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Arbitrator Eric J. Schmertz dies at 84

Eric J. Schmertz, an arbitrator called upon to end some of New York City's most infamous labor disputes - including a 1990 garbage strike that left trash piled waist-high - helped resolve some 10,000 cases in his 50-year career.

He helped return the Radio City Rockettes to the stage in 1967, New York City cabdrivers to their cars in 1969 and firefighters to their trucks five years later.

"He kept the city moving for decades," said his son, David Paine, 54, of Newport Beach, Calif. "He was the voice of reason. He was the person who could maintain a calm mind in the most difficult of circumstances. He was a great listener. He understood what each side needed even before they did."

Schmertz was 84 when he died of complications from pneumonia on Saturday.

Schmertz held numerous high-profile posts - he served as the city's commissioner of labor relations under Mayor David Dinkins - and was named by George H.W. Bush as a member of the Presidential Board of Inquiry to help with a settlement involving three railroad companies.

Schmertz helped found Hofstra Law School, serving as its dean from 1982 to 1989. Burt Agata, a longtime colleague, said his friend was driven by a strong desire for fairness.

"He was a caring person, not only for his family and friends, but for everyone," said Agata, professor of law until 2000.

Paine said his father was firm and assertive, noting he would pressure both sides into finding a common ground and wear them out with round-the-clock negotiations.

Paine added that his father had a great respect for the working man.

"He understood how difficult it is for so many people to get up and go to work every day as hourly, union employees," Paine said. "He enjoyed helping ensure that there would be fairness in terms of the bargaining positions of each."

Schmertz, of Mt. Kisco, was commissioned by officials in the Philippines and Thailand to help them establish arbitration programs.

Born in the Bronx, he was a graduate of Union College and New York University's School of Law.

His workload was heavy, even in his later years; he was part of a panel that unanimously granted New York City police officers a 10 percent raise in 2005 and continued to teach on a part-time basis.

Andrew Schmertz, another of his sons, said his father saw no reason to ease up. "He loved it," said Schmertz, 41, of Manhattan. "That was his life. He exported his vision of arbitration around the world."

Eric J. Schmertz is survived by his second wife, Harriette, whom he married in 1966, his daughter Ellen Bowen of Westport, Conn., and another son, Donald Schmertz of Denver, and five grandchildren.

A funeral will be Tuesday at 1:30 p.m. at Clark Associates Funeral Home, 4 Woods Bridge Rd., Katonah.

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