Joshua Bienstock, a New York attorney, assistant professor of business law at New York Institute of Technology, and an adjunct professor at CUNY specializing in dispute resolution, collective bargaining, arbitration and labor law, has played an incalculable role in the development and expansion of the Murphy Institute ALR Project. He has long held an interest in collective bargaining in Asia, and has been a featured ALR lecturer both in China and at the Murphy Institute.
ALR: You’ve traveled with the CUNY ALR team on two recent lecture tours to China. What have been your lasting impressions from those trips?
Joshua Bienstock: For me, the strongest impressions were made by the professors and students. The students were very enthusiastic and excited to be absorbing more knowledge. They asked very thoughtful questions. I also had an opportunity to meet with some of the experts in China on the emerging laws related to collective bargaining. Plus, the opportunity to experience the culture and the hospitality of the people of China, to tour some of the cities and their cultural sites, eat in the restaurants and share some basic day to day exchanges with taxi drivers and subway clerks was just so much fun.
ALR: What's the first thing you think of when comparing U.S. and China collective bargaining?
Joshua Bienstock: On the surface, the American approach to collective bargaining appears to be confrontational, where the union is acting as the advocate for the employees. The approach in China is more collaborative, where the employer union (and government) are working together to approach the needs of the employee. In the United States, only 11% of public and private sector employees are represented by unions, so collective bargaining coverage is limited to a small group of employees. In China, some 48% of employees are represented by a union, and so more employees are subject to the union-management collaborative approach. In China, there is now a trend to self-organizing, where the workers have banded outside the umbrella of their official union and are engaging in their own form of labor unrest and collective bargaining, perhaps similar to the United States in the early 1800s. We are witnessing history being made before our eyes in the field of collective bargaining.
ALR: Why Chinese labor relations? What brought you to this discipline?
Joshua Bienstock: I’ve been an invited lecturer at Cornell University and, more recently, CUNY, speaking to various labor and management groups and educators from China, South Korea and Vietnam on topics related to conflict resolution and collective barraging. I am enthralled by the cultural differences between East and West and how they relate to conflict resolution and collective bargaining.
ALR: You are recognized in New York as a leading practitioner of dispute resolution and contract negotiation. And yet you've spent a good deal of your professional life in the classroom. What draws you to teaching?
Joshua Bienstock: I am drawn to teaching because I love the exchange of ideas that I share with my colleagues and students. I’ve had the opportunity to meet students from all over the world. My students are my family; when they conclude their coursework with me, that’s often just the start of my relationship with them as a mentor. Every summer for the past 25 years, I’ve hosted a summer barbecue for all my students, past and present. Some of those attending are students of mine from more than a decade ago.
ALR: Could you see yourself doing this work in any other city than New York?
Joshua Bienstock: That is so hard to answer. Life is like a winding river, with rapids and jetties, etc., which may take you to different places. My outlook on life has been influenced by the culture of New York where everything is hustle and bustle; cultures influence our lives and our outlooks. Had I grown up in Beijing, I probably still would have had a desire to focus on conflict resolution; but how I viewed conflict and its resolution would certainly have been different – perhaps I would have viewed it from a more patient and collaborative perspective. But I am certain that wherever I lived, I would be committed to the study of conflict resolution in the field of labor relations and in the world of academia (student/university conflict). I have a passion for this field of study.