and lots of records there, and we got so we ended up with so many records that after a person was gone for a length of time, they would purge the files. I think it was usually like if they were gone five years, then they would pull out those records and they would send them to archives. But then if that person decided they were coming back, then we would have to request those files out of archives. Because it didn’t make any difference how many times people came and went, most of the union crafts people did that, because we would only hire them to do certain jobs and then we would lay them off. We always wanted to see their records from before, just in case there was something in there that needed to be talked about with them. [ 00: 15: 00] When you would hire people, did the crafts people know that they were probably only going to be hired for a year and that it was more like a contract than like a permanent position? Or was it just dependent upon the political climate and—? Well, I think they knew, and the reason that they knew was because they were all referred out through the different labor unions. And the labor unions, whenever we would call in the requisitions to the labor unions, would know from the business agents talking to our labor relations people or to the people out in the field how long those jobs were for. We’d always say approximate, because you never really knew if things were going to really happen as planned. But so many of the times they did, they knew. But there were other individuals there, like I met a man not so long ago and he says, Well, you must have known my dad. He worked out at the test site for thirty years. And I said, No, I didn’t know him. And then when I UNLV Nevada Test Site Oral History Project 14 saw this young man again, he said, Well, my dad, he knows you. And I says, Well, the reason I probably did not know him was because he was one of those people that came in in the early 1960s or late 1950s and he never left. He came in and he might’ve been a craftsman at the time, but he might’ve worked his way up to be a superintendent or even a manager, and so it wasn’t the coming and the going all the time, because a lot of those people, that’s what did happen to them. They just got there and they stayed. They never left. But then we had a lot of them that would come and go all the time. When you did some of these exit interviews, was it just that it would be an exit interview because they got laid off or—? Or they voluntarily quit. What were some of the reasons why people would quit? Travel, mostly. Oh, really. Yes, they didn’t like traveling to the test site. It’s like, Why should I spend two hours of my day— one hour getting out there and one hour getting back— when I can get a job in Las Vegas where I don’t have to do that? That was the big drawback, was the location of the test site. Was that hard for you? I only really worked out there for two years— two years and three months, I guess it was— because the part of human resources I was working in all moved to Las Vegas. So I only really commuted— I lived out there two years— so I really didn’t commute all that time, I just lived out there. But a lot of people just didn’t like the travel. Now, we had buses that picked up people from all over town and took them out there, so they could ride the bus out to work and ride the bus back. But so many of them, didn’t want to ride the bus anymore— they might be sitting next UNLV Nevada Test Site Oral History Project 15 to some guy who’d been digging ditches all day and smelled kind of bad— and it’s like, I don’t want to sit on the bus with that guy all the way back into town. So I mean you always had people like that. It was funny; they always thought they could do better someplace else. And whenever I moved up the rank for a little bit and I would do exit interviews on people, I would say, Now, are you sure you think you can do better? And they said Oh, yes, I’m never coming back to this company again. I’m never going to work at the test site again, and nah- nah- nah- nah- nah, whatever reason. And six months later they’d be knocking on your door, You got a job for me? And I would say, Well, I thought you never wanted to come back here again. And they would say, Well, life is not real easy out there. So we had a lot of even clerical people that would come and go because they’d say, I can do better than this, and they’d get out there and they couldn’t do better. Or things just didn’t work out for them the way they thought, or they might’ve been away from home for a while and they wanted to go back home and get a job. They went back home and home wasn’t what they thought it was, and they’d be back again because the pay was pretty good. The travel, the inconvenience of travel, was the drawback, but the pay was better than you could get in Las Vegas, but it depends on how far you wanted to travel to get it. How were the benefits? Were the benefits pretty nice? Well, I thought the benefits— maybe at the beginning they weren’t real wonderful but you had to stay there for a long time to get the good benefits. And so many people would come and go all the time or you have the people— and it wasn’t only at the test site but people everyplace�� were, Oh, I just don’t want to go to work today. I’m going to call in sick, and so those kind of people would use up all of their sick leave. And so when they actually did get sick, there wasn’t anything available to take. Then they had to take leave without pay. And so you had UNLV Nevada Test Site Oral History Project 16 those kind of people to contend with all the time. But when I left, I had over two thousand hours of sick [ 00: 20: 00] leave on the books that I never used, and that wasn’t unusual. There were a lot of people like that. You have the people that are responsible and want to go to work and do the best job they can do, and then you have the other kind of people that, What can I get for nothing? Which usually it’s nothing is what it amounts to. But I think that t