NLRB's First Female Chairman Remembered

Betty Southard Murphy, who chaired the board from February 1975 to April 1977, died Oct. 16, according to an NLRB announcement. She said her successor called Murphy's tenure the "golden age of the board" because labor and management worked well together.

Betty Southard Murphy, the only person to serve both as chairman of the National Labor Relations Board and administrator of the U.S. Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division, died Oct. 16 of pneumonia, according to an NLRB announcement. The board's online roster indicates Murphy chaired the board from February 1975 to April 1977 and continued as a board member until December 1979.

She was a partner in the law firm Baker & Hostetler from 1980 until her death and had tried cases in 29 states, with appearances before nine U.S. Courts of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court, the announcement states.

"Betty Murphy was a pioneer for women in the field of labor law and at the NLRB, and an advocate for the collective bargaining process," said Wilma Liebman, the current NLRB chairman. "She served admirably as chairman, earning the respect of both labor and management attorneys, and remained engaged with the board after her tenure here." The board is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year.

In a 1996 interview, Murphy said her successor called Murphy's tenure the "golden age of the board" because labor and management worked well together. She said President Gerald Ford chose her to chair the board because both unions and management supported her; George Meany, then the AFL-CIO's president, and the president of the National Association of Manufacturers testified favorably during her confirmation hearing.

"The person who succeeded me, John Fanning, who was appointed by both Republican and Democratic presidents, called my term the 'golden age of the board' because labor and management worked well together," Murphy said during the interview. "I formed the Chairman's Task Force on the NLRB which enabled labor and management to sit down together, not in an adversarial setting, but voluntarily to work out -- by consensus -- procedural changes to speed up board processes. I guess it was unusual to have the UAW [United Auto Workers], the IBT [International Brotherhood of Teamsters], and the AFL-CIO sit down with the Business Roundtable, the NAM and the U.S. Chamber -- but they did. There were 25 members, many with diametrically opposed philosophies, but they worked out significant procedural improvements. That's why there was a 30 percent increase in productivity during my chairmanship, with nobody working on Saturdays, either.

"It was a very proud moment for me when the AFL-CIO, the U.S. Chamber, and the NAM all issued statements when I resigned from the NLRB saying they were sorry to see me go. I had ruled against everybody, but I had no agenda. Sometimes I was wrong, of course. When I dissented, many of my decisions were adopted by the Courts of Appeals. In any event, I felt honored that, after I resigned, business and labor said the same things about me they had said at my confirmation hearing."

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