|In 1970, while arbitrating a dispute over firefighter workloads, Mr. Schmertz rode along on firetrucks in Harlem. (Michael Evans/ New York Times)|
Eric J. Schmertz; mediator settled many labor disputes
NEW YORK — Eric J. Schmertz, who as one of the nation’s most relied-upon labor peacemakers helped resolve thousands of labor disputes, died last Saturday at his home in Mount Kisco, N.Y. A former dean of the Hofstra University School of Law, he was 84.
In a nearly 50-year career, Mr. Schmertz also helped end strikes by firefighters in New York City and Chicago, mediated a contract for Connecticut state employees in 1986, and helped settle the 1991 strike by New York sanitation workers.
Mr. Schmertz negotiated a contract that ended a weeklong strike by the Rockettes in 1967, granting the 49 dancers at Radio City Music Hall a 15 percent raise on wages ranging from $99 to $125 a week. Two years later, he negotiated a contract that ended a strike by more than 2,000 cab drivers.
Mr. Schmertz did not simply sit at the bargaining table. “To understand labor wrangles, he has ridden firetrucks in Harlem, strode the halls of a hospital emergency ward, sat in the cockpit of a two-engine trainer aircraft,’’ The Wall Street Journal wrote of him in 1990.
Five years ago, Mr. Schmertz was chairman of an arbitration panel that awarded a 10 percent raise to New York police officers.
Mr. Schmertz served in the city’s Office of Collective Bargaining under Mayor John V. Lindsay, as director of the New York State Board of Mediation under Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller, and on the New York State Public Employment Relations Board under Governor Mario M. Cuomo.
He had been one of three impartial members of the city’s bargaining board for 15 years when, in 1982, Mayor Edward I. Koch refused to reappoint him. Koch said he forced Mr. Schmertz out because he believed that he had favored the unions over the city.
“I believe in working with the unions as problem-solving partners,’’ Mr. Schmertz once said. “I don’t believe in confrontational or devious bargaining.’’
Eric Joseph Schmertz grew up in New Rochelle, N.Y. His first ambition was to become a diplomat, though he might have been an infielder with the
But after graduating from high school in 1943 he joined the Navy and served in the Pacific. After the war, while taking law classes at New York University, he worked for labor unions. He received his law degree in 1952 and opened a private practice specializing in labor relations.
In 1982, Mr. Schmertz was named dean of the Hofstra law school, where he had been a professor since its establishment 12 years earlier. As dean, he began one of the first law school programs in the nation to focus on teaching mediation as an alternative to litigation.
He never quite gave up on his early baseball dreams. In 1987, when tryouts were held at Hofstra for ballplayers seeking a last chance to prove they could play professionally, Mr. Schmertz, then 61, showed up and hit nearly every pitch.
Although he would never play professionally, Mr. Schmertz had already made his mark on the game. In 1975, he awarded $114,500 to Ralph Garr of the
“They threw me out after that,’’ he jokingly said, speaking of the owners. “Now look at what players are getting.’’