In April of 1985 Local 106 of the United Steelworkers went on strike. This is the only strike I have ever been involved in. And it was probably illegal. Steelworkers by-laws state a strike vote has to be by secret ballot. But a very vocal minority demanded an open vote be taken. Why Ollie B., who had been union president ever since I was hired in 1973, went along with it, I don’t know. But he allowed it. So the vote was taken by a show of hands. The union hall was so chaotic, the way people were bobbing and weaving during the vote, I’m sure some of the ones wanting a strike were counted two or three times. I think if the vote had been by secret ballot like it was supposed to be, there never would have been a strike. But a large loud number were determined to vote the contract down. And they got their way.
I can’t remember the details of the contract offer. I’m sure it was reasonable. Brighton never tried to cut us back, never asked for concessions. And I can’t recall what was going on at the time to make so many so determined to go on strike. Most of the ones who had voted to accept the contract went home after the meeting. While all the ones voting to strike re-adjourned the meeting across the street at Al’s Bar. I’m sure they stayed and celebrated for hours. But I had voted for the contract, so I went home.
That first week I drove to Brighton every day to see what was going on. There was always a dozen or so people manning the picket line. We had our “ON STRIKE” signs, and walked back and forth in front of the entrance. We had a good laugh at the office personnel. They came in dressed in work clothes, like they were going to do our jobs. There were only two foremen who knew how to operate machines. Ira B. flanged some heads and Tom H. pressed some heads. But they were only two people. The others made a big show of driving forklifts and moving material around the yard, but that was about all they could do. They couldn’t do our jobs. To this day management has no idea how we do what we do, they just count on us to do it.
The union hall was open several hours every day. People with financial hardships could bring their bills in and the union officers would write checks. It’s been over thirty years and it’s hard to remember, but I believe the local had about twenty thousand dollars in the bank at that time, so that became our strike fund. Also, once we declared strike the International Steelworkers matched out strike fund, so that meant we had forty thousand dollars available. But if we went through all that money, then the International would take over our local and run things. We didn’t want to lose control of our local, so the strike fund was administered wisely. Money wasn’t doled out to everybody. People had to prove dire need in order to get aid. Medicine that needed to be bought, groceries, a mortgage payment, a car loan payment.
I was married at the time and my second wife had a job, so my financial situation was bearable for a while. And being April, the weather was nice and getting nicer. I borrowed my neighbor’s tiller and plowed my vegetable garden, then, since he had loaned me his tiller, I plowed his vegetable garden. But you get the picture. Right away I was looking for ways to occupy my time.
I walked picket line once. Naturally, it was a time when no one else wanted to do it. The night of Easter Sunday, from 11 pm to 7 am. Mallard J. walked it with me. Although neither of us did much walking. We mostly sat in Mallard’s car talking and drinking coffee. But I didn’t say much. If you knew Mallard, you’d understand. He was a talker. He worked in the pickle room, and did a lot of odd jobs around the shop. He was as wide as he was tall, but his short little legs could move him around like you wouldn’t believe. Several times that long night people we worked with came by to check on us. One guy was pretty drunk, and he pulled a gun out and said he’d back us up if there was any trouble. But there was no trouble. The plant was dark. No one came in. It was Easter. Every so often we got out and picked up a picket sign and walked back and forth in front of the entrance just to stretch our legs. It was a chilly night, but not cold, and it didn’t rain. Several truck drivers stopped by on Mosteller Road to ask what the strike was about. I couldn’t tell them. But Mallard fed them a line. I think they regretted stopping once Mallard got started talking. About six-thirty a.m. our replacements arrived. Mallard stayed to talk with them, but I was ready for bed.
After three weeks I was starting to worry. So I signed on with a temp agency, and they lined me up to work on building a water park. The Beach in Mason was under construction, and they needed people to put the water slides together. That would have been interesting work. But I never found out. The day I was supposed to start I was called in to the union hall to vote on a new contract proposal. This time the mood was different. The ones who had voted for the contract last time were angry. They had lost three weeks wages. While the ones who had voted to strike were satisfied. We had gone on strike. They were ready to go back to work now. I don’t think the new contract offer was more than a comma here, a comma there, maybe a nickle more than the original offer. But it was voted in by a large margin.
When we went back to work there wasn’t a lot of friction with management. Everyone made a big effort to get along. But the owners, the Hocks, were upset. They had offered us a serious contract with a good wage increase, and we had voted it down. I don’t think they got over that. A year and a half later they sold Brighton to Trinity Industries of Dallas, Texas.