The 1974 Police Officers Strike

The 1974 Police Officers Strike

A dramatic moment in the history of public sector unionism was the Boston Police Strike of 1919. One thousand and seventeen of 1,544 police officers struck in response to the disciplining of nineteen labor leaders and the police commissioner’s act forbidding union affiliation. The striking police lost the ideological battle after a night of rioting and looting turned public opinion against them. Governor Calvin Coolidge’s statement that “there is no right to strike against the public safety by anybody, anywhere, at any time” became an ideological weapon against public sector organizing generally . This article reviews a time in Baltimore’s history when the Fraternal Order of Police did not represent most police officers; rather, the progressive union American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) represented them. Today, AFSCME may be remembered for its role in the living wage campaign in mid-1990s, which achieved the first relevant city ordinance in the country, and in the campaign to restructure Baltimore City Council representation in 2002. In the 1960s and 1970s, AFSCME was the vanguard in organizing public sector workers, including police officers. In 1974, the issues were raised in the 1919 Boston Police Strike were raised again in Baltimore City: the right to union representation, the right to decent wages, and the right to strike. Baltimore Police Officers Organize Baltimore City police union Local 1195 organized secretly in 1960. Several hundred officers signed cards during the first five years, but dues collection was difficult. In 1965, the Baltimore Sun criticized the Police Department for mismanagement and fraudulent crime reporting. The police commissioner resigned and was replaced within the year by Donald Pomerleau, the former chief of the Miami Police Department. Pomerleau would not tolerate a union of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL–CIO) in the Department and engaged in a variety of union-busting tactics. Police officers were technically state workers. Yet they were paid according to Baltimore City’s budget. The police commissioner was an appointee of the governor. Organized labor had friendly relations with Governor Spiro T. Agnew. Agnew met with Pomerleau in April 1967. In May, Pomerleau authorized the dues check off for AFSCME (i.e. having union membership fees deducted automatically from paychecks). However, informal pressures against AFSCME members continued. Local 1195 president Eugene Brukiewa publicly criticized Pomerleau’s management on a television program. Brukiewa and the union secretary, Woodcock, were disciplined. The Maryland Court of Appeals eventually supported Brukiewa’s right to free speech and assembly in a ruling on February 13, 1970. Local 1195 made significant membership gains from 1964 through 1969 when it claimed 1,585 members and included those up to the rank of sergeant. Another AFSCME union, Local 44, organized workers in Public Works, the City Hospitals, the City Jail, Parks and Recreation, the Department of Education, and the Community Action Agency. Members of Local 44 working in the Bureau of Sanitation struck in September 1968 for three days. A 15-cent wage increase resulted. But more importantly, the strike was a catalyst for the struggle for collective bargaining rights in the City. The Collective Bargaining Ordinance was introduced on September 8, 1968, and became law. On September 29, 1969, an amendment was passed which eliminated dues check off for those organizations that did not bargain with the City, placing constraints on the organizing efforts of AFSCME’s competitors. Local 44 was selected bargaining agent for the public workers with a vote of 1,157 to 509 . In response to threats against the police union, Local 1195 and Local 44 threatened a large militant action. This forced Pomerleau to give informal union recognition to AFSCME. During the 1969 Maryland Legislative session, AFSCME got bills passed which reformed the holiday and vacation schedules for police officers. This made Pomerleau aware of AFSCME’s and the AFL CIO’s political power. In 1972, when Pomerleau’s term was up for renewal, the relations between the union and the commissioner became more cooperative. Pomerleau even allowed union organization of police supervisory personnel. Local 1549 was organized to represent such officers . Hospital Workers Strike Meanwhile, important state-level organizing was in the works at the state hospitals. Four hospitals struck on March 31, 1973: University of Maryland Hospital, Montebello State Hospital, Rosewood hospital, and Spring Grove hospital. Nursing assistants, and clerical, dietary, and housekeeping workers walked out. Their issues were pay increases, medical insurance, and, most importantly, collective bargaining law for state workers. AFSCME Council 67 staff reported that 2,500 to 3,000 workers struck. Local 1694, representing the University of Maryland Hospital workers, was the backbone of the strike. Three union activists were arrested at the University Hospital. Labor support came from the Teamsters union, which refused to deliver to the hospitals. The court issued an injunction that ended the strike . Collective bargaining law for state workers remained a dream. Bill Lucy, then AFSCME’s international secretary, noted that negotiations with Baltimore City government were historically stormy and could be expected to lead to “the annual Baltimore strike” . The hospital strikes, noted above, were strikes for collective bargaining law. These locals had already obtained union recognition. The public sector was the site of increasing strike militancy in the 1960s and 1970s. The major issue in most public sector strikes was union recognition. Research indicated that once collective bargaining law was achieved, strike frequency radically declined. After New York State enacted the Taylor Law in 1967, 99 percent of contracts were negotiated without a strike. (The Taylor Law was passed in the wake of a massive New York City transit workers’ strike, and it made it a crime for public employees and their unions to “cause, instigate, encourage or condone a strike.”) In five states with 15,700 local contracts, the percentage settled without a strike was 98.7 percent . The 1974 Strike of Sanitation Workers and Police Officers On October 10, 1973, Pomerleau recognized Local 1195 as the exclusive bargaining agent for police officers. The commissioner’s agreement prohibited strikes, slowdowns, “blue flues” (coordinated sick days), and secondary boycotts. By 1974, Local 1195 had organized 1,900 of the 3,000 Baltimore City police officers. Combined with the membership of Local 44, AFSCME represented 10,000 of the City’s 42,000 workers. On July 1, 1974, the sanitation workers of Local 44 walked out beginning a 15-day strike. On July 11, the members of Local 1195 joined the other municipal workers with a five-day walkout. This five-day strike in July 1974 was the first police strike in a major city in the United States since the Boston strike of 1919. Nine hundred and one members of Local 1195 actively participated in the strike . The strikes in the summer of 1974 in Baltimore were strikes over rejected contracts. The situation got stormy and took an explicitly political turn. Local 1195, the AFSCME local representing Baltimore City police officers, along with Local 44, brought Baltimore’s public worker movement into national attention. Sympathetic citizens demonstrated solidarity with the striking workers by depositing bags of garbage on the steps of City Hall. On July 12, Governor Mandel sent in 115 state troopers to police the streets of Baltimore. Local 44’s strike ended with a negotiated settlement for 3,000 city workers. Mayor William Donald Shaefer refused to respond with reprisals against the leaders of the illegal public workers’ strike. However, Commissioner Pomerleau did . On July 15, Local 1195 was offered a 21 percent wage increase over two years. However, hundreds of officers held out demanding unconditional amnesty. City and state authorities refused this demand. Eighty-two probationary officers were fired. Fifty-five union members made appeals in court and lost. There were 673 letters of reprimand, 130 disciplinary hearings, and 90 forced resignations. AFSCME lost right to automatically deduct union dues from paychecks and to be exclusive bargaining agent. The courts imposed a fine of $25,000 a day on AFSCME Local 1195 and $10,000 a day on Metropolitan Police Council 27 Executive Director Thomas Rapanotti. Council 67 Director Ernie Crofoot was found in contempt of court. Police local president George Hoyt was also fined $10,000 a day. AFSCME took Pomerleau and Governor Marvin Mandel to court in the name of 55 officers. Judge Basil Thomas rejected all charges of constitutional violations with respect to the overlap of investigatory, judicial, and prosecutorial functions, Pomerleau’s biased perception of union members, and disparities in punishment. Additionally, Judge Thomas ruled that since the strikes were illegal, Pomerleau was within his authority to punish the strikers, and that “substantial evidence” supported the Commissioner’s actions . Jerry Wurf Defends Baltimore’s Striking Public Sector Workers AFSCME’s International President Jerry Wurf defended the action of the strikers in an editorial in the Sun . Wurf argued that without the strikes of the city’s blue collar workers for 15 days and of the police for 5 days, there would not have been the negotiated pay increases. These were fair, not generous increases. The strike was the only available course of action available to these workers at the time. The real issue was not whether city workers have a right to strike, or whether police officers have a have a right to abandon a city to crime. The real issue was “whether men and women who work for government should have to accept low wages, unilateral decision making and poor working conditions, in 1974, with no legal alternative but resignation.” The answer, Wurf argued, was compulsory collective bargaining law which provided for binding arbitration and third party alternatives to the strike. AFSCME and the AFL–CIO responded to the retaliations by political and legal means. AFSCME used its increasing influence within the state AFL–CIO to persuade delegates to the Committee on Political Education Convention not to endorse Marvin Mandel for re election. In 1974, AFSCME members numbered over 30,000, a significant proportion of the 230,000 workers represented by the AFL–CIO in Maryland. Dominic Fornaro, president of the state AFL–CIO, noted that this was the first time he had seen the AFL–CIO not endorse a gubernatorial candidate. In the past, the AFL–CIO hierarchy had perceived Mandel as a “friend of labor” . How effective was AFSCME’s political action against Mandel? Mandel was re elected, only later to encounter political corruption charges. The Sun had editorialized that given Mandel’s past record as a friend of labor (Mandel having already received substantial contributions from the AFL–CIO for his campaign), and that Mandel’s opponents were no friends of labor, AFSCME’s action was a “futile attempt to punish the Governor” . AFSCME’s political action against Mandel had mainly symbolic value. However, elected officials do experience the effect of union political action. Hollands’s 1970 survey of the attitudes of public officials toward public sector unions indicated that 25 percent of officials in Baltimore City thought the unions affected their election . Another consequence of the July 1974 strikes concerned relations with Maryland Classified Employees Association (MCEA). AFSCME’s growth nationally and locally was dramatic in the 1960s and 1970s. This growth was achieved through militant organizing, organizing that followed the institution of collective bargaining laws, and affiliations with independent associations. In May 1974, the MCEA, which represented about 5,000 white-collar workers in Baltimore City, and Local 44 discussed merging together. However, MCEA delegates rejected the affiliation in August in a 593–108 vote. MCEA leadership had initially favored the merger, but the July strikes of AFSCME workers swayed the opinion of many in opposition. MCEA had historically opposed any strike tactics for public workers . Baltimore’s police officers were once in the vanguard of public sector unionism. The defeat of the 1974 strike and the busting of the union may be seen as prefiguring the “neo-liberal” attack on public workers’ rights, which was most dramatically demonstrated when President Ronald Reagan crushed the air traffic controllers union in 1981, giving a green light to corporations to attack US unions. However, AFSCME International President Wurf’s advocacy of compulsory collective bargaining with binding arbitration, as an alternative to public sector strikes, may also be criticized as a move away from the union’s history of militancy. Nonetheless, the public sector strikes of 1974 in Baltimore should be remembered for their significant labor solidarity. References Peters, Robeson, The Boston police strike of 1919, Masters thesis, Columbia University, 1948. Hollands, Roger Glen, The Impact of Public Employee Union Activity on Local Governmental Administration, PhD dissertation, University of Maryland, College Park, 1970. Halpern, Stephen C. Police Association and Department Leaders the Politics of Co-optation, Lanham, MD, Lexington Books, 1974. Baltimore Sun, April 1, 1973. Goulden, Joseph C. Jerry Wurf: Labor’s Last Angry Man, New York, Atheneum, 1982, p. 242. AFSCME Archives: Lot 4, Box 6. For a general account of the 1974 Baltimore police strike, see Filippelli, Ronald L. Labor Conflict in the United States: An Encyclopedia, New York, Garland Publishing, 1990, pp. 33–34. Public Employee, August 1974. Baltimore Sun, March 6, 1976; AFSCME Archives: Lot 7, Box 6. Baltimore Sun, July 20, 1974. Baltimore Sun, August 3, 1974. Baltimore Sun, August 4, 1974. Hollands (above), p. 207. Baltimore Sun, August 17, 1974. (Chuck D’Adamo was a rank-and-file activist in AFSCME Local 1694 for 12 years.)