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December 06, 1970 - Image 4

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Text
Publication:
The Michigan Daily, 1970-12-06

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a
special
feature

the

sundciy

daily

on the
AFSCME
leadership

10

Number 38

Night Editor: Larry Lempert

Sunday, December 6, 1970

The public
...time
EDITOR'S NOTE: Jerry Wurf is president of the
American Federation of State, County and Municipal
Employes (AFSCME) This article is reprinted from the
December issue of The Progressive magazine, @ 1970.
By JERRY WURF
IN WASHINGTON, D.C., after twelve months of
unresolved grievances, 1,700 u n i o n sanitation
workers walked out on strike. Three days and moun-
tains of uncollected trash later the men won a
thirty-five-cents-an-hour pay raise and a written
agreement that racial discrimination would be
abolished.,
In San Diego, city firemen and bus drivers left
their jobs in a wage dispute; an unprecedented slow-
down by police disrupted public services. In Rapid
City, South Dakota, the city's entire fire department
resigned after the fire fighters' strike was blocked
by an injunction.
In Los Angeles, Boston, and Newark, unionized
school teachers withdrew their services over frus-
trated salary demands, adding to the national figure
of 131 teachers' walkouts in 1969. In San Francisco,
a three-day strike of nearly 20,000 city employes
ended with a new agreement and higher wage scales.
In New York City, the first major strike in the
195-year history of the postal system caused Presi-
dent Nixon to send in Federal troops.
And back in Washington, D.C., the daily Con-
gressional Record reached Senators and Representa-
tives days late after ninety per cent of the 1,200
union typesetters at the Government Printing Office
"called in sick." Ten Congressmen spoke on the
floor of the House in suppot of cafeteria workers
in the Capitol who left Senators, Representatives,
and staff members hungry when they walked off
their jobs to demand higher pay,
T HESE ARE .only a few of the hundreds of strikes,
slowdowns, and demonstrations that have rolled
in unprecedented waves against state, county, and
municipal administrations, and even the Federal
Government, during the last two years.
The revolt of the public workers-once anathema
to all politicians and most citizens-has now become
a fact of life in the 1970s. The revolt has been char-
acterized not only by strikes-strikes more often than
not specifically in violation of law-but also by the
phenomenal growth of unions in the public employ-
ment field.
The outstanding growth of public worker union-
ism has been reflected in the rapid burgeoning of
the American Federation of State, County and Mu-
nicipal Employes which syndicated labor columnist
John Herling has called the "hottest union" in the
AFL-CIO. Adding new members at the rate of 1,000
a week, AFSCME has doubled its size in the last
six years; it is now the fastest growing union in the
country. By the end of 1970, AFSCME expects its
present membership of approximately 500,000 to
total nearly 600,000. making it the sixth largest af-
filiate of the AFL-CIO.
The relatively small number of government unions
has outpaced the growth, over. a decade, of the
nearly 200 AFL-CIO and independent unions. From
1958 to 1968, the net increase in membership for all
unions was 1,800.000-with more than one million of
these joining public employe unions. These figures
do not include the remarkable expansion-an' in-
crease of 465,000 new members to a total of more
than two million-of the National Education Asso-
ciation, which has increasingly taken on the attri-
butes of a union, even to the point of collective
bargaining and strike authorizations.
THESE FACTS of accelerated growth and the
record of contract gains by public employe unions
-wage increases as high as $800-a-year, pioneering
pension and retirement programs, an impressive
variety of medical, hospital, and life insurance plans,
and provisions for job security and dues checkoff-
have convinced me that the 1970s will be the decade
of public employe unionism, just as previous periods

worker

revolt..

4

for

mifitant

unionism

have been the decades of craft unionism, industrial
unionism, and white collar, clerical, and technical
unionism.
The decade of public worker unionism is already
underway because of the revolution, both in theory
and practice, establishing for the first time the basic
rights of public employes to organize in unions of
their own choosing, to bargain collectively, and to
determine the conditions of their employment.
Until recently public employes have been second
class citizens because:
! For the most part they have been denied the
right to be represented by bargaining units of their
choice. Where representation was allowed, bona
fide unions have frequently been barred, and state,
county, and local enployes have been encouraged
to join "associations" which, more often than not,
proved to be company unions in the traditional and
most notorious sense.
*9Where bargaining was permitted either by an
"association" or a union with tightly circumscribed
powers, nearly all contract benefits and protections

billion required to improve our decrepit public trans-
portation system.
At least some of these needs in the public sector
will be met. Consequently, the most significant fact
about employment in the 1970s is that six out of ev-
ery ten new jobs created in the United States will be
in some form of government. While the number of
jobs in private business and industry has climbed
forty-one per cent over a twenty-year period, em-
ployrffent in state and municipal governments has
exploded by 145 per cent. It is not likely that this ex-
plosion will subside.
Here, obviously, is a limitless opportunity a n d
challenge for unions in public employment, an op-
portunity to create a better life for rnillions of for-
gotten and underpaid public workers by negotiating
higher living standards, stronger job security, ade-
quate health insurance, decent homes, improved ed-
ucational advantages for their children, and retire-
ment incomes.
If the 1970s are to be the decade of public em-
ployment unions, there will have to be greater ac-

"In mounting frustration, therefore, public workers have turned increas-
ingly to militant unionism as the only instrument with which to win eco-
nomic justice and to combat the gross discrimination they have discerned
between the rewards of public employment and the rewards negotiated by ,
workers in comparable jobs in private business and industry."
.... ....:....., .r. Mm : 5 m :..:..1MeMM .:s.neszMMM. u .{...." .::e.:::: **Nx::.MM."::::.::M

lagged far behind those written into private labor-
management agreements.
In mounting frustration, therefore, public workers
have turned increasingly to militant unionism as the
only instrument with which to win economic justice
and to combat the gross discrimination they have
discerned between the rewards of public employ-
ment and the rewards negotiated by workers in
comparable jobs in private business and industry.
The result, in the past few years, has been a surge
of public workers toward unionism and away from
"associations" and reckless professional societies.
More than three million public workers have chosen
unionism, and the trend continues strongly within'
city, state, and Federal governments.
As in business and industry, white collar organ-
ization has always lagged far behind blue collar pro-
gress. Of the 416,700 Federal white collar employes
eligible, only twenty-nine per cent are organized, al-
though the number is steadily increasing.
The growing militancy among Federal workers is
manifested not only by their streaming into unions,'
but in two other areas: negotiated agreements and
strikes. Contracts negotiated and signed by unions
with Federal agencies totaled 1,340 in 1969, a healthy
thirteen per cent increase over 1968. The number of
strikes by unions against Federal agencies soared
from 254 in 1968 to 414 in 1969, even though the
number of strikers dropped from 201,000 to 161,000.
Within state, county, and municipal governments,
the American Federation of State, County and Mu-
nicipal Employes has achieved what no other major
union has done during the past six years - increas-
ed its membership by 100 per cent. What is even
more startling is this union's huge organizational po-
tential: more than seventy-six per cent of today's
12,500,000 public workers are employed in s t a t e,
county, and city governments.
MOREOVER, in terms of the nation's long-neglect-
ed priorities - housing, schools, clinics and hos-
pitals, recreation facilities, expanded welfare a n d
anti-poverty programs - the need for more, not
fewer, public employes is indisputable. As a nation
we have been, and still are, apathetic about the des-
perate need for the ten-year housing goal Congress
set for the nation, the $25 billion needed to end, or
at least reduce, air and water pollution, and the $30

ceptance of the right of government employes (city,
state, and Federal) to organize, bargain collectively,
and negotiate contracts as strong as those developed
in industry.
Undoubtedly a major change has occurred in the
last few years in the climate of public opinion re-
garding government employes. One reason is that to-
day approximately one out of every three public em-
ployes is a union member. The government employe
who is a union member is no longer an oddity, no
longer an isolated "radical" risking job and livelihood
as he did not many years ago. Nor is he any longer
(except in rare cases) intimidated by union-hating
supervisors or foremen.
Today, the public worker is likely to proclaim
his union membership proudly, and to speak openly
on national and international issues; despite Fed-
eral and local Hatch Acts, more and more public
employes are running for public office.
In the impressive Washington, D.C. peace and
anti-Vietnam war demonstrations of November, 1969,
and May, 1970, organized groups of Federal employ-
es paraded behind their own banners and placards,
with District of Columbia municipal employes also
participating.
Much of the change in the public's attitude has
been achieved, I believe, by AFSCME's successful
collective bargaining in state after state and city af-
ter city. The memorable 1968 strike of AFSCME san-
itation workers in Memphis, and the assassination of
the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. while prepar-
ing to lead a march in support of that strike, chang-
ed the attitudes of countless Americans. Other strikes
of public employes, notably those in Atlanta and
Cincinnati in 1970, demonstrably altered popular at-
titudes in those cities toward strikes by government
workers. Municipal pay scales as low as $4,400-a-year
shocked many citizens who had always assumed that
their cities had paid a "decent living wage."
The nationwide withdrawal of postal services and
the slowdowns by the Post Office workers earlier in
1970 also contributed greatly to the shift in public
sentiment. When the Harris Poll asked the question,
"In the recent strike of postal employes, did you
sympathize more with the demands of the employes
or with the Federal Government?" the results show-
ed a surprising sixty-one per cent sympathizing with
the strikers and only twenty-five per cent with the
Government.
A recent major study of the union rights of pub-
lic employes, published by the AFL-CIO Maritime
Trades Department, concluded with a call for "a
Federal minimum standard bargaining law - a Fed-
eral labor law for public emplbyes."
This widely-praised report offered evidence that
state anti-strike statutes have failed-the frequency
of news headlines on strikes by public employes un-
derscores that fact - and recommended two imme-
diate steps: the repeal of stringent anti-strike laws,

4
*

' wvorker on pickJet line in 1967

created where none exists in each state (or lo-
cality) to assure compliance with these provis-
ions and to administer a code of public employe
relations."
A DISTINGUISHED minority of this Twentieth
Century Fund panel even proposed that strikes
by public employes should be permitted (police and
firemen excepted) if the governmental employer re-
jects the fact-finding recommendations.
Perhaps the most significant point of agreement
between the AFL-CIO and the Twentieth Century
Fund studies is the conclusion that anti-strike laws
have not worked. Official statistics fully verify this.
Throughout the nation in 1958 there were only fif-
teen work stoppages involving 1,720 public workers.
By 1969, the number of strikes had skyrocketed to
414 (including three stoppages by Federal employes)
with 161,000 walking out.
Certainly one of the principal reasons public em-
ploye strikes have proliferated from fifteen to 414 in
eleven years is the fact that labor law in the fifty
states is so fragmented and contradictory. Moreover,
the majority of these laws were obviously devised to
prohibit concerted action by public workers rather
than to encourage effective and harmonious labor-
management relations.
Twenty-one states have now enacted general col-
lective bargaining legislation covering public em-
ployes; only fifteen states make it mandatory for
public employers to bargain with unions. But forty
states Jprohibit public employe strikes, either by sta-
tute, court decisions, or opinions by attorneys-gen-
eral. Some state laws apply only to one or more spe-
cific groups, such as teachers or employes of the
state government, and do not touch municipal or
county employes. Three states have enacted permis-
sive laws which sanction collective bargaining with
public employes; five state laws provide only for the
employer to meet and confer with unions of state
workers.
But the question of whether public employes have
the moral right to strike is steadily declining as an
issue which only a few years ago raised legislative
hackles and editorial tirades. The American people
and their elected leaders have moved gradually to-
ward the position that public workers do have the
moral right to strike when other remedies have been
exhausted.
The major turning point in the right of publi"
workers to bargain collectively and to strike came in
1970 with enactment of precedent-setting statutes in
Hawaii and Pennsylvania. Both laws encourage pub-

Enactment of PERA would, for the first time,
give Federal recognition to the basic rights of state,
county, and municipal employes. Like the NLRA,
PERA centers on the legally guaranteed right of
public employes to join a union and choose their own
exclusive bargaining agent. Like the NLRA, the law
would make it possible to cite an employer for var-
ious unfair labor practices; but in addition, the un-
ion will have the right to seek quick injunctive re-
lief against an employer's unfair labor practices.
Among other provisions, PERA would outlaw strikes
only during the sixty days following expiration of an
agreement.
What about the delicate and still controversial
question of the right of police and firemen to strike?
The answer must come in large part from the un-
ions that represent the rank-an-file firemen and po-
licemen. The historic fact is that ever since the Bos-
ton AFL police strike of 1919 was broken at the in-
stigation of Governor Calvin Coolidge, law enforce-
ment officers and firemen have been agonizingly
aware that the moral and legal prohibitions against
their right to strike have served less to protect the
public than to deny.them the economic benefits and
protections won by other employes through collec-
tive bargaining.
If the public and city officials have a right to ex-
pect unfailing police and fire protection, they also
have the responsibility to prevent conditions that
leave policemen and firemen no real alternative but
to go out on strike.
In recent years, union after union in the fire
fighting and law enforcement fields has repealed un-
ion consititutional prohibitions against work stop-
pages.
In strong support of this trend* toward abolition
of no-strike clauses in union constitutions was a
1970 report by the Washington, D.C. chapter of the
American Civil Liberties Union which urged that
"Congress should repeal legislation imposing penal-
ties of dismissal, fines, and imprisonment on (Fed-
eral) public employes who strike. Congress should
repeal the no-strike oath, including the oath on not
asserting the right to strike."
Significantly, these recommendations would ap-
ply to The District of Columbia's police and f iir e
fighting forces.
LARGE AS IT already looms. the revolt of the pub-
lic workers may take on far greater dimensions
in the future. The 1970 AFSCME convention, at my
request, called for a coalition of public employe or-
ganizations (both within and outside the AFL-CIO)
to achieve a more effective "impact iupon Congress
and the Executive Branch of government in the Fed-
eral sector, and u p o n legislatures and execut vo
branches in the various states."
The revol' of the public workers it must be noted,
has not been confined to labor-manag'ment and oth-
er domestic questions. AFSCME stepped out at its
convention to grapple with 'he most pressing of all
issues facing the world and mankind today.
By demanding "immediate and total withdrawal
of all U S. armed forces from. Southeast Asia." AFS-
CME became the first major AFL-CIO union to take
such action and break with the Nixon Administra-
tion.on foreign policy. Th- convention resolutir'n al-
so flatly opposed "expansion of the Vietnam war into
Cambodia."' Aware that it was speaking for nearly
<=00 000 m-mbers and as one of the AFL-CTO's larg-
est affiliates the convention declared:
"Our nation's interests command that no further
blood and resources be wasted in Southeast Asia.

-0

a

"The revolt of the public workers--o n c e anathema to all politicians
and most citizens-has now become a fact of life in the 1970s. The revolt
has been characterized not only by strikes-strikes more often than not
specifically in violation of the law-mt also by the phenomenal grow*h of
unions in the public employment field."
v:.m#EEm~s%#g~gmim:EsEWN~mms3meME~ggggaggasys#

and the enactment of sound collective bargaining
legislation in their stead.
The recent study published by the conservative
Twentieth Century Fund, titled "Pickets At C i t y
Hall," urged these legislative guarantees for state
and city employes:
"One - Public employes have the right to
join unions.
"Two - When a majority chooses a union, it
be recognized as exclusive bargaining represen-

lic employe unionization and collective bargaining.
And both laws permit s rikes (except by police and
firemen) after other procedures have failed to bring
settlement.
Versions of the Pennsylvania law, signed by Re-
publican Governor Raymond P. Shafer and termed
"an emancipation proclamation for public employes"
by AFL-CIO leaders. will soon be introduced in o h-
er state legislatures.
Despite this progress, however, a large body of

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--~ ~ -~ '7S~

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