Conflict Resolution|Negotiation

Eric Schmertz Dies at 84

A reader has brought my attention an obituary that appears in today’s New York TimesEric Schmertz died on Saturday, December 18, 2010.  His life, as summarized by Dennis Hevesi for the Times, is quite a lesson for dispute resolvers.

Schmertz, a former dean of Hofstra University School of Law, help to resolve conflicts involving the Rockettes, New York City taxi drivers, Chicago firefighters, and professional baseball players.  He had the honor to have been thrown out of at least two New York City administrations on the ground that he was not sufficiently enthusiastic in his advocacy for the City during collective bargaining negotiations.

Explained Dean Schmertz, “I don’t believe in confrontational bargaining or sharp bargaining.  I believe in working with the unions as problem-solving partners.”

As a mediator he would look not just at the parties but also look around them, to appreciate the context giving rise to the dispute.  He would sit in a hospital emergency ward, or ride a fire truck, or note the prevailing wages and conditions of employment for cops in the City’s neighboring municipalities, to understand why union members sought the raises they did.

The obituary also touches upon Schmertz’ baseball ambitions, which included being offered a contract by the Pirates right out of high school, and participating in professional tryouts at the age of 61.  Better than that, though, Dean Schmertz began one of the first law school programs in the nation to focus on teaching mediation as an alternative to litigation.

His is one of those lives that make you smile.

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Eric Schmertz  1925 – 2010

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