F. Donal O’Brien
Cushing-Gavin Award Recipient
Father Edward F. Boyle Award (Auxiliary), 2019
F. Donal O’Brien is an arbitrator and mediator based in Newport, Rhode Island, and the recipient of the 2019 Father Edward F. Boyle Award.
Growing up the eldest son of an Air Force medical officer, Don moved around quite a bit. He went to five grammar schools and four high schools everywhere from Alaska to New York to Alabama to California to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, attending Catholic school whenever possible. Settling down for four years in Chicago at Loyola University meant that Don was in the middle of the country, never too far to visit the family. After graduating with a degree in psychology, he served nearly three years in active duty with the Navy, after which he would remain in the Navy as a drilling reservist for 27 more years.
Don’s first job upon leaving active duty was in human resources at Chicago’s Sanitary District, an independent agency that oversaw wastewater treatment for Cook County and the City of Chicago. After a few years he became Director of Personnel for a similar agency in Milwaukee—the Sewerage District—amid the threat of a strike of the agency’s workforce. The month-long strike eventually came, and Don counts it as one of the formative moments in his career—he wrote a paper on the affair that received praise from around the industry.
One morning in 1982, Donal found on his desk a brochure advertising the Harvard Kennedy School’s Master of Public Administration program. He applied, was accepted, and received a scholarship from the International Personnel Management Association. After a year in Cambridge Don was offered a job by his old boss in Chicago at the Sewerage District, where he worked on negotiations that led the first collective bargaining agreement under a new public labor relations act in Illinois. He then became the Director of Personnel at the Sewerage District for fifteen years.
In 1998 a friend from the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service urged him to become a mediator. He spent seven years as a federal mediator, and in 2006 he and his family moved to Newport, where he began an arbitration practice that split time between Chicago and southern New England.
Though he has only lived in New England since 2006, Don had a relationship with the namesake of his award, Father Ed Boyle. Long before he moved the operation to Rhode Island, he had known Father Ed through the Labor and Employment Relations Association since the 1980s, and their relationship has kept Don a dues-paying Guild member since he moved to the area.
Don and his wife Ellen of 52 years live in Newport and are the proud parents of their son Paul and daughter Meghan. The Labor Guild is honored to present him with the Boyle Award.