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Jax Daily Record Monday, Jun. 22, 201512:00 PM EST

50 years ago: Union protest shuts down Jacksonville's port

by: Max Marbut Associate Editor

Jacksonville Port Authority and Auchter Co. officials were seeking a court injunction against pickets who were protesting the use of non-union labor by Diamond Construction Co.

The union action was taking place at sites where the Savannah-based company was working on four contracts, including three publicly funded jobs.

One of the public contracts was at Talleyrand Docks and Terminals where longshoremen who were not employed by Diamond refused to cross picket lines, stopping work on three ships.

“We have asked the National Labor Relations Board to investigate the situation here,” said Otto Bowden, attorney for the authority and for Auchter.

“We feel their investigators will find that an illegal secondary boycott exists, and therefore, a court injunction (against the pickets) is in order,” he said.

The action was aimed at the Northeast Florida Building and Construction Trades Council, which was protesting the use of non-union workers on the job sites.

John Bowden, union president, said his members were not asking anyone to stop work or to go on strike.

“Our men are carrying information signs letting the public know that Diamond employs no members of our council,” Bowden said. “If union men refuse to work after being told this, that’s their business.”

Diamond was awarded a contract to build a $1.7 million terminal at Talleyrand in spite of threats from Bowden, who accused the construction company of paying substandard wages and hiring out-of-state workers.

The pickets also stopped some of the construction at the Gulf Life Center (now Riverplace Tower), which was being built Downtown along the Southbank.

Employees of Auchter, the prime contractor, refused to cross picket lines.

Diamond’s employees, who were not members of the council, ignored the pickets and went to work.

Work also continued at the other two Diamond jobs: the high-level bridge over the Intracoastal Waterway along Atlantic Boulevard and the foundation of the Commodore’s Point Bridge (later named the Hart Bridge).

The construction union wasn’t the only one causing issues for the port authority this week in 1965.

Seventeen ships were idled when Jacksonville Local 24, International Organization of Masters, Mates and Pilots, went out on strike.

Members of the local joined others at East Coast ports who walked out in a dispute over whether an additional officer was needed aboard ships to provide relief. Other seafarers’ unions, including radio operators and engineers, were honoring the strike.

All but one of the idled vessels were fuel oil tankers. The exception was the Moremacland, which had in its hold 60 tons of South African lobster tails valued at $700,000.

With the ship’s generators and machinery abandoned by the union workers, arrangements were made to run a 60-foot city electric line from shore to the freighter to maintain onboard refrigeration.

• Gov. Haydon Burns, former mayor of Jacksonville, used the term “ridiculous” to describe rumors he planned to suspend Duval County Sheriff Dale Carson.

Burns said he was contacted by a Jacksonville television station in regard to the alleged rumor that he was going to remove Carson as soon as the Legislature adjourned.

“My answer was one word, ‘ridiculous,’” he said.

When he learned another television station reported his denial of the rumor, Burns added to his response.

“I think that giving publicity to such an unfounded statement is the cheapest type of journalism and certainly cannot be taken as a compliment to the writer and the news media represented.

“Sheriff Carson and I have been personal friends, political allies and in every regard have worked in harmony, both when I served as mayor of Jacksonville and now in my capacity as governor,” said Burns.

Carson was called to Tallahassee immediately after Burns took office as governor and was presented with a report of an investigation into illegal acts allegedly perpetrated by members of the sheriff’s department.

The report and an investigation made by the sheriff led to the arrest of two Duval County Patrol officers on charges of breaking and entering.

There were reports that Carson might be suspended, but Burns said the investigation was not of the sheriff’s office but of the incidents that led to the arrests.

• Teachers in Jacksonville’s Project Head Start weren’t faring as well in terms of pay as their counterparts in the New York program.

The 35 teachers conducting the local school readiness classes for preschoolers were paid $3.25 an hour — $140 per week for 40 hours with no overtime allowed.

Teachers in New York were being paid $200 a week for 25 hours of instructing youngsters from impoverished families. The pay was the highest in the nation for Head Start teachers. The federal government provided 90 percent of the financing for the new eight-week summer program.

Officials from the federal Office of Economic Opportunity said they attempted to have the New York salaries reduced, but the rate of $8 to $9.20 an hour was approved by city planners who insisted on that pay scale.

Gordon Bunch, executive director of Greater Jacksonville Economic Opportunity, which administered Head Start locally, said $3.25 an hour was the “going rate” for teachers in the area.

• City Council put off until Aug. 23 consideration of three measures intended to improve safety conditions in large, public buildings.

City Supervisor of Buildings H. R. Oatman, appearing before a council committee, said the delay would mean “much more time that that many buildings are exposed to certain hazards of fire.”

The changes would amend the city building, electrical and fire codes. The proposed amendments were brought about by a study conducted after the disastrous fire at the Roosevelt Hotel, which on Dec. 29, 1963, resulted in the deaths of 22 people. It remains the most fatal fire in Jacksonville history.

The bills were introduced May 11 and then action was deferred for study. Robert Thal, interim chairman of a committee of Realtors, building owners and property managers, asked for the additional delay.

He said that would allow the committee to further study the effects the bills might have on owners of large buildings such as hotels, office buildings and other structures where large numbers of people gathered.

• A man wanted on a governor’s warrant from Mississippi ran from the courtroom of Justice of the Peace Dorcas Drake and then escaped in a hail of gunfire.

John Robert Edwards, 25, was not apprehended. He was believed to be in the Fairfield area. Immediately following his flight, he was seen running into and out of several houses, Drake said.

Edwards was wanted on seven felony charges in Mississippi, including breaking and entering and grand larceny.

When he was arrested in March in Jacksonville on a fugitive warrant, Edwards was arraigned by Drake.

She instructed him to report to her office every 30 days until a governor’s warrant arrived or the charges were dismissed.

Edwards was reporting for the third time when Drake told him the warrant had arrived. She said he asked to go out to a car and tell a companion that he would not be leaving but would have to go back to jail and await extradition.

Drake allowed him to return to the car, accompanied by Deputy Constable Dudley Bragg. When the car left, Edwards and Bragg went back inside the court.

Bragg said Edwards suddenly turned and ran onto East First Street. Bragg chased the man and fired several shots, but soon lost sight of the fugitive.

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