Birth of Local 965

From Discord to Harmony

By Mark Martin
May 1975, The Local News, monthly newsletter of Local 965, AFSCME

U of A employees have the infamous reputation of being among the lowest paid public employees in the state of Ark­ ansas. Pay raises are awarded indiscriminately and are pa­ thetic, at beste Administra­ tors and foremen have the mis­ guided belief that the most productive means of managing the workers is through oppres­ sion and intimidation. One ::a::¢ 71·oreman in particular is proud to declare (and demonstrate) that if you fire a man or two a month — you have better em­ ployees. The administration repeatedly insists that only they are worthy of “coffee breaks” and not the workers. It is no wonder that worker morale and consequently job efficiency, here at the Phy- sical Plante are low. (So was the condition of theU of A in 1958.) In 1958 a small group of workers at the Physical Plant were constantly working.on ways to create some form of communication between themselves and their employer. Grievances were presented to the administration through letters and petitions, but were continually ignored. Although a Carpenters and Painters Local existed at the time, they were severely limited by the fact that the majority of the Physical Plant was unorganized and divided. In the early 1960’s discontent among the workers had grown to an all time high. Every attempt to present problems to the administration, and to attain decent wages and conditions was frustrated. One particular encounter by a delegation of workers (Birth of Local 965 Cont’d) – 2 – with an administrator lingered bitterly in the minds of the workers. When the workers approached the Superintendent in a spirit of reconcilliation they were turned back by words to the effect; This is an institution of higher education where our only concerns are with academic endeavors — nonacademic person­ nel are worth a dime a dozen. It was during this turbulent period that contracts were dis­ tributed to employees. Physical Plant workers refused to sign their contracts and accept the meager raises offered by the Admin­ istratio.n However, support for the “pontract hold out” eroded until the last eight supporters were forced to sign their con­ tracts in defeat. Those determined workers were Rex Rice, James Hill, Luther Rogers, Fount Frederick, Raymond Rogers, Ed Bachman, Fred Watson, and Dave Lane. After this set-back Rex Rice contacted Lloyd Brammer ( La­ borers Union) in an attempt to unionize all the separate crafts in the Physical Plant. Together they organized a meeting be­ tween union representatives of craft unions and Physical Plant employees. Upon completion of this extraordinary organizing drive, the craft unions dropped their new Public Employee members, possibly because they felt they could not effectively represent workers not covered under the NLRA. Arthur Whaley, an international representative for AFSCME contacted Rex Rice after learning of the attempts to organize · U of A workers. It was through the persistant and effective organizing ability of Rex Rice that Local 965 got its first ten members and soon afterwards its charter on April 1, 1962. Once established, Rex Rice became the first president of Local 965, and Rachael Harris Cambell was the union’s first Recording Sea- – The Local News Official Monthly Publication of Local 965, AFSCME AFL-CIO Fount Frederick Herb Thomas Janice Knight Paul Dickerson – President – Vice President – Secretary – Treasurer – J – (Birth of Local 965 Cont’d) retary. With the formation of Lqcal 96.5,Physical Plant workers had taken two very important steps; first, in realizingthat goals could only be attained if workers strived together as a Union and second, in believing that only as one United Public Employees’ Union, and not a number of small and separate craft unions, could workers have the strength necessary to achieve constructive re­ sults. Local 965 struggled to survive despite tremendous odds dur­ ing the early years of its existence The small Public Employees Union was the laughing stock of the Physical Plant and the Uni­ versity. Collecting delinquent union dues was a full time endeav­ or for the weak local. Convincing fellow workers that deplorable conditions could actually be changed through a united effort was the seemingly unattainable goal of Local 965’s first union members. Workers would wonder; Should I dare hope for decent wages and con­ ditions., ‘fairness, a legitimate grievance procedure., dignity on the job and job security? Union members would reply; Only as a Union can we change those dreams into reality! The local grew slowly, but steadily. In 1962 they presented a list of demands to the administratio.n Among those demands were “unrealistic” requests such as better hospitalization in­ surance, overtime pay and sick leave. The administration respond­ ed with a like-it-or-leave attitude in what union members later facetiously dubbed the “Utopia letter”: “If there be among you those who know of a Utopian place of employment , my advice to you is to rush to this place and get yourselves employed. We will be pleased to process your Termination of Ser­ vice through channels for our record filea” When the workers recieved this message, an eerie atmosphere of discontent and inevitability pervaded the Physical Plant. The administrations past disregard for worker suggestions, dele­ gations, grievances and petitions was topped off by the “Utopia letter.” It was clear to praptically every worker that the Uni­ versity was actually inviting some form of worker reprisal. On October 4, 1963 history was made in Fayettev ille, Arkan- sas. The University woke up to discover that its employees · were participating in the first Public Employee strike ever to take place in the South . At 5:00 am, 75 workers reported for picket duty. By noon the University found itself encircled by JOO pickets. By the end of the first day, the Northwest Arkan­ sas Times reported that the strike was 100% effective with union members and 75% effective with hourly employeesa (Birth of Local 965 Cont’d) – 4 = Local 965 picked an opportune time to take its case to the publics October 4, was the day just before the traditional con­ frontation between the Arkansas Razorbacks and TCUe That same weekend, Fayetteville was also hosting some important conventions of State Legislators and State Lawyers. With the largest audi­ ence assembled in Fayetteville in some time, the union made con­ ditions at the University public knowledge. The public was shocked at the deplorable working conditions at the U of A. The public was also shocked to discover that some employees were paid less than .72 an hour and $135 a month. Bob Parker, President of the North West Arkansas Labor Council gave the striking University workers his support. Par­ leer believed that if only the public was aware of the University employees’ situation they would side with the striking workers. It was also Parker who drove a carload of union members, dressed in tattered but clean cloths, to the Arkansas State AFL-CIO Exe­ cutive Board in hopes of gaining the Board’s support. The AFL-CIO Executive Board immediately declared their support for striking U of A workers. George Elliso,n President of the Arkansas State AFL-CIO, announced his support for striking U of A workers. Many local unions also suppqrted the strike. Construction at the University came to a stand still as union artisans honored the picket line. Public support for the strikers grew. Students, faculty, local organization,s churches and local companies supported the striking workers. On campus, the Young Democrats denounced the administrations failure to recognize the union. The Young Republicans followed by proclaiming their,supportof the strikers. Many faculty members and students collect­ ed money for the strikers. (One such student group named itself SAD for Student Aid to the Deprived.) A group of faculty members petitioned the University to recognize Local 965 as the sole bargaining agent for striking workers. On October 8, the fourth day of the strike, the Uni­ “Go ahead, you old sour­ puss, give $2 to COPE.u versity had obtained a restrain­ ing order against the strik- ing workerso Yet no one went = 5 – (Birth of Local 965 Cont’d) back to work except the painters (who re’ turned because of legal implications involving their separate union). Although no one was allowed to strike, all the strikers defiantly stayed out for health reasons. The University and the Union were stalemated. The Union wanted to be recognized as the representative of its members so as to work towards some form of reconcilliation. President Mullins continually maintained that he couldn’t nego­ tiate with the Union because he was restricted by State Law. Finally the dead lock ended when Governor Faubus intervened on October 14. He appointed a commission to investigate the University’s situation and meet with Labor to negotiate an agree­ ment. One of the first endeavors of the commission was to get workers back to work while it negotiated with Union representa­ tives and Local 965•s lawyer, Sam Sexton. On October 17, the commission announced that all workers were to be allowed to re­ turn to work “without prejudice.” Local 965 and University em­ ployees won the strike. What the Union won was not just a victory for Local 965, but for the entire University as well. Both the Union and the Uni­ versity have progressed since the late 50’s and early 6o•s. With new additions in administrative and staff personnel, the Union has found it increasingly easier to work for the improvement of University workers and the betterment of the University as a whole. As a union, we welcome the relationship which has matured between labor and management. We are committed to the ideal that labor and management can best co-exist in an atmosphere not of confrontation, but of cooperation based on mutual respect. Researched and written by Mark Martin