On the way to work on Wednesday, I listened to a radio report from Anderson, Ind, where firefighters are on strike for more money.
Sunday night, the roof of a downtown theater collapsed. About 23 strikers responded to that emergency, but warned they would not respond to another.
Wednesday, a "suspicious" fire broke out in a downtown building. Striking firefighters refused to respond. The fire spread through a block-long section of the downtown area. A newscaster reported that one striker, at the scene watching the blaze, said: "I don't feel a hit of guilt about this."
When I got to the office, I checked the Associated Press story. It gave an opposite impression. One striker was quoted as saying. "We're not too proud of ourselves." Another said, "This is the worst thing to happen during my career. It's horrible. My stomach is tied in knots."
Quite possibly all the quotations are accurate. Some firefighters do have a sense of guilt, some do not.
When I went through the day's mail, I found several letters about striking firefighters and policemen. Zaccheus White's was the strongest. He's flat-out opposed to labor unions for policemen, firefighters, soldiers and people in similar "public safety" positions. Most of my correspondents would permit membership in unions, but would forbid stirkes and make the firing of strikers mandatory.
One man, who asked that his name not be used because he is a city official, wrote, "The government representative who agrees to a 'no [WORD ILLEGIBLE] settlement with people who have violateda no-strike rule should himself be prosecuted and thrown out of office. Gutises department heads and ambitious politicians have hired back illegal strikers so often that it is now commonly understood that the threat of dismissal is meaningless noise."
Carl E. Holmes of Arlington raised an interesting point that had not occurred to me. He wrote:
"An Edward Bennett Williams I ain't. My knowledge of the law leaves something to be desired. So I have a question for you.
"There have recently been several illegal (according to the courts) strikes by policemen, firemen, etc.
"If I have to stand by and watch my house burn down or my store looted while the guardians are also standing by and watching, it seems to me I should have some legal recourse against the illegal strikers. Maybe I missed it somewhere, but I do not remember the problem being discussed, even in these days of class action suits. What do you think?"
What I think is of little importance. However, some extremely able lawyers tell me that you have asked an intelligent question, and that the answer to it is: It is entirely possible that suits of this kind will be filed, and that damages will be awarded.
"To win," one claimant's attorney told me, "you would have to prove a number of points: that you were damaged, that specific individuals were the cause of the damage you suffered, that those individuals acted illegally or negligently, that the damage you suffered was the direct result of these illegal and negligent acts, and son on.
"In some cases, it might be difficult to identify individual culprits. In other cases, strikers might be identifiable from newspaper or television coverage of [WORD ILLEGIBLE], and from statements made to newsmen. There might even be ones in which suits would be directed against union officials and, more important, union treasuries loaded with millions of dollars. If there is a postal strike, for example, and you can show that you suffered economic less as a result of nonperformance of duty by people forbidden by law to strike, you would have the basis for a tort action. Whether you'd win or not would depend on many factors. But if you ask whether these strikers risk being sued, the answer is: You're damn right they do."
It was also mentioned that a city or other jurisdiction that rehires illegal strikers can be sued for failing to enforce laws and/or contracts that prohibit strikes. And lawyer Harry S. Wender added the comment: "It was appropriate that your correspondent should refer to Ed Williams. Ed and his partner, Paul R. Connolly, who died about six weeks ago, were both great tort lawyers. Paul plowed a lot of new ground and opened new vistas in tort law. I'm sure that if a client had brought Paul an action of this kind he would have pursued it with the zeal and diligence that marked all his courtroom appearances."