Labor lawyer Bernard "Bernie" Kleiman, who was instrumental in changing the face of labor negotiations during a 46-year career with the United Steelworkers union, died Wednesday of a heart attack. He was 78 and lived in Squirrel Hill.
Colleagues and adversaries describe Mr. Kleiman, who advised five USW presidents, as an indefatigable advocate of working people, a cause he actively supported even after his official retirement in June. Last week, Mr. Kleiman visited six cities in Ohio, Nebraska, Kansas and Wisconsin as part of a USW road tour in support of 12,000 union members locked in a two-month strike against Goodyear Tire & Rubber.
"It's hard to imagine the union without him," said USW general counsel Paul Whitehead. "I know of no one who's more identified with the union over the long haul."
Mr. Kleiman was instrumental in bringing the Civil Rights Act to the steel industry in 1974, when a federal judge issued a consent decree establishing goals for hiring women and minority workers and promoting them.
A year earlier, he was the architect of the so-called Experimental Negotiating Agreement, which barred the union from striking for financial reasons in exchange for wage increases tied to inflation.
The concept was a well-intentioned effort to prevent customers, worried about the threat of constant strikes disrupting supplies, from purchasing imported steel. Negotiated during an era when inflation frequently advanced at a double-digit pace, the agreement raised hourly wages from $2.50 to $12.50 in less than a decade.
Increased labor costs were only one of the reasons the industry fell on hard times in the 1980s. The wage protection was undone in 1983, when the USW agreed to its first-ever concessionary contract in order to save jobs in the beleaguered industry.
The experimental contract was only one example of Mr. Kleiman introducing new concepts at the bargaining table. He sought contract language that would protect workers from some of the cataclysmic forces shaking the industry. The innovations include restrictions on the amount of work companies contract out, requirements that companies invest in plants in exchange for concessions and job protection in the event a company is sold. The bargaining points were later adopted by other unions.
"He was always on the creative edge," said Andy Kramer, a Jones Day attorney who had sat on the other side of the bargaining table from Mr. Kleiman since the 1970s, when the USW won the right to represent workers at Newport News Shipbuilding, Mr. Kramer's client.
"Bernie was tenacious. He was creative. He was always moving you to think about new positions," Mr. Kramer said.
Mr. Kleiman was born in Chicago and grew up in Kendallville, Ind., where his father was a scrap dealer. He enlisted in the U.S. Army after graduating from high school, serving in Korea. Upon his return, he earned a degree in metallurgical engineering from Purdue University before graduating with a law degree from Northwestern University, where he was a member of the law review.
He joined the USW in 1960 as the attorney for then District 31 covering Illinois and Indiana. He moved to the Pittsburgh headquarters five years later when he was named the union's general counsel under then President I.W. Abel.
"It's difficult to overstate his impact on the union," said USW President Leo W. Gerard.
Outside the union, Mr. Kleiman was active in the Democratic Party, Americans for Democratic Action and the American Civil Liberties Union.
Survivors include his wife, Gloria Baime Kleiman; daughter Leslie Kleiman of Cobble Hill, British Columbia; son David Kleiman of Chicago; stepchildren Ronald Baime of Marshall, Michael Baime of Philadelphia, David Baime of Washington, and Lynn Mamet of Sherman Oaks, Calif.; brother David Kleiman of Indianapolis; sister Carolyn Winn of Locust Valley, N.Y.; and 12 grandchildren.
Services will be at 3 p.m. today at Ralph Schugar Chapel, 5509 Centre Ave., Shadyside, preceded by visitation at 1:30 p.m.
Len Boselovic can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1941.