Pioneer for Labor, women receives LERA Lifetime Achievement Award

LIFETIME OF ACHIEVEMENT: Gladys Gruenberg, a founding member of the Labor and Employment Association (LERA) Gateway Chapter and the first woman to be tenured in the School of Business at St. Louis University, was recognized with a LERA Lifetime Achievement Award at a recent luncheon in her honor. LERA Vice President of Membership Rudy Smith presented her with the award. – Labor Tribune photo



Gladys Gruenberg has spent her life providing unwavering support for Labor and employment relations and ensuring women in business succeed.

That tenacity and dedication has earned the 96-year-old a well-deserved Lifetime Achievement Award from the Labor and Employment Relations Association (LERA) Gateway Chapter.

Gruenberg, a founding member of the chapter and the first woman to be tenured in the School of Business at St. Louis University, was recognized with the award at an April 5 luncheon in her honor at the IBEW Local 1439 union hall in St. Louis.

“Gladys has been with us since the beginning, and she is still a LERA member,” said Rudy Smith, LERA’s vice president of membership. “It’s a privilege to present her with this award.”

After accepting the award, Gruenberg said she read two articles published two days in a row in the Wall Street Journal that said the way to achieve success in life and take charge of the day was to make your bed every morning.

“I’ve made my bed probably 39,000 times in my life, and I think that had something to do with my success,” she joked. “It’s an honor to receive this award, and I really appreciate it. Thank you.”

Prior to the award presentation, Smith, a retired Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 562 member and 16-year organizer at the union, described some of Gruenberg’s accomplishments to the audience. He also shared her “Top 6 Lessons for Women in Business. (See related story below.)


Gruenberg entered the job market as a field examiner for the St. Louis National Labor Relations Board in 1944. Two years later, she became a research director for the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union.

In 1949, she began her career in education as a graduate instructor in the School of Business at St. Louis University. She earned her doctorate in 1952 and was a full-time faculty member from 1949 to 1955 and from 1969 to 1983 teaching classes in Labor economics, collective bargaining and Labor law.


“Not only was Dr. Gruenberg the first woman to be a tenured faculty member in the School of Business, she utilized her role to support women who were trying to advance themselves in business through enrolling in MBA programs at the university,” Smith said.

Through support secured through the Monticello Foundation, Gruenberg led efforts to provide scholarship funding for female MBA students. She also was founder and co-director of the university’s Personnel and Industrial Relations Program and faculty advisor to the Society of Human Resource Management.


Gruenberg served as a member of the Labor and Employment Arbitration Panel for the American Arbitration Association from 1970 to 2005 and as a member of the Arbitration Panel for the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service from 1972 to 2006.

In 1980, she became a member of the Missouri Valley Region of the National Academy of Arbitrators and was the academy’s only female member in Missouri. She also served on the academy’s Board of Governors as governor and vice president and was active in a number of the academy’s committees.

On the academy’s 50th anniversary in 1997, Gruenberg co-authored a book on the organization’s history titled Fifty Years in the World of Work.


In addition to her work on Labor and womens’ issues, Gruenberg participated in a number of other causes, including serving as a member the National Medical Board from 1974 to 2006, the Governor’s Committee on Campaign Reform in 1978 and the Ad Hoc Committee on Nursing Homes in Missouri in 1979.

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Gruenberg’s top six lessons for women in business

Gladys Gruenberg, a pioneer for Labor and employment relations and women in business, recently received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Labor & Employment Relations Association (LERA) Gateway Chapter.

During the April 5 award presentation, LERA Vice President of Membership Rudy Smith shared Gruenberg’s “Top 6 Lessons for Women in Business,” an article that was published in the Sept. 30, 2014 edition of St. Louis University’s Shareholder Alumni Magazine. The tips as follows:

1. Everything is possible, so don’t rule out anything.

“Despite not having any previous Labor relations experience, I got a job as a field examiner in the St. Louis Region of the National Labor Relations Board during World War II.”

2. Have an understanding spouse and rely on a mentor or two. 

“I had to quit the business school faculty when I became pregnant for the first time in 1955. I retained an association with SLU through Father Leo Brown, a professor of economics and renowned Labor arbitrator and mediator. While raising three children from 1955 to 1969, I kept doing what I had done as his graduate assistant, drafting arbitration opinions and writing articles for Social Order, the official publication of the Institute of Social Order, which he directed. Having full-time childcare at home, which my beloved husband Harold insisted on, I also managed to teach Labor economics part-time at Washington University and Maryville University until I returned to SLU’s economics department faculty in 1969.” 

3. It’s better to have government help if you can get it.

“The U.S. Congress lent a helping hand to developing my career as an arbitrator by passing the Civil Rights Act in 1964 and amending it in 1972 to include public employees. Sex discrimination cases needed women arbitrators — at least that’s what the men involved thought. They didn’t discover until it was too late that when it comes to deciding cases, women arbitrators think the same way as men.”

4. Take advantage of every new program to improve your image and talents. Don’t say ‘no’ to any mainstream professional group.

“It’s important to join professional organizations and to start playing the politics to move up the ladder. Since I was the sole woman tenured professor in the business school in 1975, I was selected to direct the Women’s MBA project. Until that time, any strictly women’s groups did not appeal to me. I avoided professional women’s organizations because I felt they drained women’s talents away from mainstream professional organizations. But I was won over by the Monticello Grant and helped start the Women’s MBA Association, which lasted until the men students charged sex discrimination, and it voted to become the unisex MBA Association to get Student Government funding.”

5. Qualify yourself.

“Affirmative action may have had an impact on my promotions, but I also had the proper qualifications. The big thing is to qualify yourself for whatever opportunity comes along and then grab it and do the best you can. That’s why earning an MBA is so important — it will help you survive the weeding out process if you have equal qualifications.” 

6. If you want to do it, you can.

“My father was a carpenter. During the Depression, my mother took a job working in a department store for 20 cents an hour to put food on our table. The point is there always will be people who have started higher up the ladder than you. But if a woman wants to do something and has the drive, then she can do it. Throughout my career I often have been the only woman in a meeting or on a committee. I decided long ago that once you get into a position where you can make a difference, you ignore the fact you are a woman and just play with the boys.”


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