Campus & Community

James J. Healy, Harvard Business School professor and prominent labor arbitrator, dead at 88

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Nationally known scholar and practitioner asked by Presidents Kennedy and Carter to resolve labor-management disputes

James J. Healy, the John G. McLean Professor of Business Administration Emeritus at Harvard Business School (HBS), died at his home in Phoenix, Ariz., on June 6 at the age of 88. A member of the Harvard University and HBS faculties for more than four decades, he was a leading authority on labor relations as well as a nationally renowned arbitrator in numerous labor-management disputes who remained active in arbitration activities almost until the time of his death.

In 1978, President Jimmy Carter called upon Healy to resolve a complex dispute between the federal government and unions representing some 500,000 postal workers. Lauding the choice, then-HBS Dean Lawrence E. Fouraker commented, “Jim Healy cares about other people. He has great respect for those on all sides of an issue. He cuts across geographical, cultural, and economic boundaries.”

Nearly 30 years later, Thomas F. Birmingham, former president of the Massachusetts state senate and a labor lawyer in Boston who tried many cases before Healy, echoed those words. “Jim Healy was a giant in the field of labor arbitration,” he said. “He was a man of high intellect and always fair-minded. Most of all, he was a decent and caring human being.”

Born in Beaver Dam, Wis., on July 30, 1916, James John Healy originally wanted to be a psychiatrist, but the cost of a medical education pointed him in other directions when he entered the University of Wisconsin at Madison in 1932 in the throes of the Great Depression. Wisconsin at that time was a leader in the field of labor relations, and Healy became a protégé of a professor there who had helped create the country’s social security system.

Earning both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in 1936, he headed for Washington, D.C., to become a teaching fellow in economics at George Washington University. Before long, however, he came to the attention of HBS professor Sumner Slichter, whose father had been a dean at the University of Wisconsin and who was looking for help with a book he was writing for the Brookings Institution. Healy was the perfect choice. By 1937 he was a member of the Harvard University Economics Department, but based at the Business School, where he completed his research on Slichter’s book, “Union Policies and Industrial Management,” published in 1941.

During World War II, Healy began his practice of plying his talents both inside and outside the classroom, teaching U.S. Navy personnel who were being trained at Harvard while serving as vice chairman of the New England Regional War Labor Board, one of several bodies throughout the United States that had been created by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to resolve labor disputes at a time when strikes were out of the question.

When the war ended, Healy began teaching in Harvard Business School’s newly established Advanced Management Program, the country’s first executive education program for senior managers. Named an assistant professor at HBS in 1946, he also began a six-year stint as director of another new offering, the Harvard Trade Union Program, designed to teach management skills to union leaders.

Promoted to associate professor in 1954 and to full professor with tenure in 1958, Healy became an important figure for M.B.A. students as well as executives. A highly skilled teacher, in 1976 he was named the first incumbent of the John G. McLean professorship, established in honor of a late business leader who had formerly served on the HBS faculty. Healy was regarded as the perfect choice, because his career personified McLean’s counsel that “the exercise of power with humility and compassion takes maturity, intelligence, and skill.” Healy held this chair until he retired from the active faculty in 1981. He received the School’s Distinguished Service Award in 1988.

Healy served on many advisory committees and arbitration boards in both the private sector and in government at the local, state, and federal levels. In Massachusetts, for example, he was commissioner of the port of Boston from 1955 to 1958. President John F. Kennedy asked for his help in settling major disputes with railroad workers and longshoremen in the early 1960s. From 1967 to 1974, he was permanent umpire for the resolution of grievances under the Ford Motor Company-United Auto Workers nationwide labor agreement, and from 1982 to 1986, he served as chairman of the Connecticut State Retirement Commission.

No matter how difficult the problem, Healy was always ready and able to take on the task. According to the late Clark Kerr, a founder of the National Academy of Arbitrators and president of the University of California, Berkeley, five qualities were necessary for an effective mediator: “Good judgment, an equitable temperament, a certain sensitivity to people, a sense of impartiality, and emotional endurance. Jim Healy has all of them.”

The author or co-author of numerous articles for professional journals, Healy also wrote two books, “Collective Bargaining” (1953), with Harvard University professor John T. Dunlop – a work long considered a standard source on the subject – and “Impact of Collective Bargaining on Management” (1960), with HBS colleagues Slichter and E. Robert Livernash. In 1965, he also edited a collection of case studies titled “Creative Collective Bargaining.”

Healy was a member of the American Arbitration Association, the National Academy of Arbitrators, and the Industrial Relations Research Association. He served periodically as a special mediator for the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service in national disputes.

A longtime resident of Boston and Falmouth, Mass., on Cape Cod, Healy moved to Phoenix in 1997.

He is survived by his brother, John, of Beaver Dam; two sisters, Catherine (Healy) Koob and Margaret, both of Falmouth; and two nieces. Two other sisters, Joyce (Healy) Ennis and Mary Jane, predeceased him, as did his partner of 47 years, Charles G. Off.

In lieu of flowers, contributions can be made to the Labor Guild of the Archdiocese of Boston, 85 Commercial St., Weymouth, MA 02188 or to a charity of choice.

A memorial service will be held at Harvard University in the fall.