With the friends he's got, Wayne Horvitz doesn't need enemies.
As the head of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, Horvitz draws praise from most of the union and management negotiators he had coaxed, massaged and cajoled into bargaining agreements during the past two years.
And President Carter, Labor Secretary Ray Marshall and other top administration officials have repteatedly renewed their confidence in his role as the government's chief labor relations peacemaker.
But labot and management in their own separate ways have turned the pitfalls that normally face the chief federal mediator into a minefield that tests not only the dexterity of the mediator but also the shock-absorbing mechanisms of the collective bargaining system itself.
Unlone have been feeling increasingly under siege on all fronts, and corporate managers, sensing labor's vulnerability, have been pushing to win back concessions they made to labor overs the years - creating a climate of mounting intransigence at the bargaining table.
At the same time, the Carter administration weighed in with its wage-price guidelines, introducing the government's inflation fighters as an invisbile third force at the table and putting the mediator - whose effectiveness is nothing without a reputation for impartiality - in an awkward spot.
From the start, Horvitz served notice - to the White House as well as labor and management negotiating teams - that he would be an "explainer" but not an "enforcer" of the anti-inflation effort. But he is also a publicly visible member of an administration that is bedeviled both by inflation and by critixism that it can't get its act together.*t"I've had to walk a kind of tightrope to keep from being branded an enforcer of ceding the whole field to someone's computer," Horvitz said in a recent interview. "I'm not prepared to do either of those things, either personally or institutionally, and we haven't had to. We've had some close ones, but we haven't had to."
The year got off to a bumpy start when Horvitz and a top deputy flew to Denver to help with negotiations between the oil companies and the refinery works union, only to be whip-sawed by the union's fury at the inflatio fighters and invited out of town before they got a chance to do much meditating.
The atmosphere was even worse when Teamster President Frank Fitzsimmons, also enraged at the inflation fighters, threw down a guidelined-busting gauntlet to the trucking industry a couple of months later. But the outcome, at least from a mediator's standpoint, was not bad. After a 10-day strike that caused little disruption outside of the auto industry, union and industry bargainers reached an agreement that was overwhelmingly ratified by rank-and-file truckers.
Then Horvitz faced a seemingly even more intractable dispute: A five-week strike by the United Rubber Workers against Uniroyal Inc., which the union has accised of reneging on an agreement under pressure from administration anti-inflation officials. Last Friday, after Horvitz initiated talks between the URW and Goodrich, an agreement was reached that could become a pattern for the whole industry, including Uniroyal.
Horvitz's reputation is that of a low-key, no-nonsense mediator who shuns flamboyance with as much intensity as some of his predecessors flaunted it. His matter-of-fact style is often contrasted with that of William J. Usery, who dominated labor-management relations during the Nixon and Ford administrations with a swashbuckling style that few would dare to emulate.
A gruff but engaging man of 58, Horvitz is the son of a pioneer labor arbitrator, Aaron Horvitz. Although he toyed with the idea of becoming a musician (he still plays jazz piano for relaxation), he was drawn almost inexorably into labor relations, which he has practiced (on the management side) for nearly all his adult life. As Matson Navigation Co., he was reputedly instrumental in reaching a landmark peace-on-the-docks agreement with Harry Bridges' International Longshoremen's and Warehousemen's Union (ILWU) on the West Coast. He also served as chairman of a labor-management committee in the retail food industry.
"He's not the jovial, I-love-everyone sort of person that Bill (Usery) was," said an observer who was closer to Usery than Horvitz, "but he's got a lot of smarts . . . and in his own way, is quite as effective."
Horvitz also as some detractors. "Hehs sensitive to criticism and responds to it in the wrong way sometimes," said one bargainer who worked at length with Horvitz. "He's got an ego that gets in the way."
Egp or no ego, Horvitz does not give all his own efforts rave reviews. He's proud of the Teamster settlement and contract dispute last fall, in which a comination of mediation and arbitration was employed to avoid the possibility of an illegal strike and a major snarl in postal service.
"God knows, everyone was ready for one," Horvitz recalled. "A guy from the Pentagon used to sit in on the negotiations. He had all those tanks, jeeps and what-the-hell-else ready go, and he was the most dissappointed man in America when we didn't have a strike . . . he was the only person in the room who didn't congratulate me when we settled."
His recollections of the 110-day coal strike in early 1978 are not as gratifying. Although top negotiators on both sides speak well of Horvitz's efforts ("Everyone got scarred in that one," an industry offficial said), Horvitz says, "It was probably my major frustration and disappointment - not being able to get a better handle on the coal dispute . . . I'd like to think I could have done a better job pulling those disparate groups together, but there are a lot of people who say it just couldn't be done. That's what I tell my wife, anyway."
Although he concedes that he's "not altogether happy" about the bargaining problems that the guidelines create, it's the critics of the anti-inflation program - rather than the inflation fighters - who draw his fire. "I haven't seen any brave congressmen or senators coming along [with a solution]," he said. "They much prefer to lie back in the weeds and snipe."
So far, he says, union and industry bargainers have generally accepted his distinction between guideline explainer and guideline enforcer. And while he's in constant communication with the enforcers, sometimes shuttling between them and the bargaining table, they have not pressed him to try to sell the guidelines at the table. 'I think Barry [Council on Wage and Price Stability Director Barry Bosworth] worries about us, though," he adds.
From a mediator's standpoint, his greater worry is what he calls the "stridency of debate" between industry and labor and their reluctance to seek innovative improvements in their relations.
"I think management is much too prone to see the present climate as an opportunity to get even for the sins that it thinks have been visited upon it by powerful labor unions over the last 30 to 40 years," he contends. "But the labor unions, on the other hand, are much too prone to point the finger at the other side and say, "Look at those dirty bastards. We always knew they were like this and now they're proving it again.' Neither side really looks inward."
Although a management man by background, he fears that unions are paving the way for a much more "corporate-dictated" economy by their own failure to recognize changes and act on them.
"Instead they're dredging up every shibboleth from the '40s," he observes. "The corporations are taking advantage of the inerita. They're finding it very convenitent in term of their own desires." He'd like to see the labor movement as a whole "sit down and caucus . . . get into some self-examination, take a few risks."
One major danger, he asserts, is that when a vacuum exists, "something fills it - usually the government."
The FMCS - a small, taut agency by bureaucratic standards - exists largely to keep the collective bargaining system cranking along without more heavy-handed government intervention.
Armed only with the power of persuasion, the 500-employe agency spends about $22 million a year on about 10,000 cases - "about what some departments of government spill on and add Monday morning," Horvitz says.
In addition to putting out today's fires, Horvitz is trying to steer the agency into new areas, such as use of mediation in fields other than labor relations. Under new legislation, for instance, FMCS is experimenting with how mediation can be used in age discrimination cases. He's also trying to set some evaluation standards to improve what he regards as the agency's already "good" reputation.
"This is a dangerous thing to say, I know," he said with a wary look, "but I'm trying to manage the agency so that if I dropped dead tomorrow nobody would notice." CAPTION: Pictures 1 and 2, Horcitz: "I've had to walk a kind of tightrope to keep from being branded an enforcer. . . ." By James M. Thresher - The Washington Post