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Monthly Labor Review Online

August, 2001, Vol. 124, No. 8

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Labored Relations—Law, Politics, and the NLRB: A Memoir. By William B. Gould IV. Cambridge, MA, The MIT Press, 2000, 449 pp. $37.95.

Bill Gould has written an intensely personal, detailed memoir of his 1994–98 tenure as Chairman of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), as well as the events leading up to his confirmation. Gould, who has returned to academia as Charles A. Beardsley Professor of Law at Stanford Law School, was nominated to the Board by President Clinton in 1993 after many years as a legal scholar, an author of major works in labor law, and an impartial arbitrator. His newest book explores numerous labor-management policy issues in some detail, and devotes even more attention to the internal workings of the NLRB. Thus, while the book’s initial appeal will be to the labor-management community, it should also seize the attention of persons interested in public administration generally, those who still harbor the hope that the best and brightest can be attracted to public service. What Gould found in the process of aspiring to and serving in a responsible position at the Federal level is both startling and dismaying.

Brief introductory chapters describe the background of the National Labor Relations Act, Gould’s personal history, and events leading up to his nomination. Chapter 3 relates the course of his confirmation before the U.S. Senate. Gould learned several lessons during this painful process: for example, in the hearings, "to say as little as possible and not to answer questions directly but rather to give bland, general responses that were, in essence, non-responsive." This ran contrary to his style as an educator, but seemed less likely to elicit negative responses from his inquisitors.

Another disconcerting development was the desire on the part of some Senate opposition members to require that Board appointments be submitted in batches, in effect making the confirmation process an exercise in horse-trading. It is also troubling that Gould faced sharp challenges to his fitness to serve simply because he had dared to write about NLRA problems and possible solutions. The pool of qualified appointees to administrative posts would be seriously diminished if they had shown no intellectual curiosity about how their statutes might be improved, lest they be accused of an inability to administer the law fairly.

Succeeding chapters address initiatives advocated (and in some instances, accomplished) by Gould at the Board. These include attempts to speed case handling and the issuance of decisions. Gould worked successfully to encourage settlements through increased conciliation by administrative law judges (ALJs) and the creation of settlement ALJs. Somewhat more controversial and ultimately less successful areas were his advocacy of much greater use of postal ballots in representation elections and enhanced use of rulemaking in unit determinations and other areas. Regarding enforcement procedures, the Gould years did see a marked increase in the resort to Section 10(j) injunctions, which, generally speaking, provide for some relief before an unfair labor practice case is adjudicated. The use of 10(j) is authorized by the Board at the request of the General Counsel.

Chapter 6 outlines Gould’s involvement in the 1994 labor dispute in major league baseball (more of which later). Further chapters discuss the idea of independence of regulatory agencies from White House control or influence, and increased attempts by the Congress to question or even direct the Board’s decision making processes and results. Notably, Gould states that "Never once did I hear directly or indirectly from the White House about any matter or policy relating to adjudication or rulemaking." On the other hand, he said, "there were virtually no limits" to the intrusiveness of the Congress into many aspects of the Board’s business, including its decisions in particular cases.

A continual theme throughout the book is the dismaying friction among Board members and between the Board and the General Counsel. No doubt this is what actually happened, and the situation provides some support for Gould’s suggestion that Board members be limited to a single term (but longer than the current 5 years) in order to eliminate the internal tensions that stem from members’ strong desires to be re-appointed. But I believe the book would have been just as fine and useful if it had included somewhat less detail about "who struck John." (It should be noted, however, that the author does graciously dedicate the book "to the career civil servants of the NLRB.")

While I certainly am not one of the "boys of summer," I found the baseball chapter, "Balls and Strikes," to be very interesting and lucid. Yet, it might have benefited from more detail on the chronology of events and their specific collective bargaining aspects. Further, the book might usefully have explained for the lay reader how other agencies, such as the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (and occasionally the Department of Labor) become involved in the resolution of labor disputes.

These comments should not in any way detract from what I find to be the immeasurable value of this book, not only for those in the labor-management field but for all persons interested in how government works. Gould’s spirited defense of the independence and efficacy of administrative agencies, the NLRB in particular, could not have been more timely, nor more trenchant.


— Joy K. Reynolds
Industrial Relations Specialist,
formerly with the 
U.S. Department of Labor


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