Sam Kagel ’48, famous in labor circles as the “king of arbitrators,” died May 21 in San Francisco at the age of 98.
Kagel earned his reputation as a formidable union representative during the dock worker strike that virtually shut down the city of San Francisco in 1934. Nearly half a century later, he rose to fame again for mediating the 1982 National Football League players’ strike.
Between those historic events, Kagel served on the World War II-era War Manpower Commission, earned his degree from Boalt at age 40, taught collective bargaining and labor law at Boalt from 1952 until the mid-1960s, and maintained a robust private practice in San Francisco.
“Collective bargaining is the developing of confidence between the parties,” Kagel once said. “That comes with age, and, like good wine, it improves with age.”
Over the course of his career, Kagel was involved in upwards of 10,000 labor disputes in a wide range of industries. He was appointed chief arbitrator for the International Longshoreman’s and Warehouseman’s Union in 1948 and held that post until 2002.
Michael Heyman, former UC Berkeley chancellor and Herman F. Selvin Professor of Law, Emeritus, remembers: “Sam was bigger than life when I arrived at the law school in 1959. He had a commanding reputation as an arbitrator and labor lawyer in California, but he also was an engaged faculty member.”
Heyman also recalls Kagel’s legendary competitive streak. “We dined frequently with the Kagels at their second home in Inverness, where Sam had a small basketball court,” he says. “Sam challenged me to one-on-one matches where his jovial dirty tricks reduced my great height advantage and I rarely won. But there was no one I cherished more—even in defeat—than Sam Kagel, who made me feel at home here at Boalt.”
Kagel’s death was announced to the media by his son and law partner, John Kagel ’64.
In a 1982 New York Times article, the junior Kagel was quoted as saying, “Dad has an indescribable ability, an instinct honed by experience, to quickly grasp the position of both parties. He somehow feels it as he walks into a room. It’s like a third baseman knowing at the crack of the bat exactly where the ball is going.”
Obituaries for Kagel appeared in the New York Times and the San Francisco Chronicle.
The Boalt Library has a number of books by Kagel, including: A self-published memoir, Sixty-six Years of Negotiating, Mediating and Arbitrating, As Lived by Sam Kagel (1998); Anatomy of a Labor Arbitration (Bureau of National Affairs, 1961, 1986); Anatomy of Mediation: What Makes It Work, with Kathy Kelly (Bureau of National Affairs, 1989). Special thanks to archivist Bill Benemann for his help in preparing this report.