How Carl Goldenberg breaks strikes
He has never held a union card or met a payroll. Yet for 20 years he's been settling more strikes in more industries than any other man. Here's why — when other peacemakers have failed — somebody always says, uGet Goldenberg"
AN ANCIENT EDITORIAL BROMIDE, the one that says “strikes are like wars, they do nobody any good,” has been enjoying a revival lately. Spoken by the voice of management it’s a trite chestnut; what makes it sound new and even startling is that it's now being echoed, warily but audibly, by responsible spokesmen of organized labor. For the first time they too have been saying “Strikes are getting to be more than we can afford.”
But like most platitudes, this is only half true. Some strikes, like some wars, have paid enormous dividends to the victors. Others, like other wars, have been forced on reluctant combatants by intolerable or dishonorable alternatives. If management and labor are really trying to find a substitute for strikes, they will come up against the same old question: Flow else can they settle a dispute, if neither will submit to the other's terms, except by a trial of strength?
In Canada, any earnest search for an answer to this riddle is bound to lead to a Montreal lawyer named H. Carl Goldenberg. Goldenberg has never in his life been a member of a union, nor has he ever "met a payroll” or held an executive post in business. He doesn't accept labor cases in court on behalf of either management or unions, and among lawyers he ranks as an authority not on labor law but on municipal finance. But he has probably settled, or averted, more strikes in more industries over the past twenty-odd years than any other private citizen in Canada. Nobody can tell how many, because most of them never actually happened — more often than not, Goldenberg gets a settlement before the strike begins — but in at least half a dozen cases since 1942 he has been able to end major industrial conflicts which had defied the efforts of other mediators for as long as a year.
Nothing in Goldenberg’s appearance suggests the miracle man he's supposed to be. Still boyish at fifty-four, his curly hair still brown and thick above a pink and white complexion, he looks rather like a cross between Mephistopheles and a cherub. When he takes his pipe out of his mouth to speak, which is fairly often, he seems far more like a professor about to explain some principle of economics than a tough arbitrator knocking two bitter opponents’ heads together. As for the opponents themselves, they often emerge not knowing just how Goldenberg managed to crack the stubborn nut of their dispute — “sheer force of personality,” they say, or, “we don't know how to explain it, hut Carl was the first man who could get the company (or the union, if it's a company man speaking) to hack down."
Goldenberg doesn't like talking about his methods, partly because, he says, “it's too easy to sound like a pompous ass,” and partly because he thinks the less said about them, the more likely they are to work. But from other people's accounts, and from the record of his results, it appears that his secrets are these:
• He is genuinely impartial. Far less than most men who are drawn into labor disputes has Goldenberg any personal, emotional attachment to either side; both seem to recognize
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The hotel strike embarrassed and stumped politicians for a year. Goldenberg settled it in days
• He has a talent for discerning, through the murk of confusing issues and arguments. which are the truly important and which are the minor points of difference. He then focuses on the important ones, which are usually fewer than either side has realized.
• He is a patient listener, with a good memory for detail and a firm grip on his temper, but he is capable of being sharp with either side (and sometimes with both) once he's made up his mind.
On one occasion, one of the railway unions threatened a strike against the Canadian National’s Newfoundland steamship service on the day before Queen Elizabeth was to arrive in Canada for a royal visit. Labor Minister Michael Starr appointed Goldenberg as federal mediator, after the union had refused to accept the recommendations of a conciliation board. He got the parties together, reopened negotiations, kept the talks going until thirtysix hours before the strike was due to begin: they were still deadlocked, and Goldenberg was about ready to quit.
“I’m not going to report failure to the government, gentlemen,” he told them. “Instead, I’m going to report my own formula for settlement. If you should decide that you are willing to accept it, come and see me at my house tomorrow morning.”
The next day, a Sunday, brought union and management spokesmen around to Goldenberg’s house. They signed on the terms he had suggested, and the strike never took place.
At the moment Goldenberg is arbitrator of a dispute between the Ontario HydroElectric Power Commission and its employees, thereby delaying if not yet averting a strike that has been explicitly forbidden by special act of the Ontario legislature. He got his new assignment within days of completing his report on a one-man royal commission on labor-management relations in the construction industry in Ontario, an enquiry prompted by charges that unscrupulous employers were exploiting the ignorance of immigrant workers.
But the strike that most recently put Goldenberg into the news, and revived his reputation as a miracle man of labormanagement relations, was the walkout of the Hotel and Club Employees Union at the Royal York Hotel in Toronto, “the largest hotel in the British Commonwealth” and the pride of its owner, the Canadian Pacific Railway Company.
By last April the Royal York strike had been going on for just three weeks short of one year. Of the twelve hundred hotel workers who originally went on strike about five hundred were still without jobs; supporting them for eleven months,
plus other strike expenses, had cost the union about eight hundred thousand dollars. The CPR by its own account had lost about half a million in diminished business during the strike.
For several months it had been obvious that the union was beaten. To call the strike at all had been a major error of judgment, in a time of high unemployment
and in a trade that requires no difficult skills; the union had demanded an increase of fifteen cents an hour, the company offered two and a half cents anil never went beyond it. but the real issue had little to do with wages. The real issue was job security — the company wanted the right to lay off staff with only four hours' notice, instead ot the seven days previously
required. In the end the company gave a little ground on this point, and agreed to give a week’s notice of layoff to workers with eight years' seniority.
At the time Goldenberg entered the picture. though, it looked as if no settlement at all was in prospect. The beaten union was stubbornly maintaining its picket line, and thereby keeping a lot of sensitive
guests out of the hotel, hut the CPR was holding out for what amounted to unconditional surrender. The union wanted at least the face-saving minimum of reinstatement for all workers who had gone on strike and who still wanted their jobs hack; ihe company had a black list of three dozen workers whom it flatly refused to re-employ on any terms, ever. More than a dozen attempts at mediation had failed. A three-man provincial conciliation board was able to do no more iban suggest that ihe hotel and the union make another try at settling their differences. Ontario’s Labor Minister William Warrender then intervened personally, only to hear himself described by Archie Johnstone, the union vice-president, as "a damned fool."
Ihe strike was embarrassing out of all proportion to its size, not only to Warrender but to the whole Ontario cabinet. Leslie Frost, former premier, normally lived at the Royal York when he was in Toronto; dozens of official and semiofficial functions are held there; the picket line put Toronto and provincial politicians in an intolerable dilemma. They didn't want to take sides in the strike, but no matter what they did they couldn’t help it — to cross the picket line made them antilabor, to boycott the hotel made them antimanagement, and neither side let these actions go unnoticed. Frost compromised by moving out of his Royal York suite but continuing to pay for it. Other politicians made their own individual compromises according to circumstance, meanwhile avoiding the Royal York as much as possible, but their private view' increasingly became "A plague o’ both your houses.”
This u'as the state of affairs last April when, for the second time, the Ontario government asked Carl Goldenberg to see if he could get a settlement.
To the same request six months before, Goldenberg had said no. At that time company and union were still implacably embroiled in a dozen different issues, neither showed any sign of giving ground, and Goldenberg thought an attempt to mediate would be a waste of time. In April it was different. The union was beaten and knew' it. and would settle for the barest of facesaving terms: the company, though sullenly bent on total victory, was beginning to realize what damage the strike had done to its “corporate image.” Goldenberg said he’d see what he could do, and he worked w ith both parties for about a week. 'I his in itself astonished him somewhat, because the very first day showed the two to be so bitterly opposed that he gave up hope after twelve hours of continuous negotiation. and took the train back to Montreal. Luckily he doesn't sleep very well on trains — tossing about in his berth, he got the issues sorted out in his mind and boiled them down to two or three essential points. When he got home next morning he telephoned to company and union to say "Before I report failure, I'd ask you to consider these points as I have summarized them.” Thus prompted, they agreed to reopen negotiations the following day; in five more days the strike was settled. Of the three dozen men and women it had refused to re-employ, the company took back all but five; the union, on its side, took realistic stock of the fact that two of the five were retiring anyway, one didn't care, and the other two were being dismissed for cause, which had nothing to do with the strike. The remaining points of difference caused no serious problem.
Why did Goldenberg manage to get them together when so many others had failed? One part of the answer may be just experience. He's had a lot of practice.
It was more or less by accident that he got into labor relations in the first place.
He had graduated in Arts from McGill in 1928. with a gold medal and a fellowship in economics, so when he finished his law course in 1932 (with another gold medal) he WEIS also qualified to be a lecturer in economics under his old professor. Stephen Leacock. Thjs McGill job paid twelve hundred dollars a year, which w'as double what Goldenberg earned in his first twelve months as a fledgling lawyer, so he took it. Four years later, seeking some cheap legal advice for the Canadian federation of municipalities, Montreal’s Mayor Camilien Houde asked a friend at McGill if he could recommend someone to prepare a brief to the federal government for unemployment assistance. Goldenberg was the youngest lawyer on the staff and. by his own recollection, the most hard up; also, he knew something about both economics and constitutional law. He got the assignment, prepared a brief that did help the cities to get more money from Ottawa, and as a reward was retained as the federation’s consultant. The post carried no salary, but it turned out to be a useful link in Goldenberg’s career — made
him, before long, the outstanding Canadian authority on municipal financing. In 1937 he was appointed chairman of a royal commission on the finances and administration of Winnipeg; then thirty years old. he was the youngest royal commission chairman in Canadian history. Since then, hardly a year has passed when Goldenberg hasn't been on some advisory commission to some government somewhere, from British Columbia to the West Indies.
Indirectly, his association with city government got him into the field of labor relations. Mayor Houde was plagued by a threat of strike, or rather boycott, against certain U. S. publications by the newsdealers of Montreal: he thought it would injure the tourist trade. More or less by chance, he asked Goldenberg to straighten out the dispute, and somewhat to his own surprise. Goldenberg did. It was the first demonstration of his curious talent for seeing the hard core of a dispute, and breaking it up.
This triumph may have had something to do with the selection of Goldenberg, in 1940. to head an arbitration board in the Quebec women's garment industry. Goldenberg worked out a model agreement which, under Quebec’s Collective Labor Agreements Fxtension Act. then became the law binding the whole industry in the province — it is still the foundation of the agreement now in force. Goldenberg became permanent arbitrator to settle disputes within the industry. Some years later he assumed the same job for the men> garment industry in Quebec, so that -.
in effect a kind of supreme court for Quebec'r clothing manufacturers and workers. The industry, which used to be constantly torn by bitter and violent strikes, has trundled along peacefully for years, with fewer and fewer cases even requiring arbitration.
Bat meanwhile, a single twenty-fourhour exploit of mediation had put Goldenberg on the nation's front pages, and started the legend of Goldenberg the Miracle Man. This was the Montreal Tramways Company strike of April 1943.
Viewed from this distance in time, the Montreal Tramways strike looks trivial enough. The issue was recognition of the union that truly represented the men. which in this case was the Canadian Brotherhood of Railways Employees. The company had tried to head off the CBRE's organizing drive under a preposterous contract with the self-perpetuating executive of a tame company union: the men. naturally furious at this shyster's trick, instantly walked off their jobs. In peacetime, the whole thing would have attracted no notice outside Montreal. But this was 1943. Essential war industries would be crippled if Montreal trams stopped taking the workers to the plants; the tramways, along with other ancillary war services, had been brought under the Industrial Disputes Investigation Act and thereby prohibited from striking without the elaborate preliminares that must precede a rail strike. Moreover the whole situation between labor and management was tense all over Canada, as government tried to keep prices and wages under control while also keeping all the wheels turning. Many people feared that toleration of an illegal strike, even if the illegality were technical, might lead cither to chaos and paralysis of war industries, or to destruction of the pricewage control system.
Goldenberg was then engaged in a war job in Ottawa, director of economics for the department of munitions and supply. C. D. Howe, his boss, suggested to Labor Minister Humphrey Mitchell that Goldenberg might be a good man to settle the tramways strike. The tram operators stopped work on a Sunday, Goldenberg arrived in Montreal on Monday, and on Tuesday morning before daylight, the men were back on the job. This time it wasn't a compromise settlement but a clear victory for the union — Goldenberg perceived at once that whatever the fine print of the law' might say. the company had no case and the men were in the right. He so reported to Ottawa, suggesting that if the three socalled "negotiators" from the tramways company’s tame union were replaced by three men from the CBRE, the strike w'ould end. They were, and it did. Later. Labor Minister Mitchell ordered a vote of the tramway workers; the CBRE got more than ninety percent of the votes cast, and has been the tram workers’ bargaining agent ever since. The fears of what might follow the success of an “illegal strike" turned out to be groundless.
Perhaps because it won the confidence of labor without losing the confidence of management or of government, the Montreal tramways settlement made Goldenberg a nationally recognized authority on strikes and their settlement. Since then he has worked on many disputes, mostly in the clothing industry but also on some notable struggles elsewhere. In 1956 he settled a dipping strike that threatened to tie up the Great Lakes. In 1957 he chaired a provincial royal commission in British Columbia that ended a sixteen-week deadlock between plumbers and electricians and the construction industry. When he was named arbitrator of the Ontario hydro commission dispute, a union leader said. “We don't want arbitration, but if we have ito have it I’m glad it's Goldenberg."
This approval is by no means unanimous. especially in the ranks of labor. Dennis McDermott of the United Auto Workers put the case against intervenors of the Goldenberg tv pe: "We don't feel that outside mediators or arbitrators are the answer to labor strife. I don't see what they have to contribute. It’s part of a trend to compulsory arbitration, and I'm damned if I'll submit willingly to compulsory arbitration in the present industrial climate. What people don’t realize is that the heart of collective bargaining is the small local issue. Arbitrators don't want to be both-
ered with this, they want to settle the big points and get out."
One of the things that makes Goldenberg such a good arbitrator is that he'd be inclined to agree with this criticism. He too is aware of the "small local issue” and its importance, and he is a constant preacher of more contact between labor and management.
“They shouldn’t meet only for contract negotiation, or to wrangle over disputes." he says. "They should meet when the atmosphere is not highly charged, when there are no particular differences to dis-
cuss. They should get together about mutual problems on which there’s no controversy. Labor could learn some of the difficulties of keeping a business going, and management could get an idea what it’s like to live on a small pay packet. Anyway. they'd know each other better, get to understand each other’s thinking. And this might remove one of the worst obstacles to agreement between management and labor — that element of nasty surprise that so often comes up. on one side or the other and sometimes on both, when they start to renegotiate a contract." ★