Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Ernest F. Schalk, January 5, 1998

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries
Transcript
Toggle Index/Transcript View Switch.
Index
Search this Index
X
00:00:02 - Background in organized labor

Play segment

Partial Transcript: My name is Lee Dew. It is January the 5th, 1998, and I am talking with Ernest Schalk of Owensboro.

Segment Synopsis: Schalk describes his background in organized labor and labor unions. He became involved in 1964 with the Upholsters International Union when he was working for Murphy Miller Chair Company. He worked in the furniture industry for his entire working life. He describes how the relationships between employers and employees have changed since the 1950s.

Keywords: Factories; Labor unions; Manufacturing; Organized labor; Owensboro (Ky.)

Subjects: Factories; Labor unions; Owensboro (Ky.)

00:03:49 - Economic changes in Owensboro, Kentucky

Play segment

Partial Transcript: The '50s, and particularly the late '50s and early '60s, were a, a period of real economic, uh, boom times in Owensboro.

Segment Synopsis: Schalk discusses the economic changes in Owensboro from the 1950s to the 1990s. He describes how there was an economic boom in the in the 1950s and 1960s but the 1980s brought a number of layoffs. His union had about 700-800 members but it dropped to 163 during the 1980s. In 1998, they had grown back up to 220.

Keywords: Employees; Factories; Labor Unions; Manufacturing; Organized labor; Owensboro (Ky.)

Subjects: Factories; Labor Unions; Owensboro (Ky.)

00:07:30 - Arguments of labor unions

Play segment

Partial Transcript: What kind of arguments did you use when you were doing the organizing drive?

Segment Synopsis: Schalk talks about how he convinced people at the Murphy-Miller Furniture Company to join a labor union.

Keywords: Benefits packages; Factories; Labor unions; Manufacturing; Murphy-Miller Furniture Company; Organized labor; Organizing drives; Owensboro (Ky.); Salaries; Wages

Subjects: Factories; Labor unions; Owensboro (Ky.)

00:10:41 - Settlement of labor disputes

Play segment

Partial Transcript: Were you always able to settle your disputes with the company through negotiation?

Segment Synopsis: Schalk discusses how successful settlements were between unions and companies. He estimates that around 95% of disputes were resolved through the legal grievance process.

Keywords: Factories; Labor unions; Manufacturing; Organized labor; Organizing drives; Owensboro (Ky.); Settlements

Subjects: Factories; Labor unions; Owensboro (Ky.)

00:11:37 - Owensboro's attitude toward organized labor

Play segment

Partial Transcript: Would you say that Owensboro is a labor-friendly town?

Segment Synopsis: Schalk does not believe that Owensboro is a labor friendly town. He says that many influential industrialists actively attempt to keep high-paying jobs out of Owensboro in order to keep costs and wages low. He blames GE and Texas Gas Company for this.

Keywords: Factories; General Electric (GE); Labor unions; Manufacturing; Organized labor; Organizing drives; Owensboro (Ky.); Settlements; Texas Gas Company

Subjects: Factories; Industrialism; Labor unions; Owensboro (Ky.)

00:16:02 - Labor strikes in Owensboro

Play segment

Partial Transcript: There have been a couple of rather spectacular strikes in Owensboro in the '70s that, uh, said a lot about, I think, the relationship between organized labor and the community.

Segment Synopsis: Schalk describes the Pinkerton Tobacco strike and the Messenger-Inquirer strike. He says that he is much more familiar with the Messenger-Inquirer strike. He said that there was a little violence during the Pinkerton strike. He attributes it to the company bringing in outside salesman from out of state which caused the violence. There was no violence in the Messenger-Inquiry strike. They disputed over the creation of a labor contract. The Messenger-Inquirer would not bargain in good faith. They were on strike for eighteen months.

Keywords: Factories; Labor strikes; Labor unions; Manufacturing; Messenger Inquirer strike; Organized labor; Owensboro (Ky.); Pinkerton tobacco strike

Subjects: Factories; Labor strikes; Labor unions; Manufacturing; Organized labor; Owensboro (Ky.)

00:20:48 - Erosion of organized labor / United Mine Workers of America

Play segment

Partial Transcript: Yeah, the, uh, the, the erosion of organized labor has been profound, hasn't it?

Segment Synopsis: Schalk describes the decrease in organized labor. He blames the use of factory robots for taking jobs where people once worked. He also tells about the Green Coal Company in Daviess County. The owner, Bob Green, was very much against unions but made his employees happy. Therefore, there was no need for the UMWA.

Keywords: Coal mining; Daviess County (Ky.); Factories; Green Coal Company; Labor unions; Manufacturing; Organized labor; Organizing drives; Owensboro (Ky.); United Mine Workers of America (UMWA)

Subjects: Coal mines and mining; Factories; Labor unions; Owensboro (Ky.); United Mine Workers of America

00:28:02 - Thoughts on Bill Elmer and Irvin Carroll

Play segment

Partial Transcript: Uh, let me toss some names out at you, uh, that are big names in this period of Owensboro's history.

Segment Synopsis: Schalk describes Bill Elmer and Irvin Carroll. He did not know Bill Elmer and had no dealings with Texas Gas Company. He did know Mayor Irvin Carroll very well. He says that he was a very genuine and respectable man that was well-liked by most people.

Keywords: Bill Elmer; Irvin Carroll; Labor unions; Local government; Organized labor; Owensboro (Ky.); Texas Gas Company

Subjects: Kentucky--Politics and government; Labor unions; Owensboro (Ky.); Politicians--Kentucky

00:32:36 - Political parties in Owensboro

Play segment

Partial Transcript: Well it's certainly no secret to me.

Segment Synopsis: Schalk discusses the political party preferences of Owensboro. He believes that the Democratic Party represents his beliefs and the beliefs of labor unions well. Most of Owensboro's political history was dominated by Democrats until the 1970s. By the 1990s the Republican party controlled the local government. He believes that because there have been Democrats that ran on conservative platforms that the people voted for the Republicans.

Keywords: Daviess County (Ky.); Democratic Party; Labor unions; Organized labor; Owensboro (Ky.); Republican Party

Subjects: Democratic Party; Kentucky--Politics and government; Labor unions; Owensboro (Ky.); Republican Party

00:38:20 - Thoughts on Dick Moore

Play segment

Partial Transcript: I was, uh--not last year but the year before, during the, the council commission elections, I was down at, uh, at English Park for the Labor Day picnic...

Segment Synopsis: Schalk explains why he believes Dick Moore was able to gain so much blue collar support. He states that people liked him because he took on the establishment politicians to promote a more populist agenda.

Keywords: Daviess County (Ky.); Dick Moore; Owensboro (Ky.); Politics

Subjects: Kentucky--Politics and government; Owensboro (Ky.); Politics and culture

00:41:54 - Alienation between Owensboro population and leadership

Play segment

Partial Transcript: Why has such an alienation developed between a large group of the, a large group of the city's population and its leadership?

Segment Synopsis: Schalk discusses the causes for the alienation between the people of Daviess County and its leadership. He says that people do not trust the government because they created an increase on the payroll tax and the creation of a bond issue.

Keywords: Local government; Owensboro (Ky.)

Subjects: Daviess County; Daviess County (Ky.); Kentucky--Politics and government; Owensboro (Ky.)

00:45:57 - Thoughts on former mayor David Adkisson

Play segment

Partial Transcript: David Adkisson.

Segment Synopsis: Schalk tells of his relationship with David Adkisson, who was a former mayor. He says that Adkisson was not seen as a friend of labor. He alienated the lower classes because it was perceived he took money out of the funds for low income housing. When he ran for Congress, he looked too much like a Republican which Schalk says led to his loss.

Keywords: David Adkisson; Owensboro (Ky.)

Subjects: Kentucky--Politics and government; Owensboro (Ky.); Politicians--Kentucky

00:55:21 - Thoughts on J.R. Miller

Play segment

Partial Transcript: Let me, let me toss another name at you, one that, one that's already come up in this interview.

Segment Synopsis: Schalk says that he knew J.R. Miller for many years before he was mayor. He says that he was a very powerful Democrat in the state of Kentucky; Schalk describes him as a "no-nonsense" person. He says that he was always prepared. He was responsible for much of the economic growth of Owensboro.

Keywords: J.R. Miller; Owensboro (Ky.)

Subjects: Kentucky--Politics and government; Owensboro (Ky.); Politicians--Kentucky

00:59:49 - Thoughts on Morton Holbrook

Play segment

Partial Transcript: I don't know what direct contact you may have had with this individual but, uh, but I'm going to be talking with him tomorrow about a variety of things and I'd like your, your take on him, and that's Morton Holbrook.

Segment Synopsis: Schalk describes Morton Holbrook as selfless when it comes to higher education and workers compensation. He says that Holbrook has done great service for Kentucky and Owensboro. He says that the Owensboro Community College has given the opportunity for many people who had no previous opportunity to better themselves.

Keywords: Education; Morton Holbrook; Owensboro (Ky.)

Subjects: Education; Kentucky--Politics and government; Owensboro (Ky.); Politicians--Kentucky

01:04:09 - Thoughts on Waitman Taylor

Play segment

Partial Transcript: Let's talk about some other folks, and get back into, to well-known names and, and names that, that, that have played a major role in, in our community and Waitman Taylor is one of these.

Segment Synopsis: Schalk describes Waitman Taylor as the first Republican to be elected to the position of mayor in Owensboro. He says that Taylor was an employee of GE. He says that he was hard working, committed, and respected. He was willing to compromise and listen to other sides.

Keywords: Owensboro (Ky.); Waitman Taylor

Subjects: Kentucky--Politics and government; Owensboro (Ky.); Politicians--Kentucky

01:08:15 - Thoughts on Berkley Davis / Community involvement

Play segment

Partial Transcript: The guy who probably did more to, to start Waitman on his--down the path of public service was Berkley Davis, who is Waitman's cousin.

Segment Synopsis: Schalk did not know Berkley Davis but he did know of him. He also describes why he believes industries do not get involved in the community. He attributes it to a growing sense of individualism. He says that everyone is competing against one another and it hurts the community.

Keywords: Berkley Davis; Owensboro (Ky.)

Subjects: Kentucky--Politics and government; Owensboro (Ky.); Politicians--Kentucky

01:12:17 - Thoughts on the Messenger-Inquirer

Play segment

Partial Transcript: Let's talk for a minute about the Messenger and Inquirer.

Segment Synopsis: Schalk discusses his relationship with the former staff of the Owensboro newspaper, the Messenger-Inquirer. He also discusses his opinion on the biases of the paper. He believes that they did not cover many events and people in Owensboro when they should have. He also believes that they were not supportive of organized labor.

Keywords: David Boeyka; Free press; Labor movement; Lawrence Hager; Messenger-Inquirer; Owensboro (Ky.)

Subjects: Newspapers--Kentucky.; Owensboro (Ky)

01:17:36 - Wish for the community / Future of organized labor

Play segment

Partial Transcript: If you could have one wish for this community, for its improvement or its betterment, what would that wish be?

Segment Synopsis: Schalk discusses his wishes for Daviess County's future. He wants more access to higher education, a better economic situation for the bottom 20% of citizens, and a collective bargaining agreement. He believes that the situation of organized labor is getting better in the area, although several employers have lowered wages and cut employees who were close to retirement.

Keywords: Collective bargaining; Economy; Higher education; Labor unions; Organized labor; Owensboro (Ky.)

Subjects: Collective bargaining; Daviess County; Daviess County (Ky.); Labor unions; Owensboro (Ky.)

01:24:25 - Racism in Owensboro / Decline in sense of community

Play segment

Partial Transcript: You've used a word several times this morning that, uh, we, we haven't gotten into directly, but it, it is a theme which, uh, is, is--plays out here, um, whenever you talk about Owensboro and that is racism.

Segment Synopsis: Schalk discusses racism within the Owensboro community. He says that it was very prevalent in the area, but labor unions had anti-discrimination clauses in their constitutions. It still occurred, but labor unions were much more tolerant than the rest of the community. He also discusses the fragmentation of community and how people categorize and separate themselves. He sees that people are more split and polarized than they used to be when it comes to politics and there are no relationships and no compromise.

Keywords: Labor unions; Owensboro (Ky.); Partisanship; Racism

Subjects: Labor unions; Owensboro (Ky.); Partisanship; Racism