Sam Cook, One of the Intellectual Leaders of the Merit Shop Philosophy, Passes the Baton to a New Generation

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The Baltimore Metro Chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) emailed a special announcement this morning (November 1, 2012):

One of the Chief ‘Architects’ of ABC’s Early Legal Battles, Passes

ABC’s first General Counsel, Sam Cook, played a role in ABC’s early growth

Sam Cook, one of ABC’s “Leaders of the Century” and author of the history of ABC, Freedom In The Workplace, passed away yesterday in Baltimore, Maryland. He was 91 years old.

As labor attorney for ABC National and many ABC chapters and members for several decades beginning in the 1960’s, Sam was chiefly responsible for defending and advancing the merit shop philosophy during a period of unrelenting attacks on ABC’s existence. He contributed greatly to ABC’s remarkable growth nationwide during those years, enabling the merit shop philosophy to become a dominant force in the construction industry. In retirement, his book on ABC was hailed as a serious and critical analysis of the victory of free enterprise over autocracy, while at the same time reflecting Sam’s great humor and leadership insights.

Sam also founded the labor law practice at Venable Baetjer and Howard, Maryland’s oldest law firm, and was a recognized dean of the bar representing management in all aspects of labor and employment law. He was active in numerous civic and community affairs in Baltimore. He is survived by his wife Bernie Cook and two children.

A. Samuel Cook was one of the Ivy League-educated ABC leaders (along with John P. Trimmer and Dr. Herbert R. Northrup) who developed and articulated the intellectual principles behind the Merit Shop Philosophy adopted by leading construction contractors whose employees chose not to belong or be represented by a union. This well-defined philosophy is what makes Associated Builders and Contractors distinct among the nation’s major business associations. It’s the reason why I applied to work at ABC and remained with the organization for more than 17 years. I was able to interact with Mr. Cook, Mr. Trimmer, and Dr. Northrup in the latter years of their involvement with the fight for economic and personal freedom.

Here is a 2005 review of Sam Cook’s Freedom In The Workplace: The Untold Story Of Merit Shop Construction’s Crusade Against Compulsory Trade Unionism written on www.Amazon.com by David Denholm, president of the Public Service Research Foundation:

Freedom in the Workplace July 26, 2005

By David Y. Denholm

5.0 out of 5 stars

When I got a copy of “Freedom In The Workplace” by Samuel Cook, I put it aside thinking that it was a history of the Associated Builders and Contractors and that I would read it when I had the time.

I was sadly mistaken! When I finally did get around to taking a look at it, I wished that I had put it on the top of my reading list the moment it arrived.

This book is a sheer delight for anyone interested in labor unions. It is a history of the ABC but it is much, much more than that. It is a romp through the history of labor law and unionism (with a strong emphasis on construction) told by an excellent writer with much first hand experience. Sam Cook was the general counsel to the ABC during the tumultuous years.

It is lovable in parts when it quotes union bosses in dialect like, “as long as I’m da business manager ah dis Council in no way – an’ I mean, in no way – will Philly or da close counties become anotha Balimore.”

As if that weren’t enough, almost every page has a pithy quote from sources ranging from Sophocles “Nobody has a more sacred obligation to obey the law than those who make the law,” to Rodney Dangerfield “Sometimes life is a bowl of pits.” There must be almost a thousand of these little gems and they alone are worth the price of the book.

“Freedom in the Workplace” goes way beyond a history of the ABC. The chapter on “Bombs, Briefcases and the Cycle of Liberty” takes a broad philosophical view of the organized labor, politics and the future.

“Freedom in the Workplace” is extensively indexed, which is a great help to people like me who start reading a book from the index. But once I got started it was hard to put it down. It is also extensively footnoted and will serve as a reference for a wide variety of scholarly, legal and political interests.

If you are at all interested in labor unions, you owe it to your self to get and read “Freedom in the Workplace.” The people most in need of it, unfortunately, may not buy it so consider getting two copies and giving one to a construction union official or a lawyer who represents unions. Better yet, buy three and send one to the library at your alma matta. You can just bet that this book isn’t going to be high on the list for library acquisitions for most liberal academics.

The country’s state universities are loaded with professors who study, research, teach, and publish labor history from a pro-union, leftist perspective. Sam Cook and his work provided an important counterbalance, both in academia and in practical application in labor relations.

One comment

  1. John Robinson says:

    Sam Cook was one of ABC’s true champions. Having been involved as a chapter employee for 32 years before phasing into consulting work, I know the legacy Sam Cook leaves the ABC family.