The Strike


This article appeared in the City of Dayton Annual Report of 1942, pages 64-70

 

The Strike

By Michael Solomon, Division of Parks

           

            Monday, July 13, at 6:00 p.m., Charles Bauer, business agent for City Employes Local 101 (AFL) handed City Manager F. O. Eichelberger, at the latter’s home, a sheet of paper on which were listed the Union’s demands.

            The demands were:

1.     Adoption of the 44-hour week for all non-uniformed City employes, with time and one-half for Sundays and holiday work.

2.     A blanket ten per cent increase in the basic annual salary.

3.     A written agreement with Local 101 covering rates of pay and conditions of employment.

4.     Establishment of union security with payroll dues deductions.

            “Wednesday, July 15, at 6:00 a.m.,” the letter concluded, “is the deadline. A secret strike vote was carried, effective as of that hour.”
            The strike vote had been taken at a meeting of Union members in the City Yards on Ottawa Street about two hours earlier that same afternoon.
            Manager Eichelberger told Mr. Bauer he would have to refer the demands to the City Commission, and Mr. Bauer asked to be notified as soon as some decision was made.
            The strike threat climaxed negotiations carried on for over a year by the Union and City officials. The previous summer all three city employes’ organizations, Fire Fighters Local 136 (AFL), the Fraternal Order of Police, and Local 101, had requested a blanket 20 per cent increase. There had been some talk of a strike that summer by Local 101, at which the fire fighters and the police discreetly faded out of the picture. City officials called a mass meeting for all City employes at Memorial Hall, which was addressed by the then Mayor, Mr. Charles Brennan. Mayor Brennan said that the City had no money for pay increases, and if there was going to be a strike, there still wouldn’t be any money for pay increases. He pleaded with those present-practically every employe in the City service, excepting uniformed personnel-to be patient, and the City would try to find some means of raising sufficient funds for the purpose.

            That summer (1941) a levy for extra operating expenses was put up to the public and badly defeated. In the fall the public again was asked to vote pay raises for City employes and again they turned it down. Once more, in the spring of 1942, the issue was presented to the public in the form of a special levy and once more it was defeated.

            In the meantime, the cost of living continued to soar, and in Dayton, a key defense center, employment in private industry boomed, attracting many City employes who were finding it more and more difficult to live on their pay from the City.

            Tuesday at 10:00 a.m. the City Commission met to consider the Union’s demands. Water Director Morehouse expressed some concern over the possible shutdown of the pumping station, and Finance Director Hagerman reported that it would be possible to grant pay increases to employes of the Department of Water and the Division of Streets, comprising about one-half non-uniformed City personnel. These two municipal units operated on proprietary funds- water and sewer service charges, state gasoline and motor vehicle taxes, etc. There were about 500 employes in these two units, and a majority of Union members were concentrated here. The remaining 1000 City employes, about half of whom were police and firemen, were paid from the general operating fund, and it was this fund, dependent on general property taxes, that was in distress.

            The Commission recessed at noon with a statement from Mayor Frank Krebs that he didn’t see how they were going to be able to grant increases to only part of the City employes, leaving the others out in the cold.

            The Commission met again Tuesday afternoon, and after the meeting, Manager Eichelberger informed Mr. Bauer that the Union’s demands had been unanimously rejected. The Manager invited Mr. Bauer to call off the strike and arrange for a conference. Mr. Bauer said that that was how the men had voted, and there was nothing he could do about it; the strike plans remained.

            The following morning, Wednesday, at 6:00, the men at the City Yards on Ottawa Street started walking out. They threw a picket line around the yards, chiefly at the Keowee Street gate, the main entrance. There was no violence, excepting a brief flare up when an employee of the Water Department went through the picket line and one of the strikers called him a scab. The man turned and started after the striker, but he was stopped by Water Director Morehouse and Police Captain Covert. Later it developed that this man, an electrician, was going to work by agreement between the Union and Mr. Morehouse.

            Another picket line was thrown around the City Building, at Third and Ludlow Streets, but no attempt was made here to interfere either with other City employes or the public going in and out of the building. The men on the picket line were rather good-natured, and in spite of the heat, maintained their line throughout the day. Manager Eichelberger, on the way to his office, stopped and asked one of the pickets, who was carrying a heavy sign, if he wasn’t tired. The man said yes, and Mr. Eichelberger relieved him of the sign and walked a few steps with it, both men smiling broadly at this touch of humor.
            At the urgent call of Mr. Bauer, the United States Department of Labor sent a conciliator in the person of Mr. Andrew A. Meyer. At the same time, because the greater part of Dayton’s industries had been or were being converted to war production, both the War Department and the WPB were vitally interested in the strike. An investigator for the Army Air Force visited Manager Eichelberger two hours after the strike was called, compiling a detailed report for the War Department.

            Although the Waterworks pumping station continued operation, all employes, except engineers managing the station, were out. All Division of Streets employes also were out, shutting down street maintenance, garbage and trash collection, sewer maintenance, and the sewage pumping station and disposal plant. Sewage was being dumped in the Miami River. Garbage, rubbish and dead animals were already beginning to pile up in various parts of the city.

            Wednesday afternoon the City Commission met with Mr. Bauer and Mr. Meyer. Discussion of the Union demands was taken up and agreement almost immediately reached on the 44-hour week. After this, a compromise on the ten per cent increase, for the present, to employes of the Water Department and the Division of Streets, with the base pay for common labor in all departments established at 60c per hour.

            But when it came to a written agreement and union maintenance, the Commission said no. City Attorney Beane did not believe the legality of such a commitment on the part of the Commission could be sustained. The meeting recessed at 5:00 o’clock to be resumed that evening.

            In the meantime, the Commission received a communication from the CIO Municipal Employes Union questioning that right of Local 101 “in claiming a majority of City employes.” The letter requested an election to decide CIO or AFL jurisdiction. It was ignored.

            Then Mr. Bauer received a telegram from Mr. Arnold Zander, President of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employes, the parent body of Local 101, ordering him to call off the strike immediately. This communication also was ignored.

            At the evening session there were some sharp verbal exchanges between the City Commission and Mr. Bauer, and little progress was made on the two points at issue – a written agreement and union maintenance.

            The conference adjourned with a tentative compromise on the question of a written agreement. Law Director Beane advised that, although the City could not legally enter into a written agreement with the Union, an exchange of letters might answer the same purpose, together with a unilateral public statement by the City. But no progress was made on the issue of union maintenance, and the following morning, Thursday, the strike entered its second day.

            At the City Yards the employes of the large operating unit, the Division of Parks, found themselves in a peculiar and difficult position. Of a total of some 100 employes, about 70 were members of the union. All of these employes were paid from the General Fund, as distinguished from the two other operating units, Water and Streets. And it was the General Fund that was broke, whereas Water and Streets possessed a comfortable surplus to take care of pay increases. The Executive Board of Local 101, it appears, in planning their strategy took into consideration the possibility of a compromise settlement on the matter of wage increases, limited to Water and Streets only. It was therefore felt that to ask the Parks employes to participate in a strike that might not immediately benefit them would be asking a little too much. Consequently, they were not invited to take part in the strike vote.

            It was a problem for the Parks men. They resented being ignored by the other divisions in the strike vote and felt they couldn’t join the walkout now, since they hadn’t been invited. At the same time, they couldn’t venture out to work with their trucks, through the picket lines, partly from loyalty to the Union, partly through fear of bodily harm.

            At the gate there was no letup on the picket line. All operating services of the City were at a standstill, except the water pumping station and parks and playgrounds. The strikers organized flying squads to visit the parks, municipal golf courses, and recreation centers, and pull the employes off these jobs. In most cases employes at these parks left willingly, and even those who did not particularly care to leave, did so to avoid any possibility of violence.

            The public in general, as near as could be judged, was about evenly divided in its attitude, some being sympathetic with the strikers, some condemning. Employes of the Frigidaire gun plant across the street from the City yards sent cigars and a barrel of beer to the strikers, who put the barrel inside the gate until such time as the occasion should warrant opening it. The newspapers were fairly impartial in their news columns while editorials blew hot and cold, almost in the same breath, with a lot of fine balancing of sage observations starting with “on the one hand” and ending with “on the other.”

            As City officials met again with Mr. Bauer and Mr. Meyer Thursday morning, their chief concern was over the water supply. Wednesday night Mr. Morehouse had reported to Manager Eichelberger that the union was attempting “to pull the electricians from the Waterworks.” However, at the Thursday morning session, Mr. Bauer promised that the Union would do nothing to “reduce present personnel at the wells and pumping station.” But even with this assurance, City officials continued to speculate on the possibility of a shutdown of the pumping station, and they appear to have laid tentative plans for calling in United States troops to cope with such a contingency. Colonel Robert E. Boyd appeared on the scene, as observer for Governor Bricker. The State Health Department was concerned over the dumping of raw sewage in the river, and remained in constant touch with the situation. Mr. Edward McGrady, labor relations advisor to the War Department, telephoned Mr. Bauer from Washington that nothing must happen “to interfere with the 1000 war contracts we have in Dayton.”

            Against the background the Thursday morning conference began. Only one obstacle stood in the way of complete agreement. This was the Union maintenance clause. Local 101 already had in effect with the City a payroll dues deduction plan, but the Union claimed that certain abuses had developed in the administration of this plan. Authorization of dues deductions was voluntary on the part of Union members, with the privilege of cancelling such deductions at any time the member so desired.

            The Union proposed that, as an earnest of good faith, members who voluntarily signed the payroll deduction authorization should agree not to cancel for a period of at least one year.

            City officials denied the legality of such an agreement, and on this position they would not budge.

            After a recess for lunch, discussions were resumed Thursday afternoon. All meetings were held in the City Manager’s Office on the second floor of the Municipal Building. By looking out any of the windows, one could see the patient line of pickets trudging back and forth around the two street sides of the city Building. One of their signs showed a breakdown of the City budget, with claimed surplus funds, and another said, “A Fair Wage Is All We Ask.”

            Mounting pressure from local, state, and national quarters was hourly increasing on all concerned to settle the strike. Mr. McGrady again called Mr. Bauer from Washington, and he talked with both Mr. Bauer and Mr. Meyer, urging settlement. Army officials questioned Mr. Bauer in regard to the water supply and he again gave assurances that the supply would not be tampered with. The newspapers were clamoring for immediate settlement, and Governor Bricker in Columbus apparently was prepared to dispatch troops at a moment’s notice.

            Thursday at 4:35 p. m., Local 101 yielded on the Union maintenance issue, and the strike was ended. Newspaper photographers were called in and someone opened a window and called down the good news to the picketers. They dropped their signs and threw up their hats, cheering. Someone called to them to turn the signs upside down to indicate that the strike was ended and in this position photographers took their picture. By 6:00 p. m. the sewage pumping station, the treatment plant, and the garbage incinerator had resumed operation.

            Final settlement included the following points:

1.     Minimum pay for laborers in all departments raised from 54 ½ c to 60c per hour.

2.     Ten per cent increase for employes paid from funds of the Water Department, the Sewer Service Fund, gasoline tax, and auto licenses

3.     The working week established at 44 hours, instead of 48 hours

4.     Return of all strikers without discrimination

Conciliator Meyer expressed satisfaction with the settlement. “It was possible,” he said, “because everyone concerned approached the dispute in a friendly manner. The conference was free from any name calling and the settlement speaks for itself.”
            “The Union,” said Mr. Bauer, “regrets that direct action was necessary, but perhaps everyone will derive from this a better appreciation of good public service, which all have a right to expect, but which no one has a right to take for granted.”
            President Roosevelt on The Right of Public Employes to Strike
            “A strike of public employes manifests nothing less than an intent on their part to prevent or obstruct the operations of Government until their demands are satisfied. Such action looking toward the paralysis of Government by those who have sworn to support it is unthinkable and intolerant.”