Interview with Maynard Jackson

You were a labor lawyer early in your career, and you supported the sanitation workers when you were vice-mayor. Why could you not support their demands when you were mayor?


Well, I did support, ah, as mayor I supported the demands of sanitation workers. I didn't support their strike, when it got to the point the strike was an illegal strike, and we suffered the possibility of garbage piling up in the city and the city becoming unsanitary. Um, the quick background is I'm a pro-labor person, always have been. When I left the National Labor Relations Board, and eventually set up my private practice, as vice-mayor, I actually represented a few unions. The National Alliance of Postal Federal Employees being one. Ah, AFSCME was a supporter of mine, they contributed to my campaign, the American Federation of State, County, Municipal Employees. I support AFSCME. I still do. But they had bad local leadership. They called a rump strike with no local vote on issues that already had been settled. They wanted a raise. I told them we didn't have the money. We offered to pay for their accountant to find the money. We said, if you find it, you get it. They went to look for it, couldn't find it, and still said, "It's there somewhere. So we're going to strike." And they call a strike on the spot. Ah, my obligation is to, as mayor, always must be to run the city in the very best way that I can, to be fair to everybody I possibly can be fair to. We went around the barn, we already had moved on better, ah, ah, uniforms, and pay wage. Everything they asked for was fair by the way. I said that publicly. What they've asked for is needed. We just didn't have the dough. And my plan was to lay it out in a multi-year thing and then bring them current for where they would be even under their program. They wouldn't go for that. Struck the city. And ah, we offered, we urged people to come back to work, they wouldn't come back to work. We told them we had to get this thing squared away, we had to pick up the garbage, keep Atlanta clean--there's even another thing, by the way. Ah, inability to manage is presumed to be a defect of Black elected officials. The polls indicate that most White Americans think that Black people in public office can't manage anyhow. To have a city with garbage piling up all over the place would hurt, as a matter of fact, the movement in Black politics, not just me personally, so after giving every kind of warning in the world, when they wouldn't return and we had to go on and replace, ah, many of the strikers--many were later rehired, by the way--but the bottom line was when I ran for re-election, I still carried 96 percent of the Black vote, and my White vote went from 25 to 31 percent. People understood that I was backed into a corner by an untenable, ill-timed, ill-planned, illegal strike, that I think many of the employees even understood was, ah, one that never should have been called. But I always had to be guided by what was best for Atlanta as a whole. And I was.