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Clyde Summers' 60 Years of Labor Days 1 - 2 - 3


Described by a colleague as “a teacher in the most complete sense of the word,” clearly Summers is modest. He has shared his expertise in domestic and comparative labor law with the nearly 9,000 students he has taught in his career, those he has mentored, and colleagues he has advised. Attorneys, courts, and government agencies have turned to him for counsel and as an expert witness for two decades, and unions have relied on him as an arbitrator in some 1,000 cases over 50 years.

Once dubbed “Mr. Labor Law” by a colleague, he also has been called “a prophet” and “the senior partner” in “the active labor law professoriate.”

Deciding early in his career to teach and not practice law (particularly in law firms, which he calls “modern-day, highly paid sweatshops”), Summers was drawn to labor law from his early experiences growing up in the Depression, working to pay for college tuition under “atrocious” conditions in a restaurant, the liberal views of his Methodist church, and the rising wave of union activism of the day.

Robert A. Gorman, Kenneth Gemmill Professor of Law Emeritus, wrote that Summers “has had no peer in influencing such a large number of significant areas within the field,” in the January 1990 University of Pennsylvania Law Review, which was dedicated to Summers. Principal among these areas are: individual worker rights; union democracy law; unjust discharge; the rights of public employees and non-union employees; and comparative labor law, which has sent him around the world and earned him eminent research prizes including a Guggenheim and a Fulbright, and two honorary degrees.

Honored for his advocacy work by the National Employment Lawyers Association in 1991, Summers began his legal career seeking justice. A conscientious objector to World War II, Summers was denied admission to the Illinois bar. The case went to the U.S. Supreme Court. He lost but, at the age of 26, he left an impression on Justice Hugo Black, who wrote in his dissent that Summers “is honest, moral, and intelligent . . . His ideals of what a lawyer should be indicate . . . that he would strive to make the legal system a more effective instrument of justice.” Summers was admitted to the New York bar in 1951.

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