Remembering Arvid Anderson by Tom Kochan

27 Jul 2015 8:20 AM | Mike Lillich (Administrator)

The New York Times reports that Arvid Anderson, one of the nicest, most competent, highly respected, and modest professionals in our field of labor relations died on July 22 at age 94.


I learned from Arvid first-hand many times but most directly when we taught a dispute resolution course together at Cornell and he helped me turn a complicated and controversial report on a New York State arbitration study into readable and acceptable prose.  And he did this all in the background, demonstrating to me firsthand the characteristics a preeminent professional neutral.


Arvid Anderson was one of those giants who made our post World War II system of collective bargaining work through good and bad financial times and through multiple changes in political regimes in state and municipal government.  With degrees from the University of Wisconsin in labor economics and law, he stands as another in a long list of distinguished graduates who built on the University’s tradition of public service best epitomized in “The Wisconsin Idea.” 


He helped build and chaired the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission in the early days of public sector collective bargaining.  His quiet demeanor and creative approach to resolving impasses got the attention of labor relations professionals in New York and they recruited him to be the Chair of a new institution charged with mediating and later arbitrating municipal labor disputes—the Office of Collective Bargaining.  The mere fact that, as he stated he “survived” in this role from 1968 until he decided to retire in 1987 speaks for itself.  Without a doubt this was the most visible and politically complex neutral role in public sector labor relations in the country.  


My biggest debt to Arvid came in early 1977 in that wonderful co-teaching experience that coincided with a time I was drafting a final report for New York state officials and labor leaders on our study of an experimental arbitration statute. This report would be my introduction into the world of controversial policy analysis and Arvid understood how it would be received and how inexperienced I was as drafting a document that would be so highly scrutinized.   Each week when Arvid flew up to Ithaca from New York for class I would give him a draft of some section of the report.  The next week he would return with it in hand, with penciled changes, “just suggestions” as he would always say.   None of his edits changed the content or substance of our findings or recommendations but as he would say:  “if you phrase them this way they might be more acceptable.”  This was the Arvid Anderson the mentor, teacher, and friend.


Let’s hope we can someday return to a labor relations environment that appreciates the value of neutrals with as much integrity, skill, and human decency as Arvid Anderson.

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