Friday, February 12, 2016
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thumbsupUntil 1982 it was illegal in Illinois for public employees (fire fighters, teachers, sanitation workers, police) to organize a union.The State of Illinois, a local government, county or city, could recognize a workers' union and negotiate with them, but there was no legal requirement to do so.

Beginning in the 1960s, public employees grew restless, as they wanted the protection of a union contract. Many public employee groups held illegal strikes, trying to force their employer -- the local school board or city council -- to recognize their rights. Often the union leadership was jailed for contempt of court during this process, as government and its workers faced off over the issue of union recognition.

This photo is from one of the more unique job actions of this time period. In 1978, Fire Fighters in Normal formed an affiliated local union of the International Association of Fire Fighters, Local 2442. When the Town of Normal refused to recognize their union, they went on strike. However, being fire fighters, they still responded to fire calls, walking out with all their turn-out gear. If the fire chief brought the truck from the station, they followed in their cars and put the fire out, then returned to their picket line.

Ten days into their strike, the entire fire department was put in jail. Local 2442 had 24 members, so they judged declared "2442 -- 24 fire fighters, 42 days in jail." The fire station was declared a work release station and the fire fighters were sentenced to work their under armed guard. This photo shows a group of fire fighters arriving at the fire station to begin their shift, having been transported there from the county jail.

After serving their 42 days in jail, the fire fighters returned to the picket line. The Town of Normal began negotiating, and after 56 days, the longest fire fighters' strike in U.S. history, the Town and Local 2442 reached an agreement.

This job action and jailing, along with others by teachers and city workers, brought national attention to Illinois and became an incentive for the State to push a collective bargaining law giving public employees the right to form a union. Today, Illinois public employees enjoy some of the most comprehensive union recognition rights in the United States.

"And I long to see the day when Labor will have the destiny of the nation in her own hands and she will stand as a united force and show the world what the workers can do." --- Mary Harris "Mother" Jones, 1830-1930

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