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Archive for May 27th, 2007

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An obituary for Sam Kagel appeared in today’s San Francisco Chronicle which brought to mind an interesting meeting which featured Kagel, Paul St. Sure and Jeff Cohelan.

In 1956 or ’57 my then father-in-law, Richard Flambert, a consultant in the food service industry, conducted a twelve session course at the UC Extension on food service management. The first eleven sessions were either conducted by Flambert or a single guest speaker, people prominent in the local industry, on various management issues from restaurant design to advertising to menu design and so on. The final meeting was a panel discussion on labor relations. The panel was made up of the three individuals mentioned above.

At the time Sam Kagel was a federal arbitrator and mediator – I should have said the federal arbitrator. He was widely and deeply respected by all sides of such controversies and negotiations. Kagel was a close friend of Harry Bridges. His labor career dated back to the 1934 Maritime Strike (which led to the General Strike).

Jeff Cohelan was secretary-treasurer of the Milk Drivers and Dairy Employees, Local 302, Alameda and Contra Costa Counties, a position he gave up when elected to Congress in 1958.

Paul St. Sure was president and chief negotiator for the Pacific Maritime Association, elected chairman of the Board in 1965. His career also dated back to the Maritime Strike but he was on the other side, a negotiator for the PMA.

Each panelist spoke for five or ten minutes and then all three were to respond to written questions from the class attendees.

Kagel talked about labor-management relations had matured over the years, the necessary tensions between them and how resolution of conflicts generally advanced both parties, and so on and on – about what you would have expected.

Cohelan’s talk was a bit surprising, especially for the class members. He talked about what his union went through before making wage and fringe benefit and work rules demands. He said before they would ask for a nickel raise they would estimate what that would do to the local dairies – how many dairies would be driven from business, how many would reduce staff, what would happen to the price of milk, how many workers in both the industry and outside of it, would be unemployed as a result and so forth. (Remember, Cohelan was a graduate of the UC School of Economics and Oxford.). They would then adjust their demands and see what that would do.  It was very impressive to say the least.

The biggest surprise was St. Sure’s presentation. He talked about how the rise of trade unions was a good thing for management, that it made better managers because they could no longer cover their weaknesses by making up for them at the expense of their workers. We were all stunned by this statement coming from this speaker.

Now it was time for questions from the class which were written out on three by five cards, addressed to a specific panelist or to the group as a whole, collected by me and given to M.C. Flambert, who read them aloud. Most of the class members were owner-operators of small restaurants, some little better than greasy-spoons – a tough, hard bitten lot. Most of the questions were thinly veiled pleas for the respondent to say something negative about unions and all went unsatisfied in that regard.

Finally, there was a question addressed to Jeff Cohelan: “What is the philosophy of the American trade union movement?” I guess the questioner wanted him to beat his breast and say “Oh, we’re all clandestine Communists trying to subvert American free enterprise and the US Government.”

Cohelan replied: “I am unaware of any philosophy held by the American trade union movement, unless it is what Eugene V. Debs said: ‘MORE!’”

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