|Posted on Thursday, December 14, 2006 - 11:04 am: |
1969 strike a 'scary' 5 days for Vallejo
By Matthias Gafni, Times-Herald staff writer
Article Launched: 12/14/2006 06:25:49 AM PST
Two weeks after the Zodiac Killer shot a couple on Blue Rock Springs Road and shortly after an historic church burned to the ground, Vallejo's police and firefighters walked off their jobs.
It was a long five days.
A handful of nonunion police and fire officials patrolled the city, until reinforcements were called in - namely the California Highway Patrol and California Department of Forestry.
The strike, only the second time in American history that both a city's police and firefighters forces struck together, paralyzed Vallejoans.
"People went berserk here, they really did," said former Mayor Gloria Exline, then a local teacher. "Everyone thought they would get robbed."
The city made it through the strike relatively unscathed, but repercussions are still felt today. As the city heads into binding arbitration with the fire union again, the controversial labor settlement tool can be traced directly to the '69 strike.
Former Mayor Terry Curtola, then the youngest city council member in the state at age 28, had just been elected, and before he was swotn in, was able to observe the closed-door sessions that led to the strike.
Curtola remembered the city manager announcing the raises he'd offer the public safety workers.
Curtola, who'd negotiated with union restaurant workers in his family's business, asked the manager: "What if they don't want it?"
"They can quit," the manager told him.
Curtola said he was floored.
"I thought, 'Damn, now that's the way to negotiate!" recalled Curtola with a laugh.
Six months before, Kansas City, Kan. firefighters had struck, but Vallejo leaders still ignored that possibility, Curtola said.
Next thing the city knew, on July 17, both police and fire decided to walk off their jobs.
"It was scary for five days Š everybody was staying indoors," Curtola recalled.
Keep in mind, the Zodiac serial killer had just sent off creepy letters to local media - including the Times-Herald - bragging about shooting to death Darlene Ferrin and critically injuring Mike Mageau at Blue Rock Springs on July 4, 1969.
Days before the strike, Ascension Episcopal Church had burned down on Georgia Street as well.
So, needless to say, city residents were already nervous.
A handful of police and fire management, were in charge of protecting the entire city.
"The (striking) firefighters would hit a false alarm and the three trucks would drive all the way out and find a note on the fire box saying, 'Ha, ha, ha,'" Curtola said. "Then another false alarm would go off on Rollingwood at the other end of town and the same thing."
The police also had a few sheriff's department heads to assist.
"Burglars didn't take over. There weren't muggings. I think they were scared too," Curtola laughed.
Still, city officials weren't about to take any chances and a young assistant city manager Gerald Davis, now a city council member, started making phone calls.
At first, Gov. Ronald Reagan didn't want to get involved because he didn't want to upset the state firefighters and CHP, who were also union, Curtola said.
After a couple days, the state agreed to send CDF firefighters.
"The agreement was they would only go out on calls for a fire," Curtola said.
Midway through the strike, Davis was able to get the lieutenant governor to send in the CHP. However, the state officers would only patrol on state highways. Fortunately, Vallejo had a few.
CHP cars sped up and down Highway 29 (Sonoma Boulevard), Highway 141 (Curtola Parkway), Highway 37 and also Tennessee Street.
The agreement was the CHP would only field traffic violations, not any other crimes.
"We were just trying to let the public see black-and-whites," Curtola said.
Union solidarity swept through Vallejo. Union members refused to deliver supplies to City Hall. Grocery stores refused to sell food to replacement fire and police, while giving food vouchers to striking families.
Most city officials spent 20 hours a day locked up in City Hall, with hordes of media and picketing union members surrounding the building - now Vallejo Naval and Historical Museum.
"I almost felt locked in there," Curtola said. "It was hell. It was scary. We had every news media in the city of Vallejo."
Police and fire union leadership even moved their headquarters into the Casa de Vallejo hotel, taking over a floor, on the same block as city hall.
"I was scared to death, I was worried about my family," Curtola said, referring to suspicious calls his wife would receive at their home.
Eventually, Curtola offered to sit down with union leaders to hash out a deal. The group met at a cocktail lounge until 2 a.m. until they reached an agreement.
They agreed to a three-year contract, Curtola said, with 1 percent raises each year. The city council quickly passed it, and the strike ended.
"Our strike achieved more than just dollars and cents. If you go out for money alone, you're lost. We went out for a principle," said fire union chief negotiator Bob Guinane, upon the strike's completion.
Shortly thereafter, a citizens group recommended adding binding arbitration to the city charter, and voters overwhelmingly approved sending future labor impasses to an arbitrator.
"People caved in because they really didn't want another strike," Exline said.
And that may be the strike's lasting effect.
"It's interesting that during the brief strike there was no major impact to the city as far as crimes or fires," said Vallejo museum director Jim Kern, "but maybe the greater long-term impact was the legacy of binding arbitration, for bad or good."
|Posted on Thursday, December 14, 2006 - 11:44 am: |
I just read that story Tom. Some of those pranks that were pulled against the firefighters during the strike reminds one of Z activities. Someone pulled a false alarm, and when the personnel got there, they found a note on the box saying "hahaha." Wonder if any of those notes were saved.
In the lead story, the policeman on right resembles the SFPD composite!