On April 7, 1970, road workers employed by Garrett County in Maryland went on strike in an effort to unionize. When the strike ended on November 19, 1970, the road workers had staged the longest strike by public employees in the United States. The Maryland Historical Trust has completed a new roadside marker to commemorate this historic strike in time for the fiftieth anniversary.
Len Shindel, a retired steelworker from Baltimore, pushed for the new marker and published an extensive history of the strike for the local historical society. The Baltimore Sun reported on Shindel’s research. According to Shindel, the road workers began planning to affiliate with the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) in 1969. Workers wanted higher wages, a seniority system, and overtime pay. However, two of the three Republican county commissioners strongly opposed the union. After they failed to reach a settlement with the county commissioners, the workers went on strike.
The Garrett County strike is significant not only for its length but also because it led to huge shifts in local politics in this deeply conservative county. As the strike continued into the summer, local voters grew frustrated with the unmaintained roads and the county commissioners’ decision not to negotiate with the strikers. In the end, the commissioners’ refusal to work with the strikers led voters to elect three pro-union Democrats that November. In a county that has never gone for a Democratic presidential candidate, this was a radical change. The newly-elected commissioners recognized the union and rehired all striking employees.
The Maryland Historical Trust approved the proposal for the roadside marker in 2019. The marker has recently been completed and put in storage, as the dedication ceremony was postponed due to the coronavirus outbreak. Once erected, the marker will stand along Route 135 outside Oakland.