In November of 1945, the people of McHenry County saw something they hadn’t seen before: people picketing in the streets. On November 15, 1945, the Illinois Telephone Traffic Union voted to strike. During the war, the federal government set up different commissions to regulate labor and salaries in the wartime economy. The commission set the recommendations (salaries, hours worked, etc.) and companies would use them as guidelines. In the case of the telephone industry, the National Telephone Commission was created. The NTC set the recommended wage for telephone workers at $4 a week and nine years for an employee to hit the maximum pay scale. The local company involved, Illinois Bell, decided to take the NTC’s recommendation. However, workers or as they were also known as “the telephone girls” felt slighted and voted to strike.
Over 8,900 telephone employees went on strike throughout the state of Illinois, about 7,200 were from Chicago. Some towns, like Fox Lake and Wauconda averted the strike as they operated with dial telephones. While the strike lasted, only emergency calls were to be put through. Non-Union workers, recently retired employees and other volunteers were recruited to take emergency calls. The strike itself was peaceful, one person even commented that strikers would be better off going home or catching a show. Although the President of Illinois Bell, A.H. Mellinger, said that the staff leaving their posts “Not American-like”.
The strike was short lived, only lasting for six days and service immediately resumed. In the end, Illinois Bell met the workers’ demands and set the two dollar increase (workers were making the suggested $4 at the time) to be implemented in February 1946. They also went on to not charge their customers for the week of disrupted service. Both sides wrote letters to the public saying how much they appreciated the public’s patience and support. Overall, people seemed to realize how much they appreciated having their phones and found a newfound respect for their “telephone girls.”
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