Alumni Short

William Gould, LL.B.’61, Shares Insights from 50 Years in Labor Law

Ithaca, NEW YORK, Oct 02, 2015

On September 23, the Cornell Labor Law Clinic and the School of Industrial and Labor Relations hosted “From Automobile Workers, Athletes, to Farmworkers: Fifty Years of Labor Issues,” a presentation by William Gould, LL.B. ’61.

“It’s a great honor for us to have him back at the Law school,” said Angela B. Cornell, director of the Labor Law Clinic, in her introduction. She noted, “Not only has his scholarship been prolific and extraordinary in the field, he has also been quite an amazing practitioner and public servant.”

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Gould, the Charles A. Beardsley Professor of Law at Stanford University, is a scholar of labor and discrimination law and has been an influential voice on labor relations for decades. He served as the chair of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and consultant to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and currently serves as the chair of the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board. He has arbitrated and mediated more than 300 labor disputes and played a critical role in ending the longest strike in baseball history. He has also served as a salary arbitrator for major league sports.In the first half of Wednesday's session, Gould provided a crash course in the formation and mission of the NLRB, as well as the emergence of organized labor in the arenas of the automotive industry, professional sports, and farm work.

He began his overview as he began his career, with United Auto Workers. Gould worked with the pioneering labor union in Detroit in the 1960s, just as a system of arbitration for labor dispute resolution was getting off the ground thanks to the Steelworkers Trilogy decisions by the United States Supreme Court. Gould noted that this was also a period when labor unions were just beginning to decline in representation, particularly in mass production. In other industries, however, organized labor was ascending.

Gould expounded on the evolution of union activity in professional baseball, beginning with "the sweet summer of 1946," when Pittsburgh Pirates players first sought to unionize. He highlighted the efforts of Marvin Miller, a former steel workers' organizer who was recruited to lead the Major League Baseball Players Association and made it an incredibly strong union, forging a path for players in other sports as well. "In a way, Tom Brady has Marvin Miller to thank" for the recent reversal of his suspension, remarked Gould.

Finally, Gould addressed farm labor, from the efforts of Cesar Chavez and the rise of the United Farm Workers union in the 1960s to some of the issues he deals with currently as chair of the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board. Regarding the California Agriculture Labor Relations Act, which was designed to ameliorate delays-"the great bane of labor law"-Gould acknowledged, "Like many things in life, it hasn't worked out quite as well as it was anticipated that it would."

In the second half of the session, Gould fielded questions from the audience, touching on, among other topics, some of the nuances of labor organization in major league baseball, as well as the recent NLRB petition submitted by Northwestern University football players seeking to be recognized as employees.

The conversation took something of an elegiac turn as Gould and Professor Stewart Schwab discussed the growing disconnect between labor and employment law. Schwab expressed his fear that, unlike Gould and his cohort, "the next generation of bigwigs, or the one after that, will say 'unions?'" "We're dying off," commented Gould. "Five, ten years, we're gone."

Yet the presentation ended on an optimistic note, as Gould expressed his approval for the NLRB assembled by the Obama administration. "I have a sense that a lot of good law is being made . . . and we'll see more good work from them in the year to come."

The Labor Law Clinic provides students interested in the field of labor and employment law with the opportunity to deepen their understanding through practice. In addition to expanding their substantive knowledge of the field through a classroom component, students gain valuable experience through researching labor and employment law topics and providing advice and representation to unions.