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Gerald A. Brown, 90; Member of Federal and California Labor Boards

June 23, 2005|Valerie J. Nelson | Times Staff Writer

Gerald A. Brown, who chaired California's Agricultural Labor Relations Board in its infancy and was a member of the National Labor Relations Board for 10 years, has died. He was 90.

Brown died of congestive heart failure Sunday in Sacramento, the national labor board announced.

"He was a man of great integrity who was committed to the concept of collective bargaining," Boren Chertkov, an attorney who worked with Brown at the national labor board, told the Los Angeles Times on Wednesday. "He felt employees should have a voice in what their capitalistic economy should be."

Brown was a labor arbitrator from Austin, Texas, when then-Gov. Jerry Brown appointed him in 1976 to California's year-old labor board as part of a shake-up. Earlier in the year, Gerald Brown had conducted hearings for the California board on labor issues involving Gallo wine.

The original five-member board, created to supervise secret-ballot farmworker unionization elections, was criticized by rural legislators and farmers as being biased toward Cesar Chavez's United Farm Workers union. Brown took over as chairman from Roger M. Mahony, now archbishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles, who was then the bishop of Fresno. Two other board members also were replaced.

In 1980, the state Senate refused to reconfirm Brown as chairman because growers still contended that the labor board favored farmworkers. During his unsuccessful renomination process, Brown defended the board's record, saying most of the board's decisions had been upheld by the courts.

Gray Davis, who was the governor's chief of staff at the time, told The Times in 1980 that it was a "charade" to suggest that Brown was not qualified to continue as the labor board's chairman.

Before coming to California, Brown had been appointed to the five-member board of the National Labor Relations Board by President Kennedy. From 1961 to 1971, he helped decide cases for the federal agency that conducts elections for labor unions and investigates unfair labor practices.

During Brown's tenure, the national labor board tried to expedite election procedures and expanded what could be included in collective bargaining agreements, Chertkov said.

Born in Olustee, Okla., Brown received his bachelor's degree in 1935 from West Texas State College, where he was captain of the boxing team. Three years later, he earned his master's degree from the University of Texas.

Early in his working life, he taught social science at a Texas high school, economics and political science at Amarillo (Texas) Junior College, and economics at the University of North Carolina before becoming involved with the National Labor Relations Board.

In 1943, he interrupted his year-old career with the national board as a field examiner in Atlanta to serve two years in the Army Air Forces, then rejoined the agency in Chicago. By 1947, Brown was the director of a regional National Labor Relations Board office in San Francisco, a position he held until his appointment to the national board.

Brown is survived by two daughters, Barbara Brown Hawkins of Silver Spring, Md., and Carol Brown of Bellevue, Wash., and a granddaughter.

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