San Francisco telephone operators voted 590-1 on May 3, 1907 to strike Pacific Telephone and Telegraph. The operators were protesting increased workloads and shortened lunch breaks, and they demanded union recognition from PT&T.
The strike forced San Franciscans to take a fresh look at these women workers. A Chronicle columnist noted, “She has been taught the rudiments of the picket game…. She is a power to be treated with.”
The operators, sometimes called “hello girls,” hoped that PT&T linemen would support them with a sympathy strike. The linemen of IBEW Local 151 donated a large sum of money to the operators’ strike fund, but IBEW International leaders prohibited them from joining the strike, fearing a strike might jeopardize the IBEW’s existing labor agreements at PT&T in several states. A month later, Local 151 defied the International and went on strike anyway.
The International revoked Local 151’s charter and created Local 564 to supply workers to PT&T. Undaunted, Local 151 pressed ahead with the sympathy strike, but some linemen began returning to the company under the cover of the new Local 564. The linemen no longer had the unity and power to significantly aid the telephone operators’ strike.
The operators strike collapsed in early August. When the “hello girls” applied to get their old jobs back, they were humiliated by managers who pressed them for information about their connection to the union. Many of the “hello girls” were never rehired. The operators union, as well as IBEW Local 151, were defeated. But both the operators and the linemen would make dramatic comebacks in the coming decade.