Plenary, Keynote & Workshops

The 26th Annual National Law Students Workers' Rights Conference is returning to Baltimore! 
Our 2023 Conference was an incredible gathering in PBF's hometown, Philadelphia. Attended by over 200 law students with over 50 presenters from across the country, the 2023 NLSWRC brought a community of progressive and like-minded law students, lawyers, and organizers together to explore the future of workers’ rights and workplace justice lawyering. This year, we're returning to our regular conference town, Baltimore! We can't wait to see you there.
Planning for the 2024 NLSWRC is underway. For information on sponsoring, attending, or presenting, reach out to We’d love to hear from you!



Friday Plenary
This is What Democracy Looks Like: Worker Power on Display

Panelists: Richard Hooker Jr., Anthony R. Segall & Kim Teplitzsky. Moderator: Matt Ginsburg.

Over 360,000 U.S. workers joined strikes in 2023. In 2021, it was closer to 37,000. Strikes are a visible metric of worker engagement and determination, but they are also strategic negotiation tools. The threat of a strike, and its corollary--threat of a lockout--involve careful strategizing. For large contract negotiations such as those between the Teamsters and UPS, SAG-AFTRA, the WGA and Hollywood studios, and the UAW and car makers, unions must consider myriad risks and ramifications. Effective communication with thousands of members across the country is crucial and complex. When successful, the process can yield gains far beyond the immediate contract. Writer and actor strikes are shaping the debate over machine learning and artificial intelligence. The UAW’s demand for a four-day workweek is changing the way we think about the value of labor and the cost of living. As the climate crisis unfolds, the summer of 2023 was the hottest summer on record, and the threat of striking won UPS workers heat safety protections that set a new standard for the delivery industry. President Biden joined a UAW picket line and launched the American Climate Corps that promises “a workforce pipeline that will deliver good-paying union jobs.” But in every large contract negotiation, union leaders are shouldered with the burden of correspondingly significant risks. In this plenary session, we’ll hear from two union leaders and a labor lawyer who have personal experience developing strategy, managing communications, and inspiring members.


Saturday Plenary Sessions
Local Levers of Power: How State Government Lawyers Make a Difference for Workers

Panelists: Graham Lake, Jerry Mullery, Devki Virk. Moderator: Terri Ellen Gerstein.

When the topic of labor law arises, the focus typically is on federal law, especially the National Labor Relations Act, which governs union organizing, collective bargaining and economic pressures such as strikes in most of the private sector. However, workers also depend on a wide array of statutory schemes, including labor standards such as minimum wage and overtime laws, family medical leave laws, occupational safety and health statutes, and employee fringe benefits laws, as well as equal employment opportunity acts.  Most of these labor/employment laws include administrative and enforcement agencies.  Although some are at the federal level, an increasing volume of labor/employment legislation is at the state and local government level.  Where there are both federal and state standards, often the state law provides stronger protections, better enforcement machinery and tougher remedies.  State laws provide varied statutory and administrative infrastructure for protection on the job, much of it at the state level. Every state has a department of labor or an equivalent that employs labor/employment lawyers, working within state governments.  For non-union workers, these may be the only source of relief; for union workers, they set minimum standards above which the union can bargain collectively, and take out of competition the destructive, anti-union undercutting of wages and benefits.  State labor department officials play a crucial role in fostering an upwards cycle in their local labor markets, underpinning local prevailing wage and working condition standards bargained collectively by unions.  In this panel, state government officials engaged in policy development and statutory enforcement describe the connection between their work and the larger labor movement, offering students a view into one of the many branches a labor lawyer’s career path can take. 

Organizing at Starbucks & Beyond 

Panelists: Ian Hayes & Michelle Hejduk

This plenary focuses on the legal and organizing issues involved in attempts to organize large employers with many locations, using the campaign to organize Starbucks as a case study. Ian Hayes was the first attorney working on the ground for the Starbucks campaign, and is now an attorney on the national campaign. He will discuss the procedural obstacles involved in the campaign so far, Starbucks’ historic strategy of violating the NLRA, and what those patterns reveal about organizing large employers. Michelle Hejduk is a long-time Barista at Starbucks working at one of the first Starbucks stores to unionize, and a leader in the national campaign. Both will discuss the latest developments in the campaign, including the extensive and ongoing legal issues it has raised, and will attempt to draw lessons for practitioners and their clients.

Saturday Workshops

In substantive workshops, participants will learn about a variety of issues affecting workers' rights.  We aim to offer encouragement to law students already committed to workers' rights and to inform and inspire students not currently committed to these interests. We hope that as they become leaders in their communities they will bring an appreciation of workers' rights issues to their work as lawyers and community leaders. Workshops are designed and led by labor practitioners, law professors, government administrators, labor representatives, and organizers.

Every attendee will be able to participate in three workshops during the conference.

The following workshops will be offered:

Introduction to Basic Labor Law - This workshop covers an overview of the basic concepts of labor law, focusing on the National Labor Relations Act, its primary purposes, its structure, and its administration by the National Labor Relations Board, with a little bit of labor law history thrown in for good measure.

Protecting and Organizing Immigrant Workers - The labor movement and the fight for workers’ rights now more than ever revolve around immigrants’ rights. At the same time, the effort to protect the rights of immigrants frequently depends upon workplace and labor organizing. This workshop will give an overview of the challenges that immigrant workers face when they attempt to form a union or enforce other workplace rights. The workshop will also discuss legal, policy, legislative and grassroots strategies for overcoming those challenges.

Public Sector Labor Law - Public sector workers, employed by the federal government, cities, towns, school boards, states and other public entities, work under a jurisdiction-by-jurisdiction legal system that offers twists and turns not always found in the private sector. This workshop provides an overview of public sector labor law and how it differs from private sector law; discuss the types of attacks that conservative legislatures and governors have undertaken against public sector unions; and highlight the new and creative ways of organizing in the public sphere.

The Rewards of Labor Law Practice - A career in labor law gives socially conscious lawyers an almost unmatched opportunity to support workers and the labor movement. In this workshop, practicing lawyers will offer their perspectives on working and practicing law in and for the labor movement and offer suggestions on how law students might best go about seeking a union, government or plaintiff-side job.

Trade & Labor Law - For decades, the labor movement has fought the dominant, neoliberal model of free trade. Trade has put workers into labor cost competition around the globe. A disproportionate share of off-shored American manufacturing jobs have been those of racial minorities, as well as unionized workplaces. Regulatory competition, both international and domestic (among American states), has caused U.S. workers’ real wages  and working conditions to stagnate or decline, while enforcement of labor standards has been undermined. Off-shoring of bargaining unit work and resultant plant closings has caused a precipitous drop in private sector union representation. Race-baiting and anti-immigrant demagoguery have been deployed to pit workers against each other, within countries and across national boundaries. This workshop will examine prior and current trade agreement models and other trade-related mechanisms, taking into account race and class-based effects on workers, unions, and labor rights. It also will focus on new trade-related and supply chain initiatives for implementing workers’ rights around the world.  These new developments aim to turn the negative impact of trade toward positive uses of trade leverage on behalf of working people of all races, nationalities and identities.

Sports Law - The unions representing professional athletes are some of the most visible and controversial in the labor movement. Their actions and success have a disproportionate impact on the public’s perception of unions in this country. Labor lawyers for these unions deal with both bread-and-butter collective bargaining issues - grievances and arbitrations, discipline, health and safety - and also more topical issues that cut across legal disciplines such as drug testing, antitrust, intellectual property, as well as the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement. This workshop will discuss the work of these unions and the challenges players/union members in each sport face during this momentous year.

Employee Benefits Law - Employee benefits, including health care, retirement benefits, training, and more, are of paramount importance to workers. Every day, issues regarding employee benefits are in the news and at the bargaining table. Yet many law schools offer little to no coursework in employee benefits law and students committed to workers’ rights may not have the opportunity to learn about these issues and this area of law. In addition, there are many union-side law firms and union-sponsored benefits looking for dedicated employee benefit lawyers, and there is a limited pool of candidates looking for jobs as union-side employee benefit lawyers or other legal jobs protecting workers’ benefits. In this workshop we will provide a basic overview of the Taft-Hartley Act rules for labor-management employee benefit plans, the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) and related laws. We will also provide information about what kinds of work the lawyers in this practice area actually do, and the types of careers a student could pursue in employee benefits law.

Dynamic Partnerships with Organizers - Building solidarity and trust between lawyers and organizers to achieve shared goals is even trickier and more essential now that remote work has taken hold. This workshop will explore practical tips that you can implement to foster teamwork, strengthen relationships, and cultivate a sense of camaraderie among your labor team. This workshop will also explore the many hats that labor lawyers wear. we will discuss when it’s appropriate to be a lawyer, when it’s appropriate to be an organizer, and when it’s appropriate to be both.

Fireside Chat with senior Labor Leaders - Come and hear experiences from the front lines of the labor movement over the past 40+ years! This informal discussion brings together three dynamic labor lawyers and PBF Board members to share their labor law journey and their perspective on current and future labor battles. This will include an audience Q&A.