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RAB president Jim Berg dead.

The real estate community has lost a beloved veteran, a superiorly skilled negotiator and a man who--through his smarts, likeability and goodwill--commanded respect from all facets of the industry. President of the Realty Advisory Board on Labor Relations James P. Berg, 64, died last week after succumbing to lung cancer.


Berg joined the Realty Advisory Board (RAB) 39 years ago, most recently serving as president. Involved in countless collective bargaining agreements (both industry wide and site specific), colleagues most remember him for his nearly unflappable composure in the face of contentious negotiating, his strong rapport with all sides of the industry and his overall good nature.

"He was a friend, a colleague, a mentor," said Howard Rothschild, RAB executive vice president. "He was my boss, but he was the type of person who never put himself above anybody else."

Rothschild, who Berg hired more than 25 years ago, said working for him proved extremely rewarding. He characterized Berg as the type of leader who wasn't above typing his own letter or doing his own data entry.

Rothschild most respected Berg's proven track record of reaching resolve without disruption of labor. Finding solutions quickly became a hallmark of his negotiating style. Regardless of how emotional matters became, Berg respected those on the other side of the table--and they respected him.

"He always seemed to be the calming influence in the room," Rothschild said. "He practiced labor relations the way Willie Mays played baseball--he made the incredible just look so easy."

Berg graduated from Fordham University and St. John's Law School. An active member of his college's R.O.T.C. program, he trained as an Army pilot until a collision in which a commuter plane struck his Piper Colt from behind ended his days of aviation. After initially receiving a draft deferment for law school, Berg later served in the Army for two years and spent one of those years operating field medical units in Vietnam.

Upon returning from Vietnam, he went directly to the RAB, where he would spend his entire career--a fitting move for the son of a labor union lawyer.

Thanks to his father's career, the Bronx-born Berg gained exposure to the collective bargaining world at a young age--as well as an empathy for all parties in the negotiating process.

"Berg devoted his life to the real estate industry, and fostering a mutually beneficial relationship between labor and management," said Mike Fishman, president of 32BJ SEIU. "As chief contract negotiator for employers in the industry, and a co-trustee of the 32BJ benefit funds, Jim showed himserf to be a strong and capable negotiating counterpart who minded his side of the table while never losing sight of the value and dignity of our members."

Proskauer Rose's Paul Salvatore, general counsel for RAB, recalled a particularly telling moment about the type of person Berg was.

When hundreds of cleaning jobs were lost when the towers came down during 9/11, Salvatore said Berg called him on a Saturday morning to suggest the RAB meet with the union and find a way to help those cleaners who were out of work. While Saivatore noted that the move was neither profitable nor popular, it was the right thing to do--and that was the kind of man Berg was.

"He was able to make deals that everyone realized were fair. He created--as much as possible--a win-win situation a zero-start game," Salvatore said.

Colleagues regarded Berg as not only "fair" but "far-sighted."

When discrimination claims began to rise in the real estate industry during the early 90s, Rothschild noted that Berg made the matter his responsibility to resolve and took the initiative to protect employees from discrimination. More than two decades later, the matter was heard, in the RAB's favor, before the U.S. Supreme Court, with Berg appearing before the highest court earlier this year.

Berg, who resided in Bay Shore, Long Island, enjoyed spending time with his family: his wife Nancy; sons Ken and Paul; and his grandchildren. He also exuded enthusiasm for a variety of activities including horseback riding, woodworking, gardening, boating, card games and gourmet cooking.

"He was one of the most easy going and funny people," said Salvatore. "He loved telling stories, he loved hearing stories. He loved sharing life experiences."
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Author:Turcotte, Jason
Publication:Real Estate Weekly
Date:Nov 25, 2009
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