The following article was taken verbatim from a story provided by the Portland Police Museum, Frank Springer on the origins of the Police Union
A HISTORY OF THE PORTLAND POLICE ASSOCIATION
By Frank Springer
While reading the minutes of our organization in it’s early and formative years we were amazed at how much we had forgotten about our local and at some of the adverse working conditions that we had twenty years ago. There is not too many men left on the department that can remember the basic cause for the formation of our police local that was to become the first successful police union in the country and now of course the oldest.
The union was formed, as all others have been formed, when a group of men can stand just so much pushing around and finally they get pushed too far. The “too far” push in our case was the vicious and almost unbelievable Park Patrol ordinance that was passed by the city council in the fall of 1941. This ordinance gave the chief of police the power to order all members of the force to submit to a physical examination and the unhealthiest one hundred to be assigned to a foot patrol in the city parks on a twelve hour basis from 6:00PM to 6:00AM for six days each week and their salary to be reduced from $186 per month to $100 per month. The plan progressed to the point where all members at Precinct #1 (now East Precinct) had completed their physical examinations at the old public health clinic at SW third and Oak. The traffic department was scheduled for their examinations in December of 1941 with the rest of the department to follow in order when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and the Park Patrol plan fell through because enlistments and the draft soon took everybody on the department except the aforementioned one hundred and even some of them got in the war. (This ordinance was repealed in 1953 when brought to attention of the administration.)
Immediately after the passage of the Park Patrol ordinance and realizing the vicious impact that it would have both to our department and to civil service itself Officer John D Hayes (now Sgt Joe Hayes) contacted some of his friends in the Labor Temple and asked for help of some kind. Several meetings were held between Hayes and various labor representatives while they tried to figure a way for us to organize and to find an international union that was willing to give us a chapter. There were no police unions at that time and even the labor movement in general was apprehensive about police unions due to the disastrous results of the police strike in Boston in 1922.
As mentioned earlier the outbreak of World War II scuttled the Park Patrol ordinance but brought about another intolerable situation! Effective December 7, 1941 the entire police department was put on two 12 hour shifts with all days off cancelled. We were not allowed overtime in those days so all extra time worked was without compensation. After three weeks of this the chief of police announced in the papers that his men would work this way for the duration of the war! During an emergency such as the wild and unorganized days immediately following the Pearl Harbor bombing our men were willing to work long hours, seven days a week, but for the duration was another thing. Men and Women in the shipyards and defense plants were getting wages that doubled ours and were working their regular hours and days. Something had to be done and done as soon as possible. The Central Labor Council rallied behind us and gave us the service of two of their ablest men, S.P. Stevens and Fred Gleichman who immediately met with Hayes and an impromptu committee of police officers and a plan was adopted for our organizing. Application blanks were carried by members of the committee and quiet personal contacts were made each officer of the department for the purpose of signing him into a union. The chief of police soon got wind of the scheme and he announced that any police officer joining a union would be discharged forthwith. Along with this announcement the chief discontinued the twelve hour shifts but the men had been pushed too far and after one month of “underground” organizing the committee felt that they had enough signed applications that it would be safe to announce an open meeting as they would be strong enough to prevent any wholesale discharges. All police officers who signed application blanks were notified of an open organizational meeting at the Norse Hall on April 14, 1942. The meeting was attended by 210 men or 60% of the entire force at that time. The men were greeted by labor representatives that had assisted our original committee and by members of the Central Labor Council who outlined the working of unions such as we wanted and gave us organizational plans to proceed upon. Our first official meeting complete with the selection of officers was held in the Italian Federation Hall on April 28, 1942 and we were on our way.
As mentioned before we were looking for an international union that would grant us a charter as only regularly chartered unions can affiliate with the Central Labor Council and the State Federation of Labor. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees finally agreed to grant us a charter and the first charter ever granted to a police union was received in May of 1942 and we have held it continuously since that date. At that meeting the visiting speaker was the secretary of Local #103, John J Murchison, (Now Judge Murchison).
The first and most important matter before any union is wages. We do not plan to take up too much space regarding the police union and the wages that we have gained as every knows, it is a long and continuing battle that can never be neglected and will continue as long as we have a union. However it is interesting to note that the only raise for police officers for several years before our organizing was one of $3 per month. The police union has accomplished a great deal in getting our wages to the present level and a comparison of wages in 1941 with those of 1958 will bear this out;
Following wages in importance to any individual police officer we find a sound pension system. For many years prior to July 1, 1949 when our present pension plan became affective the men on the department had tried various methods with different organized groups to find some method for rescue and relief from a bankrupt pension fund that sometimes paid a pensioner as little as $10 a month. The situation was so bad in 1939 that each member of the police department voluntarily donated $5 per month to help the old pensioners and this continued until July 1, 1949. The first move toward establishing the pension plan that we have today was taken at a union meeting on November 7, 1946. Previous attempts for improving the pension had always been based on a short campaign and a plea for help of any kind as long as it was help. The program presented to union members on November 7, 1946 was entirely different from anything earlier as it called for a long range (two Year) study of all pensions across the country coupled with a one year campaign before the general elections of 1948. The program called for a committee to meet with the fire department, whose pension was nearly bankrupt, and establish ONE consolidated plan that would be durable and financially sound. This program was adopted at that November meeting and carried out by all members of both the fire and police departments with the result that the voters gave us the finest pension in the country. You may be interested to know that during the campaign more than one hundred talks explaining the pension were made before labor groups with the result that the pension carried in every labor precinct in the city.
Following in importance behind wages and a sound pension we come to the forty hour week. The police department was granted a forty week on July 1, 1950 and actually put into effect a few weeks later after additional men were hired and trained. The unions first step toward this goal was taken on November 8, 1945. The records show that after several unsuccessful meetings with the city council and bureau heads during the winter of 1945 the union decided to put the matter on the ballot of a primary election that was being held in the Spring of 1946. The firemen were also on this ballot for a 48 hour week. Both measures lost for the same old reason; The campaign was too short to properly educate the voters and was too poorly financed. Our next step was back to the city council for consideration of the matter in 1948 budget but our request was poorly received in lieu of the fact that policemen had been denied shorter hours by the voters. During the 1949 budget hearings our request for shorter hours was set aside in favor on an increase in wages. All of the time during 1946, 47, 48 and 49 we had several committees meet with the various commissioners to explain and discuss our request but all that we could get was sympathy. In April of 1950 with all other city employees, except firemen, working a forty hour week and the union’s request being consistently set aside the temper of police officers was getting very warm so the union took drastic action and petitioned the city council for a special council meeting for the purpose of pressing the cause of the forty hour week and nothing else. With the help of the Central labor Council and the State Federation of Labor the council granted us a special meeting and all union members were notified to be present. Union members completely filled the council chambers upstairs and down and after a three and one-half hour heated session the city council, then and there, voted unanimously to give us our request. That meeting was a good example of what a well organized union can do for it’s members.
The records of the Portland Police Local show many smaller gains for it’s members that were won while the union was working for the larger ones. We will mention them as they are taken from the minutes without many details as they are not quite so important as the larger gains.
Uniforms. The union’s first attempt to get a uniform allowance was made in 1945 but the administration at that time was so hostile that though they believed in our cause they let it be known that if someone other that the union would ask for a uniform allowance it would be granted. The union then met with the Police Beneficiary Association, explained the situation and the beneficiary association obligingly wrote our request on their stationary and a $50 annual uniform allowance was granted in the 1946-47 budget. The furnishing of uniforms in lieu of the $50 allowance took place in the 1953-54 budget but it did not cover a new man until he had passed his probationary year. It was not until July 1956 that the new men were issued uniforms.
Strengthening of civil service. Prior to 1950 men were assigned or released from the detective division at the will of the chief of police. The union asked the civil service board to rectify the situation and the board classified the position of Police Detective and held an examination for the position. In 1954 the union was able to get the positions of Police Radio Dispatcher and Police Identification Officer classified and examinations were held for those positions.
Defense Fund. In the Spring of 1952 a defense fund was established for officers in need of financial assistance for legal help because of charges brought against them that might endanger their jobs. Ten members have since drawn upon this fund that has a maximum of $250 for each officer. Several cases are on record where grieviences have been settled by the union on an individual basis for the officer involved.
Overtime Pay. Overtime pay at straight time was granted to Portland Police Officers during the latter of part of World War II. Our affiliations with the Oregon State Federation of Labor helped us with this as they got an overtime pay law passed on a state level through the State Legislature and the City of Portland immediately passed an ordinance reading the same. After several years of work time and one-half pay for overtime was granted to us in the 1948-49 budget.
Two other benefits that effect ALL city employees are sick leave and paid vacations. These were won by all the city unions rather then by any one union. Our sick leave allowance in 1941 was only three days. It was raised soon to thirty days and then gradually increased to a maximum of ninety days which we now have. Allowing a ten year employee an additional five vacation days over the regular ten days was granted in 1956.
The Portland Police union has provided additional services for it’s members that have had more of an indirect effect than a direct one end can be summed up in three items. ONE. At the February 6, 1947 meeting we directly took over the sponsorship of Boy Scout Troop #90 and April 3, 1947 included in our sponsorship Troop #456 and Cub Scout Pack #456 who were numbered in our honor. The union raised one thousand dollars for these scout units and used several hundred dollars of the fund for the purchase of a surplus forty two passenger bus that carried the scouts on a good many trips, the longest being one to San Francisco in 1950. The union continued this sponsorship until the units were able to get assistance from groups in their own neighborhoods. TWO. On September 14, 1947 Local #456 started the first of it’s annual picnics for police officers and their families. The picnic was so successful that on April 1, 1948 the union held it’s first annual Spring Dance. These events were held annual by the union for the enjoyment of police officer’s families until 1957 when the Portland Police Athletic Association offered their facilities and became co-sponsors. THREE. Due to the large amount of money that the Mother’s March on Polio was collecting in it’s annual drive the directors of the drive appealed to the chief of police for assistance at the collection points. This required about eighty men and its being impossible for the chief to provide such a service he referred the matter to the union end since January 1953 the police union members have voluntarily donated their services at the March of Dimes collection points.
This brief history of the Portland Police Local has been compiled for the purpose of enlightening it’s newer members and refreshing the memories of the old timers. We believe that the most surprising revelation of our studies is that excluding the lost cause of getting back free bus transportation to and from work the union has gained EVERY objective that it set out to get. Can anymore be said for the union’n effectiveness?
With the exception of the union’s founder, Joe Hayes, who also served as President, Vice-President and thirteen years on the executive board, we have purposely omitted union workers names. This was not done for lack of names belong to real workers, but because there has been so many. Many have died, retired or resigned for something better, but all worked both as police officers and union members for the many fine things that we have today. These men saw the union rise from obscurity, when we were not welcome and not even recognized at the city council, to the strong and respected position that we have today. We can honor them no more than by keeping that position and continuing the progress that they so well started.