Academic journal article St. John's Law Review

Keynote Address: The Moral Dimension of Employment Dispute Resolution

Academic journal article St. John's Law Review

Keynote Address: The Moral Dimension of Employment Dispute Resolution

Article excerpt

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Dispute resolution may be viewed from the perspective of economics or negotiation or contract law or game theory or even military strategy. In this Article, I should like to consider employment dispute resolution in particular from the perspective of morality. I do not necessarily mean "morality" in any religious sense. By "morality" here I mean a concern about the inherent dignity and worth of every human being and the way each one should be treated by society. Some persons who best exemplify that attitude would style themselves secular humanists. Nonetheless, over the centuries religions across the globe have played a significant role in dispute resolution (as well as at times, regrettably, dispute provocation). My hunch is that even now many individuals have had their interest triggered in employment issues generally, and employment dispute resolution in particular, by the moral teachings of one religion or another. I am going to precede my broader remarks with a personal recital of what brought me into the world of labor and employment relations and dispute resolution. I hope my account will resonate in different ways with the experiences of many readers. My impression is that, like cancer researchers and classical musicians, many if not most persons are drawn to the labor and employment field for reasons of principle and not primarily for personal material gain.

My father owned a music store and a radio station, and was president of the local board of trade in a small town in northern Vermont, St. Albans, population 8,000. One might say he was a big frog in an extremely tiny puddle. In any event, he overextended himself during the Great Depression and lost everything. For me, sensing my own lack of business skills, it provided a harsh but simple lesson: Steer clear of anything having to do with entrepreneurship. I resolved to become a professional person, a corporate lawyer on Wall Street, and make $100,000 a year (we are talking 1940s' dollars). But then I went to Fordham College in New York City and fell into the clutches of the Jesuits.

I still vividly remember the day this earnest, even zealous, young Jesuit walked into class and distributed a mimeographed sheet. It had three columns. In the first column were excerpts from the social encyclicals of Popes Leo XIII and Pius XI. In the second were excerpts from the speeches of Walter Reuther, the fiery liberal President of the United Auto Workers. The third column contained statements by the then-President of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The Popes and Walter Reuther could have had the same ghostwriter. The Chamber President had a somewhat different take on matters. I sat there stunned, struck by a lightning bolt-somewhat like Saul on the road to Damascus. I was headed in the wrong direction. Instead, I would have to become a lawyer for a union like Walter Reuther's. Later, I like to think I became more open-minded and realized that labor organizations were essentially a means to an even nobler end-the representation of workers' interests in dealing with management and peacefully resolving disputes. For a while I did represent labor unions, primarily the AFL-CIO itself. But eventually I became a labor arbitrator, in addition to my day job as a labor and employment law professor.

Here I am first going to take a quick tour of some of the world's great texts, sacred and profane, on dispute resolution, especially through methods chosen by the parties themselves. Then I shall look at a few of the systems that have been created across the globe to settle employment disputes, and what they may have to teach us about the most appropriate procedures. Because so many courts or public tribunals around the world have become overwhelmed by the volume of today's litigation, much of my emphasis will be on alternative dispute resolution ("ADR"). Finally, I should like to venture a few thoughts on what I consider one of the profound, persisting problems in the world of work, as a prime example of the sort of basic human conflict that we must devise a means to resolve, or perhaps risk the very survival of our species. …

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