From April 19 to May 4, 1979, 6,400 corrections officers--members of Council 82, Security and Law Enforcement Employees, AFSCME--staged a sixteen-day strike in direct violation of New York State's Taylor Law, which prohibits members of public employee unions from engaging in work actions such as strikes. The first strike by members of a public employee union in New York State occurred in March 1972, when members of the Civil Service Employees Association (CSEA) struck for two days. In that action, CSEA was successful at winning many improvements in its final contract with the state, including a salary increase, productivity bonuses, career ladders, and streamlined grievance procedures.
CSEA was also tangentially involved in Council 82's 1979 strike. Although members of Council 82's negotiating team had reached a tentative agreement with the State on April 5, rank and file members were unhappy with the agreement, in part because their tentative agreement did not match the wage increases provided for in the tentative agreement the State reached with CSEA in March 1979. Council 82 members struck when negotiators for the State refused to return to the bargaining table to re-negotiate the terms of the tentative agreement.
The State claimed that it could not change the terms of its tentative agreement with Council 82 nor substantially change the wage increases it had agreed to for Council 82 members without jeopardizing its tentative agreement with CSEA and other government employee unions. (In fact, CSEA postponed ratification of its agreement with the State until after Council 82's strike ended, so CSEA negotiators could be sure the final agreement between Council 82 and the State did not result in CSEA members receiving a substandard deal by comparison.)
During the strike the National Guard, civilian employees, prison supervisory personnel, and approximately 1,100 non-striking Council 82 members manned New York's prisons. Some violence occurred on the picket lines when the National Guardsmen entered the prisons. The strike forced the State back into negotiations with Council 82 and a revised contract was reached. A key change was that Council 82 members were guaranteed a 7 percent wage increase the first year, and increases of up to 7 percent the second and third years of the contract (initially the agreement guaranteed only the first year increase, with negotiations to resume the second year to determine additional wage increases). The new contract also provided for "stipends" for special training programs which would also provide Council 82 members with additional wage increases (although in order to appease members of other government employee unions they were not specifically called wage increases.)
Under the final agreement between the State and Council 82, it was also agreed that no retaliation would be taken against officers who had participated in the strike in terms of demotions, reassignments, or adversely affecting future promotions. However, the state would not waive the punishments imposed by the Taylor Law, under which individuals who violate the no-strike provision can be fined twice their daily salary for each day they are on strike. The legal battle to determine which employees had actually participated in the strike (as opposed to having been absent from work on those days for other reasons), as well as their final penalty, lasted into the early 1980s. A substantial portion of Council 82's legal files held in the Archives of Public Affairs and Policy relate to the strike, and include the affidavits, notices of hearings, and notices of determination used by Council 82 and the Governor's Office of Employee Relations in determining who had actually participated in the strike and therefore was subject to the Taylor Law's penalties.
Council 82 was also penalized for the strike. During the strike the State Supreme Court found Council 82 in contempt of court for not ordering its members back to work. The initial fine levied on April 26 was $450,000 with an additional $100,000 added for each shift until the strikers returned to work. By the time the strike ended on May 4 the fine had grown to $2.5 million. Council 82's Executive Director was also sentenced to 30 days in jail for contempt of court. The monetary punishment threatened Council 82's financial stability, as it only collected approximately $1.5 million a year in dues from members and paid a substantial portion of that to its locals and to its national affiliate (the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees). Council 82 legally challenged the amount of the fine, calling it excessive. The fine was eventually reduced to $150,000, and Council 82 was allowed to pay it in monthly installments so as to have sufficient funds to continue its daily operations. As an additional punishment for the strike, Council 82 also temporarily lost its privilege of dues check-off (being able to deduct its monthly dues directly from members paychecks rather than having to collect dues directly from members at correctional facilities across the state).