Benjamin Aaron

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Benjamin Aaron
Born(1915-09-02)September 2, 1915
Chicago, Illinois
DiedAugust 25, 2007(2007-08-25) (aged 91)
Alma materUniversity of Michigan
Occupationattorney, scholar and civil servant
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Benjamin Aaron
Born(1915-09-02)September 2, 1915
Chicago, Illinois
DiedAugust 25, 2007(2007-08-25) (aged 91)
Alma materUniversity of Michigan
Occupationattorney, scholar and civil servant

Benjamin Aaron (September 2, 1915 – August 25, 2007) was an American attorney, labor law scholar and civil servant. He is known for his work as an arbitrator and mediator, and for helping to advance the development of the field of comparative labor law in the United States.

Early life[edit]

Aaron was born in Chicago, Illinois. His parents were Henry and Rose (Weinstein) Aaron, and he was the youngest of five children.[1][2] His mother died of tuberculosis when he was five years old, and his father died soon thereafter of multiple sclerosis. Aaron was brought up by an aunt and uncle.[2]

He received a bachelor's degree from the University of Michigan in 1937.[1][2] Aaron later said he became a lawyer because his father and two uncles had also been attorneys. He decided on practicing labor law after taking a class on the subject in his third year.[2] Aaron received his law degree from Harvard University in 1940. He married the former Eleanor Opsahl, and the couple had two daughters.[1]

Federal service[edit]

Aaron served as a mediator with the War Labor Board (WLB) early in World War II.[3] President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed Aaron executive director of the WLB, and he served until the end of 1946.[4][5]

In the immediate post-war period, Aaron served as a conciliator with the United States Conciliation Service and helped settle a number of labor disputes—particularly in California's aircraft industry during the post-war wave of strikes.[4][6] President Harry S. Truman appointed him to be a public member of the Wage Stabilization Board on July 5, 1951.[5][7] He was a strong critic of the Board's case-by-case method of awarding pay increases.[8] During the 1952 steel strike, he played a role as a go-between for the United Steelworkers of America and the Board.[9] President Truman appointed him vice chairman of the Board on May 29, 1952.[10] Aaron was deeply critical of congressional efforts to cut the Board's budget, and declared that Congress should either fully fund the Board's activities or have the courage to legislate the Board out of existence.[11]

Post-war career[edit]

Aaron joined UCLA's Institute of Industrial Relations in 1946.[12] He was appointed the Institute's director in 1960 and served until 1975.[1]

In 1960, Aaron was elected a vice president of the National Academy of Arbitrators.[13] He was elected president of the organization in 1962.[1]

Throughout the 1960s, Aaron helped mediate a large number of labor disagreements, including disputes between workers and employers in the transit, railroad transportation, longshore, aerospace, health care, airline and agricultural industries.[2][14] He helped negotiate the first contract between a county and a public employee union in California history in 1968.[15] He later assisted the County of Los Angeles in drafting a public employee collective bargaining ordinance, and served as the mediator during the first contract negotiations between the county and its public employee unions.[16]

President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed Aaron to the National Commission on Technology, Automation and Economic Progress in 1965.[17] As a member of the commission, Aaron studied the effect automation, computer technology and robotics had on patterns of employment, job training and unemployment. The commission's 1966 report called for higher funding of the Job Corps' vocational training programs and concluded that the disruptions caused by technological change would not be as serious as many feared.[18]

The same year, Secretary of Labor W. Willard Wirtz appointed Aaron to a national panel to study the need for reinstating the Bracero Program in order to ease a national agricultural labor shortage. Although the panel recommended relaxation of immigration rules to permit larger numbers of guest workers and Wirtz accepted the plan, Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach overruled Wirtz just a month later and shut the bracero program down.[19]

In 1970, Aaron mediated an end to a five-week strike by 14,000 members of the United Teachers of Los Angeles, AFT, against the Los Angeles Unified School District. Aaron's efforts helped end what is still (as of 2007) the longest teachers' strike in the history of California.[2][20]

At the age of 68, Aaron helped mediate an end to a strike by pilots at Continental Airlines in 1983.[21]

Legal contributions[edit]

In 1966, Aaron helped form the Comparative Labor Law Group. Aaron invited prominent labor law scholars from the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Sweden, Germany and Italy to discuss each country's unique approach to labor and industrial relations. Over the next 12 years, the Comparative Labor Law Group produced three books and helped establish the legal discipline of comparative labor law in the United States.[1] Due to his work in the field, Aaron became editor of the Comparative Labor Law and Policy Journal. Despite his advanced age, at the time of his death Aaron still served as Senior Editor of the publication.

Aaron was also a strong critic of American labor law. He contended that most judges lack experience in how the modern workplace functions and the specialized nature of labor law, and advocated the creation of "labor courts" to adjudicate employer-union legal disputes. He also argued that the Taft-Hartley Act was deeply flawed, although union members' rights needed additional protection not offered under the National Labor Relations Act, Taft-Hartley, or the Landrum-Griffin Act.[22] In an article in the Comparative Labor Law Journal in 1979, Aaron argued that the National Labor Relations Act failed to protect the rights of the vast majority of unorganized workers and advocated major reform of the act.[1][23]


Aaron continued to teach and write into his 90s. He died on August 25, 2007, at UCLA Medical Center from a cerebral hemorrhage suffered in a fall.[1][2]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Hevesi, "Benjamin Aaron, an Expert in Labor Law, Dies at 91," The New York Times, August 31, 2007.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Nelson, "Benjamin Aaron, 91, Legal scholar, UCLA Law Professor Mediated Big Labor Disputes," Los Angeles Times, August 31, 2007.
  3. ^ Stark, "WLB Bars Pay Rise As Migration Curb," The New York Times, September 19, 1942.
  4. ^ a b "Labor Panel Gets 25 Conciliators," The New York Times, January 5, 1947.
  5. ^ a b "Salary Board Issues Its First Regulation," The New York Times, July 6, 1951.
  6. ^ "Lockheed Conciliator on Way East," Los Angeles Times, August 26, 1952; "North American Offers New Idea in Wage Row," Los Angeles Times, August 16, 1952; "Transit Lines and Union Pick Neutral Arbiter," Los Angeles Times, June 30, 1948; "Final Accord Reached in Transit Pay Dispute," Los Angeles Times, August 14, 1948; "W.L.B. Gives Up Umpire Plan," Los Angeles Times, July 4, 1945; "Plane Plants and Unions Sign Pact," Los Angeles Times, February 6, 1945; "C.I.O. Aircraft Demands Fought as Talks Resumed," Los Angeles Times, September 27, 1944; "W.L.B. Panel to Hear Aircraft Union Cases," Los Angeles Times, September 13, 1944.
  7. ^ "Kerr Resigns Wage Board Post," The New York Times, July 4, 1951.
  8. ^ "Pay Policy Discussed," The New York Times, November 10, 1951.
  9. ^ "Pleas Wired By Wage Board," The New York Times, December 23, 1951.
  10. ^ "UCLA Lecturer Vice-Chairman of Wage Board," Los Angeles Times, May 30, 1952; "Bullen Quits Wage Board To Be Labor Consultant," The New York Times, May 30, 1952.
  11. ^ Loftus, "Labor May Shun New Wage Board," The New York Times, July 1, 1952.
  12. ^ "Institute Names Four to Staff," Los Angeles Times, October 21, 1946.
  13. ^ "Arbitrators Elect," The New York Times, January 30, 1960.
  14. ^ Bernstein, "Labor Arbitrator Tells of Unusual Grievances," Los Angeles Times, March 17, 1963; Loftus, "President Names Rail Inquiry Unit," The New York Times, April 23, 1960; Loftus, "Board Urges Rise for 11 Rail Unions," The New York Times, June 9, 1960; Davies, "Coast Ship Unions Block Peace Plan," The New York Times, May 28, 1962; "Kennedy Names Three to Rail Arbitration Unit," Los Angeles Times, September 6, 1963; "Report on Boeing Sent to Kennedy," The New York Times, March 26, 1963; Pomfret, "Arbiters Order Gradual Cutback in Rail Firemen," The New York Times, November 27, 1963; Pomfret, "Arbitration Agency Offers Plan To End Crisis-Air Labor Talks," The New York Times, December 8, 1963;Bernstein, "L.A. County Ambulance Crews Threaten Strike," Los Angeles Times, February 20, 1968.
  15. ^ Bernstein, "Union Pact Would End Regular Work Hours," Los Angeles Times, July 10, 1968.
  16. ^ Zeman, "County, Union OK Labor Ordinance," Los Angeles Times, August 30, 1968; Zeman, "County OKs Ordinance for Labor Negotiations," Los Angeles Times, September 4, 1968; Hertel, "Court Rejects Plea to Block County's Labor Ordinance," Los Angeles Times, October 3, 1968.
  17. ^ Aaron had taken an interest in the effects of automation on employees three years earlier. See "Automation Group to Discuss Problems," Los Angeles Times, November 29, 1962.
  18. ^ "President Names 14 to Automation Unit," The New York Times, November 15, 1964; "Automation Panel Approved," The New York Times, January 26, 1965; "Automation Unit Begins Its Work," The New York Times, January 30, 1965; Jones, "Federal Panel Discounts Job Peril in Automation," The New York Times, December 23, 1965.
  19. ^ Salazar, "Many Jobless Here Found Willing to Do Bracero Work," Los Angeles Times, October 25, 1964; Hill, "Need of Braceros On Coast Denied," The New York Times, April 21, 1965; Hill, "Panel Bids Wirtz Ease Bracero Ban," The New York Times, April 25, 1965; "Wirtz Sets Up Panel to Study Farm Labor," Los Angeles Times, April 16, 1965; Bernstein, "Wirtz OKs Import of Farm Hands," Los Angeles Times, April 26, 1965; Bernstein, "Another 1,000 Mexican Farm Workers OKd," Los Angeles Times, May 20, 1965; Bernstein, "Katzenbach Overrules Wirtz on Foreign Labor," Los Angeles Times, May 23, 1965; Bernstein, "Panel Rejects All Pleas for Foreign Farm Labor," Los Angeles Times, May 30, 1965; "Braceros Stream Into California," The New York Times, September 5, 1965; Hill, "Alien Labor Cuts On Farms Hailed," The New York Times, December 2, 1965.
  20. ^ Bernstein, "Strike Grows as 1,000 Nonteachers Walk Out," Los Angeles Times, April 25, 1970; Bernstein, "Mediator Submits Teacher Peace Plan," Los Angeles Times, May 8, 1970; Bernstein, "Mediator to Offer Plan to End Teacher Strike," Los Angeles Times, May 3, 1970; Bernstein, "Talks Continue," Los Angeles Times, April 29, 1970; Bernstein, "Teacher Parley," Los Angeles Times, April 27, 1970; Bernstein, "Both Sides in Teachers' Strike Cry 'Sellout'," Los Angeles Times, May 17, 1970; Bernstein and McCurdy, "Board, Teachers May OK Pact," Los Angeles Times, May 9, 1970; Villasenor and Bernstein, "Judge Orders Board Not to Sign Teachers' Pact in Present Form," Los Angeles Times, May 21, 1970; McCurdy, "Board, Union Trade Proposals," Los Angeles Times, May 12, 1970; Roberts, "Mediator Is Accepted by Los Angeles Board in Effort to End Schoolteachers' 3-Week-Old Strike," The New York Times, May 5, 1970.
  21. ^ "Mediator in Pilots' Strike," Associated Press, November 25, 1983; "Continental Resumes Talks With Pilots," The New York Times, November 30, 1983.
  22. ^ "Taft-Hartley Curbs Studied," Los Angeles Times, January 11, 1948; Kennedy, "Analysis Set for New U.S. Labor Law," Los Angeles Times, November 16, 1959; Kennedy, "Unions to Go Cautiously With New Labor Law," Los Angeles Times, November 18, 1959.
  23. ^ "UCLA Group Makes Critical Report About Court Curbs on Labor Unions," Los Angeles Times, February 19, 1951.


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