News

May 27, 2008

Michael Lightner ’71 Upholds Workplace Justice

He’s regional director of National Labor Relations Board

“I’ve been with the National Labor Relations Board as long as I have because I believe in workplace justice and public service,” says Michael Lightner ’71, who was sworn in as regional director last December by U.S. District Court Judge Joel Pisano. Throughout his 34 years of service to the NLRB’s Newark office, Lightner’s bettered the lives of workers by enforcing the National Labor Relations Act.

The NLRB conducts secret-ballot elections to determine whether employees desire union representation and investigates and remedies unfair labor practices.

In 1998, Lightner received a Hammer Award from former Vice President Al Gore for his work on the NLRB’s Impact Analysis Task Force. In 2000, he was one of the first employees selected by the ABA Labor and Employment Law Section as a Government Fellow.
“My interest in the NLRB was piqued at Lafayette,” he says. Professor Morrison Handsaker, a prominent labor arbitrator, offered Lightner the opportunity to observe arbitration hearings, which fascinated the economics major. Yet after graduating and passing the federal government entrance exam, he took a job in retail. At a Lafayette luncheon a year later he encountered an alumnus who worked for the NLRB, which paved the way for his career.

Lightner began the road to regional director humbly as a field investigator examining NLRA violations. Law school then called. “Most of the work we do here is legally oriented,” he explains. Working days and attending Seton Hall at night, Lightner completed his degree in 1978.

Lightner credits his step-grandparents for encouraging him to excel academically. His step-grandfather, then president and CEO of Singer Corporation, brought Lightner’s family to live in their mansion for a time. As Lightner recalls of his move from the North Carolina countryside to life on a massive estate, “In the course of the same year, I went from walking almost barefoot to school every day to being picked up after school in a limo.”

Lightner’s step-grandparents exposed him to the arts, often taking him to Broadway and art museums. Their encouragement also brought him to Lafayette, which “taught me how to learn,” he notes.

Lightner keeps busy at NLRB. “There’s close to 400 volumes of cases dealing with applications of the National Labor Relations Act,” he says. While offshoring of jobs and the 1980 firing of unionized air traffic controllers have set back union gains, lessening the load of cases the NLRB investigates, Lightner’s New Jersey jurisdiction remains one of the most active in the nation.

Lightner also helps others through his role as a trustee with The Medical Needs Foundation. The organization works with corporate donors “to provide financial assistance for medical needs people can’t afford to pay for.” The stories he hears are heartbreaking. “I get choked up easily,” he says. “I feel for people when they’re suffering.”

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