Getman received his bachelor's degree from the City College of New York in 1953. He then attended Harvard University, where he received his bachelor of law in 1958 and his master of laws in 1963. He began consulting for various labor and management groups thereafter, and became a noted arbitrator in labor disputes.
From 1959 to 1961, Getman was an attorney with the National Labor Relations Board in Washington, D.C.
He received an appointment as an associate professor of law at the Indiana University Bloomington school of law in 1963, becoming a full professor in 1967.
Getman was visiting professor of law at Banaras Hindu University in Varanasi and the Indian Law Institute in New Delhi from 1967 to 1968.
He returned to the United States and became a visiting professor of law at the University of Chicago Law School for the 1970-1971 term.
From 1976 to 1977, Getman was a professor of law at Stanford Law School. He won appointment at a professor of law at Yale Law School in 1978, where he remained until 1986. The same year, he became chief negotiator for the Connecticut State Police. During his tenure at Yale, Getman also became general counsel for the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), a position he held from 1980 to 1982.
In 1986, Getman was appointed Earl E. Sheffield Regents Professor of Law at the University of Texas School of Law. He spent the 1991-1992 term as Richard Huber Distinguished Visiting Professor of Law at Boston College.
Getman is a nationally renowned scholar of labor law. Getman conducts numerous field studies, and an empirical rather than theoretical perspective dominates his work. He co-wrote two books on federal labor law which remain fundamental texts in the field: Union Representation Elections: Law and Reality in 1976 and Labor Relations: The Basic Processes, Law and Practice in 1988.
Getman is also a well-know labor historian and activists. His 1998 book, The Betrayal of Local 14: Paperworkers, Politics and Permanent Replacements, tells the story of the 1987 strike at the International Paper paper mill in Androscoggin, Maine. Getman analyzes various factors which contributed to the strike's short-term success as well as its eventual collapse, arguing that federal labor law and internal union politics (especially those at international union headquarters as well as rivalries between the local union and its parent) were what led the strike to ultimately fail. With former United States Secretary of Labor Ray Marshall, he co-edited The Future of Labor Unions: Organized Labor in the 21st Century in 2004. The book analyzes how American, foreign and transnational labor policies mire more effectively meet the needs of workers, companies and the public.
Getman has also published a book critical of higher education, In the Company of Scholars: The Struggle for the Soul of Higher Education. The book discusses the decline in the status of academicians, how politics and parochialism undermine scholasticism, and how faculty have been increasingly marginalized in the decision-making processes of American colleges and universities.
Getman's first novel, Strike!, was published in 2007. His son, Mike Getman, is the long-time head coach of the University of Alabama-Birmingham Blazers men's soccer team. His daughter Polya Getmen is a dressage rider.