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Subject: Jack Bigel, Labor Adviser and Negotiator

New York
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Date Posted: November 30, 2002 5:38:51 EDT

Jack Bigel, a top financial and bargaining adviser to many of New York City's most powerful labor unions for decades and a key player in resolving the city's financial crisis in the mid 1970's, died on Thursday in New York. He was 89.

The key to Mr. Bigel's influence with the unions was the consulting firm he set up in the late 1950's. It was first called Professional Plan Associates. In 1966 it changed its name to Program Planners Inc.

With a staff of about 60 statisticians and economists, Program Planners, which Mr. Bigel owned, analyzed great amounts of data from New York and other cities to formulate negotiating strategies for each union on issues like pay and benefits.

In addition to advising the unions on what they should press for in bargaining with the city government, Mr. Bigel negotiated personally with city officials on behalf of many of his clients, drawing on his expertise in fields including labor law and municipal finances.

When New York City was threatened in 1976 with defaulting on its debts and perhaps with outright bankruptcy, Mr. Bigel used his knowledge, contacts and negotiating skills to persuade union leaders to commit billions of dollars from their pension funds to buy city bonds and help keep the city solvent.

The assets of the city's municipal union pension funds were $8 billion in 1976, and 22 percent, or $1.8 billion, was invested in city paper, Mr. Bigel noted in 1999. Two years later, the investments of the union pension funds in all city bonds reached almost $3.4 billion.

Mr. Bigel credited the trustees of the union plans with allowing the city to climb out of its financial abyss.

Jacob Bernard Bigel was born in Brooklyn on April 22, 1913. He was known as Jack. He went to Boys High School and worked his way through City College, graduating in 1934.

After going to work for New York City's Emergency Relief Bureau, Mr. Bigel first attained prominence as a labor leader when he organized the city's first strong union, the United Public Workers, with bases in the Sanitation Department, the city hospitals and the Welfare Department.

But the union ran into trouble in 1950, when it was expelled from the umbrella Congress of Industrial Organizations under the shadow of allegations that it was under Communist influence.

Mr. Bigel always denied that he had ever been a Communist.

In a 1976 interview with The New York Times, Mr Bigel said: "I am not an anti-Marxist. I am not a Marxist. If I am anything, I would say I'm a pragmatist as long as I've got to be an 'ist."

Mr. Bigel then formed an alliance with John J. DeLury, head of the Uniformed Sanitationmen's Association, and helped the union win increases in pay and benefits for its members during the 1960's.

Over the years Mr. Bigel and Program Planners acted as consultants and negotiators for just about every important labor organization in New York City, earning millions of dollars in consultants fees. At the same time, Mr. Bigel was the confidante of successive mayors and New York governors.

He is survived by his wife, Ruth; a son, Jonathan, of Woodstock, N.Y.; a daughter, Elizabeth Meyers of Manhattan; five grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren.

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