Robert L. Kyler, 91, negotiator

Robert L. Kyler in his office in 1985, the year he helped mediate a 46-day newspaper strike.
Robert L. Kyler in his office in 1985, the year he helped mediate a 46-day newspaper strike. (APRIL SAUL / Staff Photographer)
Posted: July 10, 2014

Robert L. Kyler, 91, of Center City, one of Philadelphia's best-known and most effective federal mediators, died Thursday, July 3, of a stroke at Penn Hospice at Rittenhouse.

During 12 years beginning in 1974, Mr. Kyler went about the ticklish business of bringing parties - often angry and always intent on wresting concessions from each other - together on a complicated set of points across a negotiating table.

He started as a commissioner for the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service at Fourth and Chestnut Streets and went on to arbitrate 750 cases. Of those, 300 involved teacher contract disputes, another 300 dealt with the area's unions and large corporations, and 150 involved the public sector.

He figured prominently in solving labor disputes between the rank-and-file and management of The Inquirer and the Philadelphia Daily News in the 1970s and 1980s, including the 1985 strike that shut down the papers for a record 46 days.

Mr. Kyler worked doggedly behind the scenes for the two months it took to bridge the gulf between the sides, but his public statements gave no hint of the toil or emotion expended.

"Nobody won, but everybody won," he told reporters after the settlement on Oct. 22, 1985. "Now we've got four years to get together and put out a paper."

Sam S. McKeel, former publisher of Philadelphia Newspapers Inc., remembered the federal mediator.

Mr. Kyler, he said, was a fair and congenial man who pushed both sides to reach an agreement.

"He was not loud or gregarious," McKeel said. "He was moderate, persistent, very knowledgeable and sensible."

William K. Marimow, The Inquirer's editor, covered labor as a reporter for the paper in the 1970s. He described Mr. Kyler as "colorful, vigorous, and a larger-than-life person."

After successfully concluding negotiations on a labor pact at 7 a.m. one Saturday, Marimow said, Mr. Kyler invited him into his office for a Michelob.

As the men talked, it struck Marimow that here was the most trusted mediator in the city reaching out to a journalist for companionship. "While [Mr. Kyler] had the trust of both sides, he was perhaps the loneliest one at the negotiations," Marimow said.

Born in Waynesboro, Pa., Mr. Kyler graduated from Glen Nor High School in 1940. He landed a job in the electrical maintenance department of Westinghouse Corp. in Lester.

Two years later, he enlisted in the Marines and served in the Pacific through June 1945, when he was honorably discharged with the rank of sergeant.

He returned to Westinghouse in 1945 as a master electrician. Almost immediately, he became active in Local 107 of the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America, known as the UE. He rose from shop steward to president of the 6,000-member bargaining unit. In those days, he was known for being a tough negotiator willing to risk arrest to make his point.

While negotiating a contract for Local 107 in fall 1960, he lambasted the Westinghouse Steam Division for not including a shorter workweek and other improvements for employees in a labor proposal. "It's so lousy I'm not even going to take it to the membership," he told the Delaware County Daily Times.

From the local, Mr. Kyler advanced to the presidency of District 1 and then to the international vice presidency of the UE, but his tone mellowed over time. He polished his skills working out contracts with General Electric, Westinghouse, and smaller companies along the Eastern Seaboard before becoming a federal mediator.

Later, he augmented his mediation duties with lecturing on labor issues at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, Drexel University, Temple University, Widener University, and Glassboro State College.

In 1981, he received the Congressional Excalibur Award for exemplary efforts in negotiations between the New York City Publishers Association and the Newspaper Guild, and for the Bulletin's negotiations with its unions.

And in May 1985, he was given the Spirit of Life Award by the Tri-State Labor and Management Council for his work in promoting humanitarian causes, in particular the City of Hope National Medical Center in Duarte, Calif. The center was founded by the labor movement in 1913 to conduct research and provide free medical care to victims of cancer and other diseases.

He retired from the federal mediator's office in 1986, and opened Robert L. Kyler Associates, an arbitration and fact-finding service in Philadelphia. He found time to be a Mason for 65 years.

Mr. Kyler loved to throw parties at his house in Morton and invite the neighborhood children.

"He loved telling jokes and making people laugh," said daughter Judi Kyler Pestrak. "He wanted to see them having a good time."

He married Dorothea Behler Kyler. She died in 1995.

Surviving, besides his daughter, are his wife, Lois Warren-Kyler; daughters Patricia DeHaven, Leslie Schroeder, and Deborah Schwartz; a son, Bruce Warren; 11 grandchildren; four great-grandchildren; and a sister.

A life celebration service will be held at 1 p.m. Wednesday, July 9, at Congregation Rodeph Shalom, 615 N. Broad St. Burial is private.

Contributions may be made to the City of Hope National Medical Center, 1608 Walnut St., Philadelphia 19103.


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