IPSN Issue, May 18, 1997
Union Leader Sol Smith
and the Fight in Maywood
SOL SMITH THINKS that whoever dreamed up the old “three strikes and you’re out” slogan has it all wrong.
According to Smith, the three strikes that police staged against the Village of Maywood in 1976, ‘79 and ‘84 were nothing less than a grand slam homerun in the game of cops versus bosses.
The Maywood strikes were won decisively by the Combined Counties Police Association team, which was a group of local cops working with both legal and negotiations experts brought in from the headquarters bullpen.
WHEN SOL SMITH first began organizing his fellow Maywood Police officers into a CCPA chapter in 1968, he had been on the force for about four years and, before that, he had already developed an impressive background as a designated hitter in organized labor.
Smith, CCPA’s Executive Secretary-Treasurer, is a retired Maywood cop who once jumped from the rank of Patrol Officer to Chief of Police without ever touching base at the Sergeant, Lieutenant or Captain positions.
Back in the earliest phase of his police career, Sol Smith saw that absolutely everything about the then-40-man Maywood police department was based on politics and political clout.
Clout, or political influence, was rampant in everything from assigning individual cops to particular shifts and beats, as well as determining which cops could earn outside revenue by working as guards at places like Maywood’s several banks, the race track or even the high school.
And, it was clout that determined which officers wore the uniforms, which officers wrote traffic tickets, which officers worked narcotics and which officers got promotions.
SMITH, WHO WAS basically an outsider without political clout, and who was also a black man working on a police force that was almost entirely white, determined that the best way for him to develop a measure of personal clout was to get elected to something. In that the Maywood lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police had long since proven to be a team with neither good coaching, pitching or hitting, Smith determined that the FOP was ripe for his kind of long-ball strategy.
Earlier, when he worked as a metal finisher for the Aluminum Company of America (ALCOA), he had managed to win election as both Trustee and Chief Steward of Local 1065 of the United Auto Workers.
It was this background in organized labor that brought Smith to the Maywood Police Department. In fact, he took a $2,000 per year pay cut to become a Maywood cop, going from about $7,000 a year at ALCOA to his 1964 starting salary of only about $5,000 a year, or right around $100 a week.
AFTER SMITH gained control of the Maywood FOP, he saw from the inside out that that organization was a poor excuse for a labor union. It was innefective and had proven repeatedly that the players involved could not field a winning team.
So, shortly after he became head of the Maywood FOP, Sol Smith began taking the necessary steps to disband it.
AT THE TIME, a young firebrand police labor leader named John J. Flood was attracting lots of media attention because he was the first serious voice since 1919 to loudly proclaim that police deserved a contract—and should have the right to strike to get it.
Flood was a Sergeant with the Cook County Sheriff’s Police and had already alienated the blustering Sheriff Joe Woods and a majority of Cook County Board members with his demands that the new union he headed, the Cook County Police Association, be recognized to represent County cops.
At the time, Flood was being personally pursued, followed, reassigned and otherwise generally harassed by Sheriff Woods and his underlings in an attempt to kill off this new union of cops.
BUT EVEN THOUGH Flood was under intense fire at the County level, he made it his business to help Sol Smith set up a CCPA chapter in Maywood.
There was no existing body of law that allowed police to organize into unions at that time but Flood and Art Loevy, a labor lawyer who was donating his efforts to the fledgling CCPA, were able to help Smith set up the mechanics to hold a representation election in Maywood. They won that election ”overwhelmingly,” Smith recalls, “and then we were on our way.”
The mix of John J. Flood and Sol Smith came together at exactly the right time for Maywood police. Just weeks earlier, a Maywood cop had been singled out for arbitrary discipline in a way that got even the most go-along police mad. “Mad wasn’t the word,” Smith says.
“Every cop in the department realized that they could be next. Even the most politically connected guys knew that the same thing could happen to them, so they came into CCPA as a completely unified group.”
Partly because political bosses throughout both Cook County and the State saw CCPA as a serious threat, and partly because the Maywood cops were speaking with one voice, negotiating that first-ever Maywood contract was “no problem,” Sol Smith remembers.
“EVERYBODY WAS SURPRISED,” Smith says, “when we got an immediate 8 percent raise, time-and-a-half for overtime, sick pay and probably the best health care plan for police union members that anyone had seen up to that time,”
“Our first contract was a two-year deal,” Smith says, “so we were planning on what we were going to demand the next time out from almost the day that the first contract was signed.”
The police labor relations experience in Maywood was marked by a series of firsts, both for CCPA as a group and Sol Smith personally. Prior to the time of Maywood’s first CCPA contract, no police group anywhere had ever won an 8 percent raise for its members.
That first Maywood pact also resulted in an immediate end to the obvious political favoritism that had been going on in that police department for decades.
The big problems that CCPA faced in Maywood didn’t actually come into being until about seven or eight years after that historic first battle was won and put into the record books.
By 1976, after Sol Smith had relinquished his position as President of the Maywood CCPA chapter, the city fathers decided to launch a “get tough” program with the police in an apparent effort to cut what they percieved to be their losses.
“But it didn’t work,” Smith remembers. “We had a four-day strike in ‘76 and all of our demands were met, with even a couple turning out to be more than we originally asked for.”
“In the next two strikes we were able to cut a 20-year step system for top pay down tojust five years. It was a case of the village authorities trying to test the will of the police department and finding that, as a group, we were stronger than any of them as individuals.”
SOL SMITH is retired from active police work these days but he remains constantly on the go in a variety of CCPA capacities, including functioning as both the union’s Executive Secretary Treasurer and lead organizer.
Looking back to the early struggles in Maywood Sol Smith remembers, “we won what we won because we refused to give in to political pressure.”