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Arbitrating Through Inequality
A retired attorney’s debut memoir is a tale of how one woman broke through the glass ceiling of inequality. words by Sandra Smith Gangle Author’s Note: Often, when I tell people I am an arbitrator, they bombard me with questions. “What does that mean?” “Are you a counselor? A mediator?” I have even been asked whether I “meditate in a particular religion.” Once, I was even asked if I “prescribe medication” as part of my work. The short answer is that an arbitrator is more like a judge than any of those other professionals. I am a labor arbitrator, which means I am neutral and impartial in labor relations matters. I am not biased in favor of either unions or management and I am knowledgeable in collective bargaining law. I apply labor contract language, like just cause, to resolving workplace disputes. My passion was always to arbitrate cases in which the law of the case had been enacted through a democratic negotiation process, that is similar to a public law that is enacted by elected legislators. But the development of those laws, many times, was dominated by one sex over the other, which is why I enjoy talking to those interested in my personal trajectory as an arbitrator, because it was ultimately a career heavily dominated by White males. My passion in writing my book, Madam Arbitrator, was to inspire other women and persons of color to choose to follow my road map to a great career as a legal practitioner. Excerpt From Sandra Smith Gangle’s Debut Memoir Madam Arbitrator While growing up, I believed every person in the United States had an equal opportunity to achieve the American Dream through a combination of ambition and hard work. Long before reaching adulthood, however, I realized the dream was a myth. The American Dream has been defined as “a social ideal that stresses egalitarianism and especially material prosperity.” But sexism, racism, even religious bigotry and a variety of social conventions created obstacles that denied many Americans the same opportunity for social mobility and prosperity that the more privileged were able to achieve. Until the 1930s, workers without a college education or a skilled trade had little ability to change their meager incomes or their social or economic status. If they worked in urban factories, they were subject to the whims of powerful industrial employers, as well as nepotism policies in hiring, retention, and promotion. They had no bargaining power to achieve fair wages, hours, and working conditions. They had no legal right to strike. Things began to change in 1932 through Congressional action. First, the Norris-LaGuardia Act allowed workers to engage in nonviolent strikes. “Yellow-dog” agreements, in which workers had to promise they would not join a union, were abolished. In 1935, Congress passed the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) as part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. That sweeping legislation not only authorized private-sector workers to join unions and bargain collectively for wages, hours, and working conditions, but also established the National Labor Relations Board to enforce labor contracts and process complaints of alleged refusal to bargain. Qualified impartial labor arbitrators could resolve grievances, protecting workers’ negotiated rights once the labor contracts were ratified. Public employees, including police officers, firefighters, and teachers, lacked the right to bargain collectively until 1959. Eventually, forty-five states and the federal government implemented collective bargaining statutes for public employees. As a result of unionization, after 1935, working-class white males and some white women were better able to pursue the American Dream. A prosperous white middle class grew. Home ownership and comfortable suburban living were byproducts of higher incomes. Many of these workers enjoyed an array of benefits ranging from medical insurance to retirement pensions, further enhancing their economic status Not all workers were able to share in the middle-class boom, however. Single women, even if they had a job and a savings account, were routinely denied a home mortgage. Many residential subdivisions that rose up during the 1950s and 1960s incorporated racial exclusions in deeds and homeowner association policies. Women and persons of color faced obstacles in employment that the NLRA and early public-sector collective-bargaining legislation did not prohibit. Hiring notices in the 1930s routinely announced exclusions based on gender, national origin, and race. Although in World War II many women were hired to work in industries manufacturing airplanes and weapons, the days of Rosie the Riveter were short-lived. Those industries quickly closed their doors to women when the war ended. Recruiting notices for many jobs, even some with union contracts, boldly announced, “No Irish or Italians or Negroes Need Apply.” Some employers openly refused to hire Catholics or Jews. A series of hard-won legislative victories for workers began to change all this. In 1964, Congress passed Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which abolished employment discrimination based on race, color, sex, national origin, and religion. The federal Fair Housing Act of 1968 abolished racial exclusions for sales and rentals of homes and in real estate deeds. The Equal Credit Opportunity Act in 1974 allowed women to obtain mortgages in their sole names. All this ground-breaking legislation ultimately led to more equitable housing and employment opportunities for most Americans. Title VII initially applied to employers of one hundred or more employees, then to those with at least twenty-five workers beginning in 1967. Enforceable through federal court action, the legislation opened employment opportunities to large segments of the population previously deprived of pursuing the American Dream. The ethic these laws promoted had a significant impact on reducing discrimination in the legal and medical professions. With few exceptions, before the 1970s the only students who attended law or medical school were wealthy white males. Some colleges in the Southern states served African-American students for law and medicine, but graduates were often limited to working in segregated African-American communities. A few women-only colleges were founded before 1900, including Vassar, Smith, and Wellesley, but they were expensive and attracted mostly wealthy white women. Extremely small numbers of those women went on to study law or medicine; even fewer practiced. As a result of the Civil Rights Act, women gradually were welcomed into law schools. It still took many years for cracks to appear in the glass ceiling preventing employment in the legal profession, however. Many law firms had fewer than twenty-five employees and were not covered by Title VII. Others contended their clients, especially those handling business-related litigation or financial disputes, would not allow a woman to represent their interests. Some argued maleness was a bona fide occupational qualification for lawyers. Most women law graduates therefore went into government service or opened solo practice offices. Many focused on domestic relations matters and estate planning for women. It was especially difficult for women to become judges and labor arbitrators, due to biased perceptions that women lacked competency and were persuaded by emotion, not legality. Even today, few women serve actively as labor arbitrators, though many female judges serve in state and federal courts and three women justices are on the United States Supreme Court. I wrote this book to tell my personal story about life as a woman born eight years after Congress passed the NLRA. My mother always told me I could achieve the American Dream. A practical child, I observed the male-dominated culture of my working-class city, Brockton, Massachusetts and understood I would have to overcome serious obstacles to achieve her expectations. My mother had wanted to become a lawyer, but her parents refused to help with tuition even though they had helped two sons obtain law degrees. I always thought this was unfair. Once I observed the legal profession in court procedures during my parents’ separation and in my own personal injury trial (detailed later in this book), I saw that the legal system needed to be more just and fair, especially for women. I decided I would become a lawyer myself someday. It was many years before I was able to accomplish my dream. It wasn’t until I was thirty-four, married, and the mother of two young children that I entered Willamette University College of Law in Oregon. My journey from my youth in Massachusetts to adulthood in Oregon took many twists and turns along the way, and the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 with its Title VII provision was the final event that made law school possible. This, then, is the story of my zigzag path to becoming one of the first women labor arbitrators in the Pacific Northwest and California, to achieving my own slice of the American Dream, and to helping others do so as well. From Madam Arbiter: Working Toward Social Equity and Employment Justice. Used with permission of the author. Author retains all rights. Copyright © 2020 by Sandra Smith Gangle, J.D. Sandra Smith Gangle, J.D. is a retired attorney and former French and Literature Instructor. After teaching at Oregon State University and Willamette University, she taught survival English to Vietnamese and Cambodian refugees and then graduated from Willamette University College of Law, concentrating on labor and employment as well as land use law. She clerked with Professor Carlton Snow, an established labor arbitrator, and obtained practical legal experience at the Blair McDonald law firm. After practicing law on her own, she later partnered with Albert Depenbrock’s law firm. She is now retired from her arbitration practice and is devoting her time to writing and speaking to groups of people who are interested in her career as a lawyer and arbitrator. She can be found at www.madamarbitratorgangle.com or by email at [email protected]. Madam Arbitrator is Gangle’s first book.