The Telephone Girls’ Strike of 1945

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.

CL Strike.JPG
Two Telephone Girls Picketing in Crystal Lake. Compliments of the The Herald.

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”.  

Illinois Bell Notice
Posting from Illinois Bell for customers during the strike.

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.”  

Sources:

“Telephone Strike Has Whole Town Talking – But Only In Person.” McHenry Plaindealer 22 Nov 1945: 1. Newspapers.com. Web. 24 Sep 2017.
“McHenry Phone Conscious As Strike Ends.” McHenry Plaindealer 29 Nov 1945: 1. Newspapers.com. Web. 24 Sep 2017.
“Local Telephone Employees To Take Strike Vote Friday.” McHenry Plaindealer 15 Nov 1945: 1. Newspapers.com. Web. 24 Sep 2017.
“Telephone Rings After Day And A Half.” Daily Sentinel 20 Nov 1945: 1. Newspapers.com. Web. 24 Sep 2017.
“Telephone Operators Taking Strike Vote During This Week.” The Daily Sentinel 15 Nov 1945: 4. Newspapers.com. Web. 24 Sep 2017.
“Picketing By Strikers Makes Appearance Here.” The Herald 22 Nov 1945: 1. Newspapers.com. Web. 24 Sep 2017.
“Vote On Strike By Telephone Union Nears End.” Chicago Daily Tribune 16 Nov 1945: 27. Newspapers.com. Web. 24 Sep 2017.
“Telephone Service Normal Following End of Wage Strike.” Chicago Daily Tribune 26 Nov 1945: 18. Newspapers.com. Web. 24 Sep 2017.
“Settle Telephone Strike.” Chicago Daily Tribune 25 Nov 1945: 1. Newspapers.com. Web. 24 Sep 2017.
“Phone Strike Still On After Parley Fails.” Chicago Daily Tribune 20 Nov 1945: 1. Newspapers.com. Web. 24 Sep 2017.
“2000 Telephone Operators Vote On Strike.” Chicago Tribune 15 Nov 1945: 31. Newspapers.com. Web. 24 Sep 2017.
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