Nathan Feinsinger

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Nathan Paul Feinsinger
Born (1902-09-20)September 20, 1902
Brooklyn, New York, United States of America
Died November 3, 1983(1983-11-03) (aged 81)
Glenwood Springs, Colorado, United States of America
Nationality American

Bachelor's degree, University of Michigan, 1924

Law degree, University of Michigan, 1926
post-graduate study, Columbia Law School
Occupation Professor
Spouse(s) Bettie
Children 3

Nathan Paul Feinsinger (September 20, 1902 – November 3, 1983) was a professor of law at the University of Wisconsin Law School. He mediated and arbitrated a number of strikes, and served as general counsel to the Wisconsin Labor Relations Board and associate general counsel to the National War Labor Board (WLB).

Feinsinger is best known for his mediation efforts in the 1944 telephone operators strike, the 1947 pineapple workers strike, the 1952 steel strike, and the 1966 New York City transit worker strike.

Early life[edit]

Feinsinger was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1902 but grew up in Buffalo.[1]

He graduated from the University of Michigan with a bachelor's degree in 1924 and a law degree in 1926.[1][2]

After post-graduate study at Columbia Law School in New York City, he joined the faculty at the University of Wisconsin School of Law in 1929. During his academic career, he was also a visiting professor of law at numerous other law schools throughout the nation.[3]

Government service[edit]

Feinsinger was appointed general counsel to the Wisconsin Labor Relations Board in 1937. He served for two years, during which time he was on leave from the University of Wisconsin.[3]

In 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed Feinsinger associate general counsel of the War Labor Board. He was promoted to Director of National Disputes in 1943, overseeing labor problems of a national nature, and was appointed to be a representative of the public on the board in 1945.[1][3]

During his tenure on the War Labor Board, Feinsinger helped settle a number of important strikes. In November 1944, he settled a national strike by telephone switchboard operators belonging to the National Federation of Telephone Workers which had shut down telephone service in Washington, D.C., Detroit and other large cities. Feinsinger told the union leaders that they were defying the government of the United States and "no union has done that yet and succeeded." On November 24, telephone workers in Dayton ended their walk-out and the nationwide strike collapsed. President Roosevelt specifically praised Feinsinger for his role in ending the dispute.[4]

President Harry S. Truman appointed Feinsinger to a presidential fact-finding board on December 31, 1945, along with Utah Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger I. McDonough and Missouri Supreme Court Chief Justice James M. Douglas, to investigate an ongoing labor dispute in the steel industry in which 700,000 steelworkers threatened to strike. Although the Feinsinger panel was unable to avert the strike, the fact-finding report helped lead to an eventual settlement of the strike.[5]

After a general strike by maritime workers on the West Coast began in early September 1946, President Truman named Feinsinger as the federal government's chief mediator. The War Labor Board had cut wage increases won through collective bargaining nearly in half, but Feinsinger was able to negotiate an end to the strike which convinced the WLB to restore the cuts.[6]

The pineapple strike[edit]

Feinsinger played a critical role in settling a pineapple strike by Hawaiian workers which began on July 11, 1947. Although the strike only lasted five days, the workers were represented by the relatively militant International Longshore and Warehouse Union—which threatened to close all ports in Hawaii in support of the sugar workers. A lengthy strike would have broken the fragile Hawaiian economy, which was heavily dependent on large shipments of food, fuel and other supplies in order to sustain the large military and civilian defense presence on the island. As Feinsinger himself noted:

This is the toughest case I ever worked on. There was danger that if the strike was not settled this week it would have gone on for months and dragged sugar and the waterfront down with it.[7]

Feinsinger was rushed to Hawaii by a military aircraft and entered into three days of nearly non-stop negotiations. The strike ended on terms favorable to the union on July 16.[8] A grateful Hawaii territorial legislature proclaimed the day the strike ended "Nathan P. Feinsinger Day."[9]

Feinsinger left federal service in 1948. In February 1950, he was involved in an automobile accident in Wisconsin that claimed two lives. The accident shattered his hip, and he required extensive surgery and rehabilitation. But he resumed a heavy schedule of lecturing and teaching by the end of the year.[1][10]

The steel strike[edit]

President Truman named Feinsinger chairman of the Wage Stabilization Board on August 15, 1951, succeeding George W. Taylor. The board was part of a massive federal wage and price stabilization effort designed to support defense production and mobilization during the Korean War.[11]

Feinsinger faced an immediate wage crisis as unionized steelworkers threatened to strike in order to win wage and productivity increases. Feinsinger convinced United Steelworkers of America president Philip Murray to call off a strike set for January 1, 1952, in favor of a 90-day voluntary cooling-off and fact-finding period. Feinsinger was forced to turn over the wage case to the president for resolution, but continued to work feverishly toward a solution. At 6:30 a.m. on March 20, 1952, Feinsinger collapsed and lapsed into unconsciousness after 15 and a half hours of uninterrupted negotiations.[12] Despite several additional proposed solutions, neither the employers nor the union agreed to a new contract. The steelworkers set their strike to begin on April 9. But at 10:30 p.m. on the evening of April 8, 1952, President Truman invoked his powers as commander-in-chief and seized the steel mills. On June 2, in a landmark decision, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer, 343 U.S. 579, that the president lacked the authority to seize the steel mills. The steelworkers struck the next day to win their wage increase. The strike lasted 55 days, and ended on July 24 on essentially the same terms the union had proposed four months earlier.[13]

New York City transit strike[edit]

One of his last major roles as a mediator occurred during the 1966 New York City transit strike. Feinsinger was appointed chairman of a three-member mediation panel by Mayor Robert F. Wagner, Jr. and Mayor-elect John Lindsay. Although the city won an injunction against the strike and jailed the union's 61-year-old ailing president, Mike Quill, Feinsinger quickly led both sides into a rapid series of give-and-take bargaining sessions which ended the bitter wintertime strike after just 13 days.[14]

Retirement, death and endowment[edit]

Throughout his life, Feinsinger mediated strikes and labor disputes in many industries, including steel, automobile manufacturing, maritime trades, meat-packing, airlines and transit industries. In the 1960s, Feinsinger was named an impartial arbitrator by General Motors and the United Auto Workers.[1]

In 1967, Feinsinger founded the Center for Teaching and Research in Disputes Settlement at the University of Wisconsin. He retired from teaching in 1973.[1][3]

Feinsinger suffered a stroke in May 1982. He died from complications related to the stroke on Wednesday, November 3, 1983, in Glenwood Springs, Colorado. He was survived by his estranged wife, Bettie, and his three children[1]

The Nathan P. Feinsinger Professor of Law chair at the University of Wisconsin Law School was endowed in his name.[3]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Waggoner, "Nathan P. Feinsinger, 81, Dead," New York Times, November 4, 1983.
  2. ^ Hove, "Prof. Nathan Feinsinger: Man in the Middle," Wisconsin Alumnus, March 1966.
  3. ^ a b c d e Aaron, "Memories of Nathan P. Feinsinger (Former Professor at Univ. of Wisconsin School of Law)," Wisconsin Law Review, 1984; Fleming, "Memorial to Professor Nathan P. Feinsinger," Wisconsin Law Review, 1984.
  4. ^ "Wage Increase Ends Phone Strike Threat," Associated Press, December 5, 1944; Loftus, "Telephone Strike Suddenly Ended By Union Chiefs," New York Times, November 24, 1944; "Phone Strike Talk Here Ends Quickly," New York Times, November 24, 1944; "War Effort Peril," Associated Press, November 23, 1944; "End Phone Strike, WLB Orders Union," United Press International, November 22, 1944; "WLB Demands End of Phone Strike," Associated Press, November 21, 1944.
  5. ^ Bernstein, "The Truman Administration and the Steel Strike of 1946," Journal of American History, March 1966; Whitney, "President Names Steel Fact Board, Asks Price Study," New York Times, January 1, 1946.
  6. ^ Davies, "AFL Ends Strike on Pacific Coast," New York Times, September 13, 1946; Davies, "Way Paved to End Coast Ship Strike," New York Times, November 13, 1946.
  7. ^ Quote in "Pineapple Workers End Hawaii Strike," Associated Press, July 17, 1947.
  8. ^ Beechert, Working in Hawaii: A Labor History, 1985; Najita, The 1947 Hawaiian Pineapple Strike, 1958; "Pineapple Strike Called in Hawaii," Associated Press, July 12, 1947; "Hawaii Strike Talks Fail," New York Times, July 14, 1947; "Pineapple Workers End Hawaii Strike," Associated Press, July 17, 1947; "Dave Thompson: Islands Activist, 1946-1958," The Dispatcher, October 2006.
  9. ^ "Famed Mediator Dies," Associated Press, November 2, 1983.
  10. ^ "2 Die in Wisconsin Crash," New York Times, February 22, 1950.
  11. ^ "Wage Board Faces Change in Leaders," New York Times, August 19, 1951.
  12. ^ Loftus, "Wage Board Votes 18.8c Rise In Steel As Industry Balks," New York Times, March 21, 1952.
  13. ^ Marcus, Truman and the Steel Seizure Case: The Limits of Presidential Power, 1977.
  14. ^ Marmo, More Profile Than Courage: The New York City Transit Strike of 1966, 1990.


  • Aaron, Benjamin. "Memories of Nathan P. Feinsinger (Former Professor at Univ. of Wisconsin School of Law)." Wisconsin Law Review. 1984:2 (1984).
  • Beechert, Edward D. Working in Hawaii: A Labor History. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1985. ISBN 0-8248-0890-8
  • Bernstein, Barton J. "The Truman Administration and the Steel Strike of 1946." Journal of American History. 52:4 (March 1966).
  • "Dave Thompson: Islands Activist, 1946-1958." The Dispatcher. October 2006.
  • Davies, Lawrence E. "AFL Ends Strike on Pacific Coast." New York Times. September 13, 1946.
  • Davies, Lawrence E. "Way Paved to End Coast Ship Strike." New York Times. November 13, 1946.
  • "End Phone Strike, WLB Orders Union." United Press International. November 22, 1944.
  • "Famed Mediator Dies." Associated Press. November 2, 1983.
  • Fleming, Robben W. "Memorial to Professor Nathan P. Feinsinger." Wisconsin Law Review. 1984:2 (1984).
  • Fleming, Robben W. "Professor Nathan P. Feinsinger." Wisconsin Law Review. 1973:4 (1973).
  • "Hawaii Strike Talks Fail." New York Times. July 14, 1947.
  • Hove, Arthur. "Prof. Nathan Feinsinger: Man in the Middle." Wisconsin Alumnus. 67:6 (March 1966).
  • Loftus, Joseph A. "Telephone Strike Suddenly Ended By Union Chiefs." New York Times. November 24, 1944.
  • Loftus, Joseph A. "Wage Board Votes 18.8c Rise In Steel As Industry Balks." New York Times. March 21, 1952.
  • Marcus, Maeva. Truman and the Steel Seizure Case: The Limits of Presidential Power. New York: Columbia University Press, 1977. ISBN 0-231-04126-8
  • Marmo, Michael. More Profile Than Courage: The New York City Transit Strike of 1966. Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press, 1990. ISBN 0-7914-0261-4
  • Najita, Joyce Matsumoto. The 1947 Hawaiian Pineapple Strike. Honolulu: Industrial Relations Center, University of Hawaii, 1958.
  • "Phone Strike Talk Here Ends Quickly." New York Times. November 24, 1944.
  • "Pineapple Strike Called in Hawaii." Associated Press. July 12, 1947.
  • "Pineapple Workers End Hawaii Strike." Associated Press. July 17, 1947.
  • "Wage Board Faces Change in Leaders." New York Times. August 19, 1951.
  • "Wage Increase Ends Phone Strike Threat." Associated Press. December 5, 1944.
  • Waggoner, Walter H. "Nathan P. Feinsinger, 81, Dead." New York Times. November 4, 1983.
  • "War Effort Peril." Associated Press. November 23, 1944.
  • Whitney, Robert F. "President Names Steel Fact Board, Asks Price Study." New York Times. January 1, 1946.
  • "WLB Demands End of Phone Strike." Associated Press. November 21, 1944.