One of Michigan’s most severe union strikes lasted 102 days, involved 180 disgruntled employees, a 1,000 peacemaking National Guard troops, and it occurred 60 years ago across from what is now Johnny T’s Bistro.
Hillsdale was once the home of the Essex Wire Corporation, where, on Feb. 28, 1964, 180 employees left work to picket outside the building located at West Street Joe and East South streets. The picketers, members of Local 810 of the International Union of Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers, demanded working conditions more comparable to those of other wire corporations, particularly the Essex Wire plant in Fort Wayne, Ind. The union had been negotiating with management for several months, arguing for higher pay and more seniority benefits, but it claimed talks were going nowhere.
Inside, the plant continued to operate using non-strikers while violence was building outside on the picket line, and on May 27, a picketer’s club struck a guard hired to protect non-strikers. The guard’s gun fired, and the outraged mob demanded his arrest.
Concern about the seemingly uncontrollable mob influenced Michigan Gov. George Romney to declare a state of public emergency and send 1,000 National Guard troops to Hillsdale.
On June 9, 1964, the strike ended when IUE members accepted a pact between the union and management. This agreement granted many allowances to employees, such as higher pay and more paid vacation.
The last guardsman left Hillsdale on June 10, the same day the Hillsdale Daily News published a quote from Hillsdale Mayor C. Audrey Paul that read, “I sincerely believe I voice the feelings of all our people when I say that because of our days of trial, Hillsdale has become dearer to us.”