New York Strike Ends! – State Takes Control of Sanitation Department

Feb 10, 1968

What started as a contract dispute many months ago has morphed into a public health emergency. Since the Sanitationmen’s strike began nine days ago, approximately 100,000 tons of refuse has collected on New York City streets. This scene has been the backdrop for no shortage of political sparring and legal proceedings that has now seen the strike end with the state assuming control of the city’s sanitation department.

From the beginning, Mayor Lindsay took the position that “the strike is illegal and violates both city and state law,” and he said, “The city will not submit to blackmail and force.” State Supreme Court Justice Saul S. Streit shared the mayor’s view stating, “I say it’s not really a strike” and “It’s blackmail; It’s extortion” as he sentenced the sanitationmen’s leader, John J. DeLury, to 15 days in jail and fined him $250. This view of the strike as a form of blackmail underlined the mayor’s refusal to accept the strikers’ demands or even the recommendations of mediators, who were appointed by Governor Rockefeller. While the santiationmen’s union accepted recommendations made by the Governor’s mediators, Mayor Lindsay’s refusal to compromise and insistence on deploying the National Guard ultimately led the governor to bypass city control and to assign temporary control to the state until the health emergency is resolved.

A new contract remains to be negotiated, but the sanitationmen are currently back at work under the conditions offered by the governor’s mediators: a $425 annual pay increase, 2x salary on Sunday, and a .05 percent night differential. Mayor Lindsay considers this move “capitulation,” but the governor’s options were limited with the health consequences of the mounting garbage and a threat from the 1.2 million strong New York Central Labor Council to call a general strike if the National Guard were deployed. While the sanitationmen have returned to work, the cleanup may go on for weeks as Acting Sanitation Commissioner Maurice Feldman stated, “We can’t clean up the city in one day.”

Perlmutter, Emanuel. “Refuse Piling Up As Sanitationmen Continue Strike.” New York Times, February 4, 1968.
Stetson, Damon. “City Seeks Fining of Sanitationmen as Strike Goes On.” New York Times, February 6, 1968.
Stetson, Damon. “Union Head Gets 15 Days In Strike of Garbage Men.” New York Times, February 7, 1968.
Stetson, Damon. “Sanitation Union Guilty of Contempt in Strike – DeLury Enters Jail.” New York Times, February 8, 1968.
Tolchin, Martin. “State Call-up of National Guard Is Indicated if Strikers Defy Order.” New York Times, February 8, 1968.
Reeves, Richard. “He Waits Most of Day While the Governor Takes Command.” New York Times, February 9, 1968.