Ronald W. Haughton, 88, one of the nation's leading labor arbitrators, who was the first chairman of the Federal Labor Relations Authority and who helped settle about 4,000 labor disputes, died July 4 of a stroke at his home in Palm Harbor, Fla. He had a second home on Martha's Vineyard, Mass.

Mr. Haughton was part of the first generation of specialists who stepped between workers and management to help settle disagreements over wages, working conditions, union representation and racial equality. He was both a labor arbitrator -- an impartial voice who made binding decisions -- and a mediator, or someone who brought together two sides to find agreement.

It was in his role as a mediator that Mr. Haughton helped resolve one of the best known labor cases in American history, the 1966 boycott of California's DiGiorgio Fruit Corp., led by Cesar Chavez, head of the National Farm Workers Association. After riding in Chavez's rattletrap car to a meeting with company officials in San Francisco, Mr. Haughton ultimately helped gain union recognition for the largely Hispanic farmworkers.

Mr. Haughton mediated the integration of tobacco plants in the South and helped settle an uprising by college students at San Francisco State University in the 1960s. He worked with Air Force officials to promote the integration of its civilian workforce and, in 1967, was a principal mediator in the settlement of a Detroit teachers strike.

"A mediator's function has to be a very humble one," he said in 1970. "He has to be steeped in the concerns of both parties and try to help give birth to their agreement."

In 1979, President Jimmy Carter appointed Mr. Haughton the first chairman of the newly created Federal Labor Relations Authority, an agency charged with resolving disputes with federal employees. In 1981, the authority voted to strip the striking Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization of its right to bargain as an organized union. Mr. Haughton cast the only dissenting vote on the three-member panel, favoring continued negotiation. In the end, the strikers were replaced by nonunion workers.

Ronald Waring Haughton was born in Hamilton, Ontario, and moved as a boy to Seattle. After graduating from the University of Washington, he received a master's degree in economics from the University of Wisconsin in 1938.

He worked on a General Electric assembly line and for a Washington state unemployment board before starting his career in mediation -- a field then in its infancy -- in 1941 with the old War Labor Board. In 1946, he became a professor at the University of California at Berkeley and worked as a mediator-for-hire.

In 1950, he became a full-time arbitrator between the Ford Motor Co. and the United Auto Workers. From 1956 to 1979, he was co-director of the Institute of Labor and Industrial Relations in Detroit, jointly run by Wayne State University and the University of Michigan. During those years, he traveled the country to resolve labor disputes and other matters.

From 1969 to 1971, Mr. Haughton led a board that mediated community disputes in New York. His most celebrated case resolved a quarrel between a church in East Harlem and the Young Lords, a group of Puerto Rican youths represented by Geraldo Rivera, then a young lawyer.

In 1982, as chairman of the Federal Labor Relations Authority, he found himself in hot water when his agency spent $150,000 on fancy office furnishings when it had just laid off 47 of its 351 employees. Sen. John C. Danforth (R-Mo.) called the expenses "obscene" and "an insult to taxpayers."

An apologetic Mr. Haughton said an underling had ordered the furniture without his knowledge. Such extravagances, his family said, were out of character for a man who bought his clothing at second-hand stores and cut his own hair.

Mr. Haughton resigned from the federal labor board in 1984 but continued to work as a private labor mediator and arbitrator until he was in his eighties.

Survivors include his wife of 53 years, Anne Fletcher Haughton of Palm Harbor and Martha's Vineyard; four children, Jan Tracy of Safety Harbor, Fla., Patty Haughton of Wilmington, Del., Leslie Zemsky of Buffalo and John Haughton of Millersville; and 13 grandchildren.

Ronald W. Haughton helped resolve the 1966 boycott of DiGiorgio Fruit Corp., led by Cesar Chavez.