College of Labor and Employment Lawyers Interview with Theodore W. Kheel

Collection Number: 6194 OH

Kheel Center for Labor-Management Documentation and Archives, Cornell University Library


DESCRIPTIVE SUMMARY

Title:
College of Labor and Employment Lawyers Interview with Theodore W. Kheel, 2004
Collection Number:
6194 OH
Creator:
College of Labor and Employment Lawyers (CLEL) Kheel, Theodore W.
Quantity:
1.2 linear ft.
Forms of Material:
Oral history , transcript , cd-roms.
Repository:
Kheel Center for Labor-Management Documentation and Archives, Cornell University Library
Language:
Collection material in English


BIOGRAPHICAL NOTE

Theodore Woodrow Kheel was said to be named for both Woodrow Wilson and his political rival Theodore Roosevelt, the result of a compromise between his politically differing parents. The settlement presaged a career in which Kheel would be tapped by mayors, governors, and presidents to settle disputes that were part of the nation's major political and social transitions from post-World War II to well into the 21st century.
Born in 1914 in Brooklyn, Ted Kheel attended public high school in the Bronx. He was awarded a Regents scholarship to Cornell University, where he attended an accelerated undergraduate law school program permitting him to earn a bachelor's and law degree in six years.
In private practice for a brief time after graduation from law school, Kheel soon was offered a position as a National Labor Relations Board attorney in Washington. Kheel's special talents as a mediator and his obvious political skills soon gave him the opportunity to move to a new war-time agency, where he was initially hired as principal mediation officer. By 1944, he had been appointed executive director of the National War Labor Board, with a staff of 2,500 who were hearing 150 disputes a week. Kheel's work at the WLB introduced him to the most important figures in the labor movement and key government officials' contacts he would use effectively in the future.
Following the end of World War II, Kheel returned to New York City and was drafted by Mayor O'Dywer to serve in the city's new Labor Relations Division, which Kheel came to head within a year. With the agreement of the mayor, Kheel was able to serve both in this position and maintain a separate, private law practice.
In 1949, Kheel was appointed to a part-time position as impartial chairman for an important segment of public transit in New York City, a position in which he would render 30,000 decisions through 1982. Also in 1949, Kheel became a partner in the New York law firm Battle, Fowler, Jaffin and Kheel. His skills in conflict resolution led an observer to remark that the firm's work began with a battle, ended by Kheel.
During his more than half a century of involvement in labor matters, Kheel was known above all else for his extraordinary ability to get feuding parties to make concessions to reach an agreement. In the important New York and national labor disputes which he would be called to mediate, Kheel's approach was to protect management rights and at the same time demand fairness to workers while also trying to protect the public interest in the issue.
Kheel's was frequently the voice of reason in settling a number of extremely difficult labor disputes of the 1960s and 1970s. Mayor Robert F. Wagner, Jr., turned to Kheel to help end the 114-day newspaper strike of 1962-63. Among his most infamous cases was the strike involving Mike Quill, head of the Transport Workers Union, who publically battled Mayor John V. Lindsay in 1965-66. Kheel's efforts also included helping coordinate bargainers and mediators during the 35-day New York City teachers' strike in 1968. President Lyndon B. Johnson summoned Kheel to Washington in 1964 to help mediate 10 days of feverish negotiations that prevented a nationwide rail walkout. Kheel would ultimately serve as a mediator and advisor for virtually every New York mayor from O'Dwyer to Beame, for the Kennedy-Johnson Administration, and other presidential administrations as well.
Kheel's interests in public issues were not limited to the labor sector. The policy disputes that came to his attention as a mediator and lawyer frequently cried out for larger solutions, and Kheel was not averse to using his considerable public presence and media contacts to seek redress, especially for what he viewed as past institutional injustices or misguided government actions. Although pressed to do so on a number of occasions, Kheel refused to run for elective office, preferring the role of a labor neutral and public advocate.
Kheel was also not averse to backing his powers of persuasion with legal action: a fierce advocate for public transit, he initiated a class action lawsuit over the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey's refusal to fund mass rail transit. His most sustained crusade for the public good related to his battle to limit commuter auto traffic and control highway building in New York City in favor of increased use of public transportation. Initially attacked by Port Authority officials and some city, state, and federal politicians of both parties, many of the solutions originally proposed by Kheel, including the concept of the subsidized fare, became public policy in later years.
An early supporter of the civil rights movement, Kheel and his wife Ann become involved with the New York Urban League in the 1950s. He served as its president in 1955 and as national president for four years. He worked with President Johnson on race issues and with Martin Luther King, Jr., in a libel suit against the New York Times. Kheel's mediation skills led to important strides in hiring African Americans in the airline industry. His reputation for sensitivity to minority issues resulted in his becoming involved in efforts to add civilians to the New York City Police Review Board in 1965. Kheel was also recruited as a peacemaker in the 1968 Ocean Hill-Brownsville Teachers dispute.
Even though Kheel handled disputes for transit workers, typesetters, and longshoremen, he reveled in the finer things in life, and dabbled as a restaurateur in fine food and was a patron of the fine arts.
He once owned a stake in Le Pavillon, a leading French restaurant in Manhattan, among others. He also represented numerous artists, including Robert Rauschenberg and Christo, and was the prime mover in the realization of the long-heralded Gates Project in Central Park in 2005.
He also made millions of dollars as an entrepreneur while facilitating sustainable economic and social change. He was the lead investor in the giant Punta Cana resort, transforming 30 miles of jungle in the Dominican Republic, and helped bring about the airport that opened that country to tourists and travelers.
Finding the solution to problems such as the impact of automation on the workplace, community disputes, and protecting a sustainable environment in which mankind will flourish, to name but a few, were the focus of Kheel's interest, enthusiasm, and financial support. He was the prime mover, bringing along like-minded citizens and specialists, in the creation of organizations to find solutions to the more intractable issues facing society. The Foundation on Employee Health, Medical Care and Welfare, the Foundation on Automation and Employment (and its British counterpart), Automation House, the Institute for Mediation and Conflict Resolution, and the Earth Pledge Foundation were among the most successful of such efforts. In the same vein, in collaboration with Price, Waterhouse in 1994, Kheel formed Prevention and Early Resolution of Conflicts, Inc. (PERC), now housed at Cornell ILR as Cornell/PERC Institute.
A prolific writer, Kheel is perhaps best known for his encyclopedic work on labor law. Throughout a career that was active almost until his death at age 96 in November 2010, he was able to balance, with amazing success, advocacy of the public good and the management of a successful law and mediation practice and other business and cultural interests.
SUBJECTS

Names:
Kheel, Theodore Woodrow
College of Labor and Employment Lawyers

Form and Genre Terms:
Oral history.
Transcript.
CD-ROMs.


INFORMATION FOR USERS

Access Restrictions:
Access to the collections in the Kheel Center is restricted. Please contact a reference archivist for access to these materials.
Restrictions on Use:
This collection must be used in keeping with the Kheel Center Information Sheet and Procedures for Document Use.
Cite As:
College of Labor and Employment Lawyers Interview with Theodore W. Kheel #6194 OH. Kheel Center for Labor-Management Documentation and Archives, Cornell University Library.

RELATED MATERIALS

Related Collections:
5024: Theodore W. Kheel Arbitration Awards
5776 AV: Theodore W. Kheel Interviews and Programs
6017: Theodore W. Kheel Newspaper Clipping File
6021 AV: Theodore W. Kheel Audio-Visual Materials
6021 MB: Theodore W. Kheel Memorabilia
6021 P: Theodore W. Kheel Photographs
6021/001: Theodore W. Kheel Correspondence
6021/003: Theodore W. Kheel Arbitration Files
6021/004: Theodore W. Kheel Legal Files
6021/005: Theodore W. Kheel Speeches and Articles
6021/006: Theodore W. Kheel Non-Profit Organization Files
6021/007: Theodore W. Kheel Subject Files
6021/008: Theodore W. Kheel Books and Articles
6021/009: Theodore W. Kheel Newspaper Clipping File
6021/010: Theodore W. Kheel Additional Files
6021/011: Theodore W. Kheel Punta Cana Files
6021/012m: Invitation and Program for the Theodore W. Kheel Memorial Service
6059 OH: Thomas Shactman Interviews with Theodore W. Kheel
6196 OH: New York City Central Labor Council Interview of Theodore W. Kheel for Central Archives
6207 OH: CLEL Video Oral History Project

CONTAINER LIST

Container
Description
Box 1
Transcript
Box 2
Box 2
Box 3
Box 3
Box 4
Box 4
Box 5
Box 5
Box 6
Box 6
Box 7
Box 7