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Sam Kagel, 98; mediator known for role in NFL strike

June 02, 2007|From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Sam Kagel, a prominent labor mediator and arbitrator whose career stretched from West Coast dockworker strikes in the 1930s to pro football disputes in 2005, has died. He was 98.

He died May 21 in San Francisco of old age, his son John told the Associated Press.

Sam Kagel helped settle thousands of disputes, but he was best known for his work on the 1982 National Football League strike.

In the strike's third week, the league and the players union agreed to bring in Kagel as mediator. He helped salvage the season, though just nine of 16 scheduled games were played. He remained the league's lead arbitrator until his retirement in the summer of 2005, said John Kagel, a lawyer and partner in his father's practice.

Sam Kagel was chief arbitrator from 1948 until 2002 for the International Longshoremen's and Warehousemen's Union. In 1934, he helped organize a dockworkers walkout that turned into a general strike in San Francisco. In those days he worked for the Pacific Coast Labor Bureau as a union representative, but he came to be respected by management and labor for his fairness.

Among the many disputes he helped end were a 30-day San Francisco newspaper strike in 1968, a nurses walkout in 1969 and another dockworkers strike in 1972. A permanent arbitrator for a dozen management-union relationships across the country, he settled disputes in transportation, retail, aerospace, hotel and restaurant, communication, education and other industries.

"You have to do a lot of listening in this business," Kagel told The Times in 1974. "You've got to learn the real positions of both sides."

A short, stocky pipe smoker with a salty tongue, Kagel specialized in recent decades in a process called mediation-arbitration, in which he would be hired to mediate a dispute between two parties but then issue binding arbitration if negotiations failed.

"In arbitration, you're a hero today or a bum tomorrow, depending on who wins what," Kagel said in 1974. "And I don't care whether the case involves $10 or $4.5 million, the individuals are important. We're not just playing with numbers."

Kagel was born in San Francisco in 1909 to Romanian immigrant parents.

He earned a bachelor's degree in labor economics from UC Berkeley in 1929, and after two years of graduate studies and teaching at Berkeley he worked as a labor economist.

During World War II he was Northern California director for the War Manpower Commission. He returned to UC Berkeley for his law degree in 1948 and also taught arbitration at Berkeley's Boalt Hall School of Law for many years.

Among Kagel's survivors are his wife, Jeanne Ames, a family mediator; three children from his first marriage to Sophia Hornstein: John, Peter and Katharine Kagel; five grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.

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