|Baltimore municipal strike of 1974|
|Date||June 30, 1974 - July 14, 1974|
|Methods||Strikes, Protest, Demonstrations|
|Parties to the civil conflict|
The 1974 Baltimore municipal strike was a strike action undertaken by different groups of municipal workers. It was initiated by waste collectors seeking higher wages and better conditions. They were joined by sewer workers, zookeepers, prison guards, highway workers, recreation & parks workers, animal control workers, abandoned vehicles workers, and eventually by police officers. Trash piled up during the strike, and, especially with diminished police enforcement, many trash piles were set on fire. City jails were also a major site for unrest.
The Baltimore strike was prominent within a wave of public sector strikes across the United States. All of the striking workers were members of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), a relatively radical and expanding national union. AFSCME President Jerry Wurf attained national notoriety for allegedly urging workers to "let Baltimore burn" if their demands were not met.
In the 1960s, a combination of civil rights struggles, white flight, and the loss of manufacturing jobs led Baltimore's African American population to gain an increasing share of the city's public sector jobs. However, many of these jobs did not pay a living wage, and the workers were not allowed to unionize until after the turbulent events of spring 1968 (see Memphis Sanitation Strike and Baltimore riot of 1968).
The city itself, losing many tax-paying residents to the suburbs, was already suffering from budget shortfalls and beginning to shift toward privatization of services. The 1971 election of Mayor William Donald Schaefer consolidated this trend and signaled the erosion of what small gains in black control had already been won.
The 1960s and early 1970s saw radicalization among public sector workers across the United States. In many cities, following a pattern similar to Baltimore's, these workers became politicized and began to demand collective bargaining rights. Many joined AFSCME, under the new leadership of Jerome Wurf.
Blue-collar city employees were paid about $3.00 an hour, with the prospect of a 20 cent raise in the 1975 budget. Workers also complained about a strict policy on absences, according to which a worker could be fired after missing eight days. 1974 had already seen a strike from sanitation workers in nearby Baltimore County. And a February teachers' strike had made striking seem like a real possibility. Tension rose when the city offered a new contract in June 1974.
On Sunday, June 30, 700 workers voted to accept the city's planned raise at a union meeting. On Monday, July 1, 1974, about 1000 sanitation workers, unsatisfied with the contract, walked off their jobs. The strikers demanded raises of 50 cents instead of 20 cents (from $3.00 an hour to $3.50 an hour), and a new policy on absences. They were soon joined by some sewer workers and by 200 highway workers. On July 3, highway workers voted unanimously to join the strike, bringing their contribution to 600 and the total number of striking workers to nearly 2,500.
On July 9 the strikers were joined by 350 guards from the Baltimore City Jail, who walked off their jobs at 7AM, leaving control to 25 high-ranking officers. At this point the strikers numbered 3,000.
Striking workers set up picket lines at city dumps and sewer yards. As more workers joined the strike picket lines were established at other workplaces, including the city jail and the zoo. Not all work during the strike was completely stopped. Striking zookeepers continued to feed their animals, even as they refused to clean up the resulting fecal matter. Slogans included "No cash, no trash". Strikers held signs reading "I Am Somebody" and "I Am a Man," reminiscent of the 1968 Memphis Sanitation Strike. At the War Memorial Plaza demonstration, the crowd chanted "They say landfill, we say no: City Hall's where garbage goes."
Baltimore police also disputed the new contract, and, encouraged by the other striking workers, they began 'job actions' on July 7. These included the writing of detailed reports of miscellaneous objects on the street, as well as an unusually high number of traffic stops.
On July 11, Police Local 1195 (also affiliated with AFSCME) voted to strike, and most officers on the night shift walked off. The walkout added urgency to the strike and the magnified national attention directed towards it.
After the prison guards went on strike, inmates were left with little supervision. They were confined to their cells for long stretches of time and all criminal trials were postponed. A council of 16 inmates argued that their right to due process was being violated. They accused the striking guards of wishing to provoke mayhem (to demonstrate the chaos that would occur in their absence). Finally, the council asked for certain supervisors to be kept away from prisoners, and demanded self-governance for inmates.
On July 13, three or four replacement supervisors were taken hostage in a roomful of juvenile inmates demanding their freedom. Nonstriking policeman intervened with dogs and nightsticks, apparently rejecting an offer of assistance from the striking guards. Police said that adult inmates helped end the uprising. Two guards and two inmates were injured. (When the guards ended their strike, they were met with another prison uprising, which was suppressed with tear gas and riot gear.)
On July 10, 60 supporters of the strike held a demonstration in War Memorial Plaza outside of city hall. After several people had spoken to the group, demonstrators began to disperse trash from bags they had brought. They soon met with twelve club-wielding police officers. Eleven demonstrators and Baltimore Sun photographer Irving H. Phillips, Jr., were arrested on littering charges.
Sixteen jail guards and a union organizer were arrested (also on July 10) for preventing supervisors from entering the jail.
There were increased reports of fires during the strike, especially during the last few days when the police were also on strike. Before the police strike, reports of trash fires were somewhat localized to Cherry Hill.Arson was the major reported crime throughout, with a wave of looting directly after the police walkout. These troops were outfitted with riot weapons but wore soft hats instead of helmets.
Mayor Schaefer immediately threatened to fire all of the striking workers and hire new others, saying "there's just no more money. No way." He promised to break the strike quickly and announced the opening of dumps to the public.
After about a week, Schaefer mobilized 350 of the city's white-collar workers as strikebreakers to pick up trash. These workers ("Schaefer's Raiders" ) were paid time-and-half for overtime, based on their typically higher salaries. They used small dumping areas that were changed daily so as to avoid the strikers.
Judicial proceedings surrounding the strike took place mostly in the Mitchell Courthouse downtown. The Court dealt with three AFSCME leaders: Ray Clarke, president of Local 44; Ernest Crofoot, director of the regional Council 67; and P.J. Ciampa, a field director from the (inter)national union who had organized (and been maced) during the 1968 Memphis Sanitation Strike.
On the night of Tuesday, July 2, Circuit Judge James W. Murphy declared the strike illegal and issued an injunction against the garbage collectors. On Saturday July 6, Murphy fined Local 44 $15,000 for every day the strike continued after Monday July 8. On Tuesday the 9th he issued another injunction against other departments newly on strike.
On July 10, Judge Murphy announced that he was prepared to enforce the $15,000 immediately and each following afternoon. Murphy was then informed that Local 44 had only $6000, which he then confiscated.
On Friday, July 12, Murphy froze the union's assets (around $5000) and threatened to increase the fines against the union and its leaders unless the workers returned to their jobs. He also threatened to jail the three union leaders if the strike did not end, giving Monday, July 15 as the deadline.
The municipal strike started out as a wildcat action, in protest of a contract that the union had just accepted. However, unions soon claimed credit and responsibility, and it was ultimately union negotiators who ended the strike.
On July 5, President Wurf, Secretary-Treasurer Bill Lucy, and two other officials from the union were arrested for blocking cars from entering landfills.
Clark and union area director Ernest Crofoot both subsequently suggested to the city and to the media that the strike might turn violent, and that the union would be unable to control this violence.
Police involvement increased the stakes for AFSCME, which had the potential to unionize police locals around the country.
The Classified Municipal Employees Association (CMEA), a union for white-collar city workers in Baltimore, did not back the strike; indeed, its members had been paid overtime to act as strikebreakers. CMEA leadership downplayed their union's responsibility, stating that individuals had made their own decisions to pick up trash during the strike.
Negotiations were fruitless for most of the strike. The police walkout quickly spurred long negotiations, with both locals, at the Lord Baltimore Hotel. These negotiations were tightly controlled by AFSCME leadership from outside Baltimore. According to Baltimore Sun reporter Tom Horton, they were also confusing, frustrating, and substantially fueled by alcohol.
By July 14, negotiators had apparently come slightly closer, with the city offering 25 cents instead of 20 and the union asking for 40 cents instead of 50. Some expressed fears that the police union would capitulate too quickly to the city's demands. In fact, Local 44 came to an agreement first, on July 15. The total negotiating time had been 43 hours. The city agreed to an incremental raise of 70 cents per hour over the next two years, starting with an immediate raise of 25 cents per hour. The city also agreed to negotiate a new system for reckoning absences. According to these terms, annual salary for a starting full-time waste collector would be about $7,800. The city also promised full medical coverage and no reprisals for the strikers. Some of the strikers returned to work late on that day.
Judge Murphy fined the union $90,000, to be paid out of workers' checks (a cost of approximately $9 per worker). Mayor Schaefer promised that "taxpayers are not going to pay for one red cent for this year's settlement," suggesting that 300 public sector workers would be laid off to accommodate the raise.
60-70 prison guards walked off their jobs on July 18 in reaction to the suspension of 23 guards for striking. The suspension decision was reversed that night.
Members of the CMEA rejected a merger with AFSCME in August, expressing dissatisfaction with the strike.
The Baltimore police force was understaffed for at least the rest of the year and reported substantial increases in crime.
AFSCME was the major negotiator for municipal workers when their contracts were renegotiated in 1976. It negotiated a 4% raise for municipal workers; the city also agreed to impose mandatory fees for non-union workers who benefited from the negotiations. This bargain was not popular with the workers themselves, many of whom shouted and screamed at president Ray Clarke after his announcement.
Labor unrest in scattered areas of the country is affecting a wide range of services--some of them vital. The most serious problems are in Baltimore, where police walked out Thursday night, joining 3,000 other city workers on picket lines, and in Ohio, where almost 2,000 prison guards and blue-collar state employees are on strike.
The labor disputes constituted the biggest wave of strikes since the days after Second World War when millions of veterans moved back into the labor market.
"Other striking workers are asking for a 50 cent increase in the hourly wage rate to $3.50. The city is offering a 20 cents an hour hike to $3.20. The strikers also seek an end to a controversial system to reduce unauthorized job absences.
Claiming that they are losing money during the energy crisis, Baltimore county's residential garbage collectors voted last night to shut down operations, beginning today.
Ending a one-day shutdown, Baltimore county's independent garbage collectors voted unanimously last night to go back to work this morning.
Ernest Crofoot, director of the municipal employees union, which includes sanitation workers, jail guards and non-professional hospital and school workers, said that if the offer was not acceptable the members of his union may also walk off their jobs.
The latest group to join the striker were 350 guards at the city jail. They abandoned their posts at 7 a.m. Monday, leaving control of 1,500 inmates at the jail to about 25 guards who are sergeants and higher-ranking officers.
Some police officers from all nine of the city's districts walked off their jobs last night in response to their union's call for a citywide strike. By early this morning there had been 300 to 400 fires in trash bins and abandoned buildings throughout the city and scattered looting of shops and stores including liquor, jewelery and furniture stores, carry-outs and laundries. Most of the looting was confined to high-crime, poor areas on the fringes of downtown and on the city's west side.
Security in the jail was loosened up a bit yesterday, with prisoners who had been in their cells for 38 hours straight receiving recreation and exercise periods, more or less without supervision.
The juveniles, armed with makeshift weapons, held the four nonstriking guards prisoner for less than an hour. One of the hostages, Sgt. William Britton, said the young prisoners who seized the four guards said they wanted their freedom.
City jail inmates took three hostages tonight while striking guards picketed outside, but the police stormed into the building and returned the inmates to their cells. No shots were fired and no serious injuries were reported.
In another strike-related incident, 150 inmates at the Baltimore city jail refused to enter their cells Wednesday night in protest against the return of jail guards who had left their post last week to join the city's general strike. The inmates wielded mops and brooms but were finally subdued when 40 guards used tear gas and riot equipment to restore order.
[Crofoot] added that the union is doing its best to restrain its members from illegal or violent acts but said: 'It's getting pretty close to the point where we're just going to have to wash our hands of the whole thing. Raymond Clarke, the president of Local 44 of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, seconded the predictions of trouble. 'Our position is that we can't prevent violence, he said. I've been a sanitation worker for 35 years, and I know how the men will react. They're not going to let these people come in and take over their jobs. I'm sure there's going to be some violence."
Police said sixteen jail gaurds [sic] and one union representative walking a picket line outside the city jail were arrested this morning for blocking supervisory personnel entering the driveway. All 17 were charged with obstruction of free passage.
Earlier today Fire Chief Thomas S. Burke said that fire alarms increased '300 per cent' in recent days, adding up to 525 fire alarms Thursday.
The meeting between the city and high federation officials seemed to confirm earlier reports from union sources that contract talks for the laborers and police are being lumped together. The union sources said they hope to use the pressure generated by the police strike to aid the 3,000 striking sewer, sanitation, highway and parks workers.
Mayor Schaefer raised the specter of mass firings in the Sanitation Division yesterday as about 700 garbage workers and a sprinkling of sewer workers walked off their jobs in a wildcat strike.
Ciampa describes what happened next: 'The mace hits me in the face, and I start heading for the curb and I stumble, and grovel, and then I feel awful. I feel this stuff all over me. You can't breathe, you can't see...
A Circuit Court judge ruled yesterday that the union representing 2,500 striking city laborers is in contempt of a Tuesday injunction against the strike, and fined the union $15,000 a day beginning tomorrow at 5 P.M.
The three leaders of Baltimore's striking garbage collectors and other city employees have until 10 A.M. Monday to call off the 12-day-old strike or go to jail.
Bending under pressure from the irate workers, mostly black, the union, from the local, state and international level, sanctioned a full scale strike Tuesday morning.
The strike started despite the union leaders initial support of the city's 6 per cent raise offer. One group of sanitation workers complaining of a 'sell out' Monday hung in effigy Raymond H. Clark, president of Local 44, which represents 11,000 city blue-collar workers. Mr. Crofoot was urging the members to return to work as recently as Tuesday.
Charged with failure to obey a policeman's lawful orders were Jerry Wurf, the international president of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFL-CIO); William Lucy, the secretary-treasurer; Peter Morolis, the AFL-CIO's local political director, and Frank Hutchins, a staff representative. A day's grace. All were released from the eastern district police station on their own recognizance.
So pervasive is the international's control of the talks, in fact, that Thomas A. Rapannotti, the leader of Maryland's Police Council 27, was suspended from his union post during the early stages of the talks because he negotiated with city officials one afternoon without an international representative at his elbow. [...] The national union is currently the fastest-growing labor organization in the country, adding about 1,000 to its 700,000 national membership each week. Police, largely unorganized throughout the country, could be a major area for future expansion, but only if the Baltimore strike is a success.
The big surge came Sunday at 11 P.M. when a high city official told reporters, 'We'll have it wrapped up in an hour.' About 1 A.M. yesterday, the same official returned and repeated his message, but this time his words slurred and his breath was in the vicinity of 80 proof. At 2 A.M. he was last seen outside the hotel stumbling slowly across the deserted intersection of Charles and Baltimore streets.
The police local has been regarded by leaders of other unions as the most likely to reach what they have called a 'premature settlement' with the city.
When the strike was settled on Monday, the city did indeed retreat from its former adamant position of no money and offered instead a two-year package, which put together an increase providing a minimum of 70 cents an hour for workers whose pay ranges from $3.03 to $3.50 an hour. This means that all employees represented by Local 44 will receive an immediate 25 cents hourly increase. In January and March, 1975, there will be two other 5-cent boosts and a 35 cent increase in July, 1975.
Charges of obstructing passage into a landfill site during last summer's garbage strike were dismissed yesterday for four city employee's union officials after the state's attorney's office declined to prosecute. The case against the officials, including Jerry Wurf, international president of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFL-CIO) has been postponed half-a-dozen ties since their arrest because of the failure to appear for trial. An Eastern District policeman who worked on the case took the unusual step of going on record in District Court against the prosecutor's decision, saying it appeared someone had put pressure on the state attorney's office to drop the charges.
"Members of the Classified Municipal Employees Association, which represents about 5,000 white collar workers on the city payroll, voted by a 6-to-1 margin to reject the merger with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. Although AFSCME officials were silent on the subject yesterday, members of the Classified Municipal Employees Association said the vote clearly rejected AFSCME's strike tactics.
The political arm of the state AFL-CIO, still angry of the handling of Baltimore's police strike, refused again yesterday to endorse the re-election effort of Governor Mandel. However, as in the primary election--when labor also denied the Governor its endorsement--a half dozen or so key unions are expected to back Mr. Mandel individually.
Facing a small revolt among some labor leaders in Maryland, Gov. Marvin Mandel accused a national union leader of 'irresponsible' interference in a police strike in Baltimore and said he would forego the union's support in this year's election rather than give into its demands.
Baltimore's already-rising crime rate increased dramatically in the months after hundreds of police officers resigned or were fired following last July's police strike. Since the strike, the Police Department's patrol units have been serioulsy understaffed. Many positions have gone underfilled or have been filled by rookies and administrative personnel not experienced in patrol work.
Claiming that the Mayor is trying to force a strike, the city's largest employees union yesterday broke off contract negotiations and called for independent arbitration of its wage package for the coming fiscal year.
Over the shouts and catcalls of hundreds of disgruntled members, the biggest municipal employees union last night ratified a new two-year contract with the city of Baltimore. For most of 10,000 city workers represented by Local 44 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFL-CIO), the contract means raises of a little more than 4 per cent each year. In addition, Mayor Schaefer agreed to make seniority the principal criterion governing layoffs and he agreed to enforce a controversial law that requires non-union employees who receive the benefits of union bargaining to pay a 'service fee' to the appropriate union.