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Hurtgen: In the middle If there’s any doubt about Peter Hurtgen’s dedication to public service, just consider the slights he’s recently endured. In August 2001 the Bush administration rejected Hurtgen’s bid for a second term on the National Labor Relations Board, but asked him to stay on until they found a nominee they liked better. In April of this year, the White House offered him a new job, but with the comparatively obscure Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service. This past August he mediated his first negotiation as FMCS director-between The Boeing Company and its machinists union-only to see both sides reject his proposed settlement. So why does Hurtgen, 61, even bother? He could have easily skipped the headaches of public service (and the relative penury of a government salary) by returning to his old job as a partner with Philadelphia’s Morgan, Lewis & Bockius. But he says he truly believes in what he’s doing. “The world is awash in litigation,” Hurtgen explains. “The more I can get the public aware of mediation and conciliation as a better way to resolve disputes and conflicts, the more I will have achieved something.” Still, even Hurtgen acknowledges that it’s not going to be easy to increase awareness of the FMCS. “We’re not part of the shadow government here, we’re part of the invisible government,” he quips. “I don’t go and have milk and cookies with the vice president when things go bad.” The independent agency’s low profile, however, belies its importance. It has 300 staffers and an annual budget of $43 million. Except for airlines and railroads (which are covered by the smaller National Mediation Board), by law every business must notify FMCS when its labor contracts expire. That adds up to approximately 40,000 notices each year, though the agency doesn’t take on every dispute. Its 200 mediators volunteer their services, which are free, in about 20 percent of cases. General counsel usually don’t get involved until negotiations start. The first big case to require the services of the FMCS after Hurtgen took the helm in August was the negotiation between Boeing and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Engineers. The new director decided to mediate the case himself, but he was thwarted by the long-standing bitterness between the two parties. After his proposed settlement went nowhere, the company reissued its earlier take-it-or-leave-it offer, which the union ultimately accepted. But Hurtgen still had an impact on the final outcome, says machinists union spokesman Richard Sloan. “[Boeing's] position changed, as did ours in those negotiations, and that wouldn’t have happened without Hurtgen’s involvement.” (The company declined to comment.) Sloan isn’t the only union official who has good things to say about Hurtgen. According to Patrick Szymansky, GC of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, “Although [Hurtgen] has employer viewpoints on a lot of things, he does appreciate and believe in the practices and procedures of collective bargaining.” Szymansky’s approval is all the more notable because Hurtgen, during his tenure at the NLRB, almost always supported management. A Rare Understanding Not surprisingly, Hurtgen’s tendency to favor employers earns him high marks from pro-business ob-servers such as Thomas Connors, vice president of the Council on Labor Law Equality, which monitors court and NLRB decisions for industry. But Connors has been equally impressed with Hurtgen’s hands-on approach. “He was the only person, in his whole time on the NLRB, who ever sat at a table and negotiated contracts and understood them,” Connors says. However, it’s ironic that Hurtgen’s tendency toward balance and moderation-which arguably makes him a better mediator-has made him ill-suited for the withering political crossfire of Washington, D.C. Though a Republican, he was first appointed to the NLRB by then-president Bill Clinton in 1997. With the election of President George W. Bush, Hurtgen finally seemed poised to become a leader instead of a dissenter on the board. But then he found himself under attack from the ultraconservative National Right to Work Committee for two of his rare pro-labor stands. Though the Council on Labor Law Equality tried to muster business support for Hurtgen, the Bush administration eventually vetoed his reappointment. For his part, Hurtgen shows no bitterness about the political gamesmanship. And he doesn’t view FMCS as a consolation prize, but as an important job in its own right. Indeed, at press time he was personally mediating talks between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the operators of 29 West Coast ports. The strike was costing $1 billion a day, and threatened to disrupt businesses worldwide. Maybe that will put Hurtgen and the FMCS on the map.

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