The Last Dance

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An end, philosophers tell us, is also a beginning.

The Labor and Employment Association's 64th annual meeting at the Palmer House Hilton hotel (Palmer House lobby at left) in Chicago was the last of its kind. After more than five decades, nevermore will the annual meeting be held as part of the American Economics Association meetup in January.

Starting in June 2013 in St. Louis, a new day dawns for the Labor and Employment Relations Association's 65th Annual Meeting.

But at LERA's 64th annual meeting in Chicago, Jan. 5-8, there was still LERA business to be done, speeches to be made, awards to be awarded, workshops to be conducted, research to be presented, old friends and colleagues to be met. Attendees were not thinking about the future but rather were intensely focused on the important tasks at hand.

Highlights from the 64th Annual Meeting:

Day 1: A chock-full preconference day
Thursday (Jan. 5): The 14th Annual Doctoral Student Consortium kicked off the meeting with a panel, "Labor and New Social Movements: From Occupying Wall Street to Occupying Journals."

Organizers were Maite Tapia (Cornell, pictured below, right) and Ryan Hammond (MIT). Panelists included LERA's and UCLA's Chris Tilly, urban planning professor and director of the UCLA Institute for Research on Labor and Employment. The grad students also had sessions on tips on getting published in academic journals and advice from deans in attendance on getting on and getting ahead in the academic world.

The Doctoral Student Consortium also featured the University Council of Industrial Relations and Human Resources Programs doctoral student paper competition. MIT's Alan Benson won with his paper on the segregation of women into geographically dispersed occupations. Other student award winners were Tapia (Cornell) who was a co-winner of the Susan C. Eaton Research Grant Award. Co-winners of the Thomas A. Kochan and Stephen R. Sleigh Best Dissertation Award were Dionne Pohler (Saskatchewan) and Lu Zhang (Johns Hopkins) with Honorable Mention going to Kyoung Won Park (Case Western Reserve).

Winners of the Poster Competition were University of Illinois School of Labor and Employment Relations grad students Barcu Bolukbasi and Erik Young for their "Antecedents of Union Loyalty and Membership: The Impact of Pro-Union Attitudes, Union Instrumentality, and Procedural Justice."

Meeting up ...

Down the hall was a meeting of the National Chapter Advisory Committe chaired by two longtime LERA stalwarts: William Canak, (right) from Middle Tennessee State University; and Bonnie Castrey, an arbitrator from Huntington Beach, Calif. Chapter members discussed new opportunities for LERA chapters, including the certification initiative that will allow LERA chapters to offer certification credits to program attendees and increase attendance.

They also talked about the changes in the LERA Annual Meeting (to begin June 2013) that will closely involve local LERA Chapters in the Annual Meeting programs and events. With an entire track on the meeting devoted to chapter and practitioner workshops, chapter members are encouraged to submit the types of session proposals they would like to see on the program for consideration, and those who are interested in serving on the program committee should get in touch with Steve Sleigh or Bill Canak.

Former LERA president Marlene K. Heyser (left) chaired the grants and sponsorship committee meeting Thursday afternoon. The big news there was a webinar initiative with LERA's online think tank, the Employment Policy Research Network hooking up with longtime corporate sponsor BNA. (BNA has recently been acquired by Bloomberg.) Then, Heyser pulled a double shift, sitting in for LERA member and committee chair Ralph P. Craviso, principal of Craviso & Associates, New York, at the Development and Contributions Committee meeting.

Awards, awards, awards ...

LERA President Gordon Pavy, AFL-CIO (ret.) and past president Sheldon Friedman presented the LERA Lifetime Achievement Award to Rudy Oswald, AFL-CIO retired after 55 years of service. Below right Rudy right makes his acceptance speech among colleagues, family and friends in the Palmer House Hilton's elegant Empire Room. Oswald's union idealism showed forth undimmed: "The labor movement must do what needs to be done for America's working men and women."

Tapped as new LERA fellows were Rosemary Batt (Cornell, academic), Scot Beckenbaugh (Federal Mediation and and Conciliation Service, practitioner), Sarah Cox (AFL-CIO, practitioner), Morley Gunderson (Toronto, academic), Harry Katz (Cornell, academic) and F. Donal O'Brien (arbitrator, practitioner).

Co-winners of the John T. Dunlop Outstanding Scholar Awards were Rebecca K. Givan (Cornell, National Award) and Jesse Rothstein (Cal-Berkeley, International Award). The James G. Scovill Best International Paper Award went to Hiroshi Ono (Texas A&M).

Co-winners of the Susan C. Eaton Outstanding Scholar-Practitioner Award were Ariel Avgar, Monica Bielske Boris and Bob Bruno, all from the School of Labor and Employment Relations at the University of Illinois (pictured at left).

Daniel J.B. Mitchell (UCLA) won the Susan C. Eaton Outstanding Scholar-Practitioner Award. The Outstanding  Practitioner Award went to Stephen A. Wandner (Urban Institute).

EPRN celebrates first birthday

Thursday afternoon, another former LERA president, MIT prof Thomas A. Kochan led an ambitious three and one-half hour session on what LERA's Employment Policy Research Network had accomplished in its first year and what is to come in the new year.

LERA member and Northeastern University's Dean Barry Bluestone presented the essentials of his and Kochan's recent masterwork, "Toward a New Grand Bargain: Collaborative Approaches to Labor-Management Reform in Boston." What Bluestone described as a new "alternative model of public-sector, interest-based bargaining," includes the creation of a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation-funded academy to sponsor new age, state-of-the-art collective-bargaining workshops for all of the stakeholders in Boston's ongoing public-school contract negotiations.

Then, Brandeis Heller School dean, economist, EPRN researcher and LERA president-elect Lisa Lynch, in her discussion of the state of unemployment during the tepid recovery from the Great Recession, pointed to "an accelerating fiscal contraction and [at the same time] state and local governments cutting spending." Eschewing economic techno-speak, she described the current economic situation simply as "kinda nuts."

Lynch's perscription for a more robust economic recovery: "more juice in the system ... adding more [government] money into the recovery ... and investing in worker skills and workplace development."

Then, Cornell and LERA's Rosemary Batt reported on her preliminary explorations into the arcane world of financialization in all its leveraging, arbritraging, private-equity, hedge-fund and sovereign-debt complexity. Batt's and a companion paper by Kochan are being supported by and collaborated upon with the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research in Kalamazoo, Mich. Upjohn's Kevin Hollenbeck was in attendance at Batt's presentation.

Finally, with the clock ticking toward six Kochan finished up with a panel presenting EPRN's newest research thrust — Sustainable Entrepreneurship, which in EPRN terms means research into the public and private policies and practices entrepreneurial startups need to adopt to become major sources of good 21st century jobs. Think the Apple and Google models.  On the panel with Matt Marx (MIT) and John Haltiwanger (Maryland) was LERA's Adam Seth Litwin (Johns Hopkins, pictured above) who presented his research on job quality. The EPRN sustainable entreprenurship topic is supported by a grant from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.

Kochan complimented the EPRN researchers for a good first year of work and then quickly and urgently implored them in the new year to make "bolder employment-policy proposals. ... If we don't do it, if we don't make the case [for a new 21st century employment compact], who will?"

Day 2: Friday's heavy-duty content

Friday (Jan. 6): LERA member, U-Mass prof and panel chair Randy Albelda at 8 a.m. kicked off the panel portion of the meeting with "Still Between Work and Home: Women in Today's Labor Market." Among the presenters were LERA  members Elaine McCrate and Michael Carr, professors at the University of Vermont and U-Mass, Boston, respectively.

LERA member, editor of the Labor and Employment Law newsletter on the LERA web site, EPRN researcher and Penn State Law professor Ellen Dannin chaired a deep and wide-ranging Friday morning panel: "Giving Meaning to Work: How Conceptualizations of Work Affect Practice, Policy and Social Justice."

John Budd (left) LERA member, EPRN researcher and professor from the University of Minnesota, set a high bar for the discussion with an intro to the ideas his new book, The Thought of Work. (Editor's note: Budd has established a new blog, Whither Work?, to continue the discussions on the meaning of work begun in the book. Check it out.)

Economist Nancy Folbre, U-Mass, Amherst and New York Times Economix blogger, then discussed the economics of care work of children and the elderly. Folbre: "There is the political potential to build a high-wage low-wage coalition that improves care quality and effectiveness."

Bob Bruno, director of the University of Illinois' Labor Education Program, then led the panel through depictions of the working class, e.g., Fred Flintstone, Ralph Kramden, Robert De Niro in Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver, in television and film that elicited a spirited and at times hilarious discussion by panelists and audience alike. The serious bottom line for workers in the media in the last 50 years: They are largely ignored or treated negatively in the American media. The working class fares somewhat better in European media depictions.

Liebman reports on the National Labor Relations Board

On Friday afternoon Wilma Liebman, LERA member whose term as chair of the National Labor Relations Board ended in August 2011, was the meeting's distinguished speaker. She spoke in the Palmer House's elegant Honoré Ballroom. The title of her talk was "Rhetoric, Reaction and the Rule of Law at the NLRB." It was well-attended and well-received.

Liebman and University of Illinois School of Labor and Employment Relations Dean and Professor Joel Cutcher-Gershenfeld did a long-form interview on WILL, the university's public radio station, on Jan. 19. The show streamed live on the Internet and is available for listening or a podcast by clicking here, selecting "Jan." and scrolling down to Jan. 19.

Day 3: Saturday - LERA works on Saturday

Since we made it to the weekend, attendees got to start even earlier (!) with the traditional AFL-CIO 7 a.m. breakfast.

There's consolation in that the breakfast takes place in the Palmer's grand Empire Room that in yesteryear provided an intimate performance venue for stars of the 1940s,'50s and '60s whose large black-white portraits line the walls of the guest room hotel floors. Empire Room performers included Carol Channing, Louis Armstrong, Jimmy Durante, Sonny and Cher, George Burns, Judy Garland, Jane Russell, Liberace, Eartha Kitt, Nancy Wilson, Count Basie ... when these stars were young and beautiful (except Jimmy Durante who was never young and beautiful).

At 8 a.m., it's back to work ... more meetings and panels.

LERA's Ruth Milkman, now at City University of New York Graduate Center, pinch chaired for MIT's Paul Osterman an 8 a.m. panel, "Job Quality: Trends and Challenges." Milkman said in discussing Osterman's paper, "Career Ladders: Prospects and Challenges," that low-wage jobs "have become even more stressful in the Great Recession," and workers have few rights or much voice in their hours, many in restaurants, hotels and retail jobs. Milkman: "Employers have 100 percent flexibility. Employees have zero."

Other LERA members on the panel were Annette Bernhardt, of the National Employment Law Project; Mary Gatta (at left) of Wider Opportunities for Women with the great acronym WOW; and LERA past president Eileen Appelbaum, senior economist at the Center for Economic Policy and Research.

Gatta: "Seven of the 10 top jobs of the next decade are low-wage jobs ... For an American adult to rise out of poverty today requires a $16.10 hourly wage." (Note: The current U.S. minimum wage is $7.25.)

The highest session attendance was "The Great Debate about the Public Sector," with 109 attendees. It was chaired by David Lewin.

Another well-attended seminar was "The Impact of Sports Collective Bargaining on Labor Relations in Society." The session was organized by Gabriel Gershenfeld, a Cornell ILR grad who now works for the Cleveland Indians. On the panel were Martin Mulloy, Ford Motor Co. vice president of Labor Affairs and new LERA board member; and an attorney from the National Football League and Major League and an AFL-CIO representative.

An interested spectator in the front row was Joel Cutcher-Gershenfeld, past LERA president, dean and professor at the University of Illinois School of Labor and Employment Relations and, not incidentally, organizer Gabe's dad. Joel's parents Walter and Gladys Gershenfeld had distinguished careers as arbitrators and university educators. Walter was LERA president in 1995, Joel in 2009. This session was one of the meeting's best attended.

The EPRN session, the "Giving Meaning to Work" panel and the "Job Quality" panel (all three discussed above) had audiences of more than 50 attendees.

Being presidential

Chairing the LERA Presidential luncheon, again in the elegant Empire Room, was LERA president-elect David Lewin (at podium right), the Neil H. Jacoby Chair in Management at the UCLA Anderson School of Management.

LERA President Gordon Pavy, AFL-CIO (ret., below left) and past president Sheldon Friedman presented the LERA Lifetime Achievement Award to Rudy Oswald, AFL-CIO, retired after 55 years of service. In his award acceptance remarks, Oswald's union idealism showed forth undimmed: "The labor movement must do what needs to be done for America's working men and women."

Featured speaker Pavy (left), spoke on "Collective Bargaining Trends and the Future of Workplace Representation." He warmed to his task with some early humor: "Marx said: 'Time flies like an arrow. Fruitflies like a banana.' That's Groucho Marx, not Karl."

Pavy ended with optimism about the future: "There is still hope and life in collective bargaining. We need a new activism to turn around decades of decline. We must form new types of worker organizations. We need to include high-tech and professional workers in their short-term, serial career engagements."

Pavy chaired the Saturday afternoon panel discussing "National and Local Jobs Policy and Program Alternatives" that included LERA's and the Economic Policy Instutue's Lawrence Mishel and former New York Times columnist Bob Herbert.

Saturday evening Pavy gaveled to order the LERA General Membership Meeting and Awards Ceremony. (See above for award recipients.)

LERA Works Sundays, Too

Sunday panels started at 8 a.m. and were generally quite well attended. UCLA's, LERA's and EPRN's Daniel J.B. Mitchell chaired "The Impact of the Great Recession on Public-Sector Employment." Presenters included longtime LERA members Christian E. Weller (U-Mass, Boston), Ellen Dannin (Penn State), William M. Rodgers III (Rutgers), Keith A. Bender and John S. Heywood (both Wisconsin-Milwaukee). (Editor's note: Click here to check out William Rodgers' blog.)

At 10:15 a.m., LERA member and EPRN researcher Adrienne E. Eaton (Rutgers, at left) chaired a workshop, "Creating a Climate of Employee Voice." Presenters included LERA members Peter Berg (Michigan State), Lonnie Golden (Penn State-Abington) and Douglas Mahony (Lehigh).

And so LERA's 64th annual meeting — and an era — ended. As always, it was a good group, well met. Success, appropriately, was again the result of hard work by many: LERA officers and board, program committee, presenters and LERA staff.

See you in St. Louis — for the beginning of the new LERA era — in June 2013!