Leading American Labor Lawyer Passes Away
Bernard Kleiman Remembered For His Achievements With The United Steelworkers

 

Bernard Kleiman, a leading American labor lawyer who was the United Steelworkers’ chief negotiator with the steel industry for many years and a close advisor to five international presidents of the union, died Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2006, of cardiac arrest.

 

Kleiman, 80, of Pittsburgh, had a distinguished 46-year career with the USW.  He was General Counsel from 1965 through 1997 and was most recently Special Counsel to the union’s international president, Leo W. Gerard.

 

He officially retired from the union this past summer, but continued to report to work and was involved in the union’s current strike against Goodyear as recently as last week.

 

“It is difficult to overstate his impact on the union,” Gerard said.

 

His role with the union was much broader than the typical duties of General Counsel. In addition to his legal work, he was a respected contract negotiator, labor strategist and counselor.

 

In essence, he was the union’s chief contract bargainer along with the USW Presidents he served over the decades, said USW Secretary-Treasurer James English.

 

He created the union’s well-respected legal department in 1965, and played a key role in the April 1974 federal Consent Decree that brought the steel industry into compliance with the Civil Rights Act. That agreement opened mill jobs to African Americans and women.

 

Kleiman was also the principal negotiator and designer of the 1973 Experimental Negotiating Agreement with the steel industry, which barred strikes in return for contract arbitration when there was a dispute.

 

The ENA was designed to persuade domestic steel users not to buy foreign imports every three years when union contracts were up for renegotiation and product stockpiling occurred.

 

The agreement was in place for nearly a decade and is credited with raising the average wage of steelworkers from $2.50 an hour to $12.50 an hour, English said.

 

When the 1980s brought a downturn in steel, he pioneered strategic approaches to bargaining that were aimed at saving the industry while preserving employment opportunities.

 

By the late 1980s and early 1990s, under the leadership of retired USW President Lynn Williams, he led the union to win contract gains in areas involving employment security, job protections from contractors, neutrality and successorship. He also helped to establish the union’s Institute for Career Development, which provides life-long learning opportunities for members of the union.

 

During his tenure as General Counsel, the union had 18 cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. The union won 13 of them and lost five. One was the Weber case, which affirmed the legality under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of affirmative action plans in employment.

 

He was known for marathon bargaining efforts and worked with companies including U.S. Steel, Newport News Shipyard, Warren Consolidated Industries, Kaiser Aluminum, Continental Tire, Bridgestone/Firestone, Goodyear Tire, International Steel Group, and many others.

 

Born in Chicago, Kleiman grew up in Kendallville, a small town in northeastern Indiana where his father was a scrap dealer. In that basketball-crazy state, Kleiman played center on his high school varsity team.

 

Kleiman enlisted in the U.S. Army after graduation from high school just after the end of World War II and served in Korea. After the service, he returned to Indiana and attended Purdue University, majoring in metallurgical engineering. He then enrolled at Northwestern University School of Law, where he was awarded a law review position.

 

In 1960, he became counsel to the Steelworkers’ former District 31 covering Illinois and Indiana. As District Counsel, he brought a successful lawsuit to force the state of Illinois to reapportion the state legislature on a one-vote basis, thereby giving urban, predominantly working-class voters a much greater voice in the election of lawmakers.

 

Word of his talents spread through the union and in 1965 he was named General Counsel of the entire union by the third International President of the union, I.W. Abel. He also served USW Presidents Lloyd McBride, Williams, George Becker and Gerard.

 

Outside of the union, he was active in the Democratic Party, the Americans for Democratic Action, and the American Civil Liberties Union. Survivors include his wife, Gloria Baime Kleiman.

 

Funeral arrangements are incomplete.