Dr. Jerome Barrett
signed the charter
creating SPIDR (one
of ACR’s predecessor
organizations) in the
early 1970s, and
remained a member
and its historian
until joining ACR.
Dr. Barrett is a
founder of Friends
and the author of
A History of ADR.
Jerry Barrett In the late 1960s, I was a federal mediator assigned to Milwaukee, a heavily industrial
region where the unions were big and strong. Many union members in industrial plants
were second-generation Europeans who had a lot of national pride.
A senior mediator had been assigned to a dispute
at large manufacturing plant where he had mediated
several times before. After he took sick I substituted
When I arrived at the plant, management and
union negotiating committees were waiting in separate rooms. I visited the management room first to
introduce myself. Then I enter the union room to do
the same, before getting the two sides together.
Before I had said two sentences, one of the guys
(they were all guys) said: “Barrett is an Irish name.
Are you Irish?” I was surprised by the question, but
I said: “Yes, but I was born in this country.” Another
guy started a series of questions about my dad.
Was he a Hibernian? Did he march in the St. Patrick’s
parade? Does he wear a green tie or shirt on St. Patrick’s Day? Had I been to Ireland? Where did I visit?
What was my dad’s home county?
Another union member asked about my mother’s
birthplace. I reported that her father came to the U.S.
at age 14 from Switzerland. More question on my
mother, and then someone asked: “Did you know
the Swiss Government will extend citizenship to any
descendent of anyone who migrated from Switzer-
land?” I did know that, which got a big laugh.
Many questions followed until, someone asked:
“How do your Irish dad and your Swiss mother get
along?” So I told him very well, even though my dad
liked to say: “The only two European countries that
stayed out of WWII were the cowardly Swiss and the
peace-loving Irish.” When he said that, my mother
would always say: “Oh Hank.” And smile and laugh.
After at least 20 minutes with the union, I returned
to the management room to invite them to join me
and the union in the large conference room. As they
came out of their room, one of the managers asked
if the union had asked about my nationality. When I
answer yes, they all laughed.
After two full days with them, which included much
good-natured banter about nationalities, we reached
an agreement to everyone satisfaction.
As we all shook hands, the union credited my
mediation skills to me knowing my roots; and management credited the settlement to me being able to
get-on with the union.
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