The Back Door
Sunday, May 7, was a wet, driving cold morning. Only a faithful remnant of about 12 greeted the fire fighters at their shift change. Mike Lass was nowhere in sight and two strange men in suits were in the station with Judge Caisley. The alternate shift did not return to the jail. Someone ran to strike headquarters at the Falcon Motel and hustled Lass out of bed.
One of the two men in the station was Lass' boss, Anthony Delgado, IAFF Director of Organizing. The fire fighters inside were tense, haggard, frustrated with no negotiations. For 48 days they had been on strike, jailed, and seen no movement in negotiations. The suffering and embarrassment of jail wore them down, while rumors of firing and replacement ate at their spirit. Caisley wanted a proposal to carry to the Town. Despite a long, often angry session, the fire fighters stuck together. They still wanted the captains in the bargaining unit. They did agree to a future no-strike clause for captains, backed up by a bond and a heavy financial penalty to the union if they did. Caisley, a generally good-natured individual and not hostile to the fire fighters, carried their proposal back to the Town Hall.
Berry said that he and Lass had primed the fire fighters to be cautious toward the International union's involvement, fearing a recurrence of the "back door" they claimed ambushed them in Springfield:
Gannon was there. Because of the publicity, the International was there. Gannon came into town, pretty early in negotiations and I remember we were at strike headquarters, the Falcon Motel. The local was already primed and understood the issues. He was there for a few days and we said, Got to have a meeting.' So we invited him into the back room at the Falcon, all the executive board was there. Ron (Lawson) laid it out: We're happy you're here and appreciate your help but you got to understand there are certain ground rules. The local will determine the issues and no contacts are to be made with the Town unless the executive board specifically approves it.' The next day he was gone. It would have been good to have the Eighth District vice-president helping you, but it was one less thing to worry about.
That afternoon the Town did its physical agility tests for its new applicants. About 20 strike supporters were among the 40 trying out for the department. Only a few of the supporters completed the entire testing process. Amazingly, one of them ended up number one on the department's eligibility list. At 5 feet, three inches tall and weighing in at 112 pounds, most fire fighters and their families were used to seeing ISU student Lucia Dryanksi outside the station with her guitar, singing union songs. Would this strike bring another change to Normal's department, its first woman? Dryanski never did join the department, but the speculation gave the fire fighters and their families another new reality to consider.
That night Donna Kerfoot repeated her speech from the convention rally in Chicago, at the annual Democratic Socialist "Debs-Thomas Dinner," a mainstay event of the Chicago left. Her fiery words and strong statement, at the same time Illinois was wrestling with the Equal Rights Amendment, brought down the house. The five women who traveled to Chicago came home with $300 more to bolster the strike fund.
The next morning, Monday, May 8, the Town Council was expected to respond to the fire fighters' offer that Caisley had transmitted the previous morning. At 9 a.m. the fire fighters' wives and supporters gathered, the whole Town Council and staff present.Previous Table of Contents Next