Plenary, Keynote & Workshops

Friday Plenary Session
Black Lives Matter and the Labor Movement

Many of the students awarded Peggy Browning Fellowships each year, and many of the students attending our annual conference, went to law school for the sole purpose of fighting on behalf of workers for fair compensation, a safe work environment, and respect in the workplace. Many of them have also dedicated their time toward learning about and fighting for racial justice. The goal of this plenary is to allow them to hear thoughtful and frank answers to sometimes difficult questions about how the labor movement can be a force for racial justice, the difficulties it faces in that effort, and the potential consequences if it fails to do so. Panelists represent different perspectives - from inside the union as an attorney, inside the union as a non-attorney leader, and outside the union as an activist.

    Moderator: Jason Veny, Partner, Murphy Anderson PLLC
    Panelists:   Amanda Green Hawkins, Associate Counsel, United Steelworkers
                       Linda Hinton, Vice President, Communications Workers of America District 4
                       DeRay McKesson, Civil Rights Advocate, a leading voice in the Black Lives Matter Movement; Co-Founder, Campaign Zero


One of the hallmarks of our conference every year is the networking opportunities provided to students. Accomplishing this will be much more difficult this year since we're doing a virtual conference instead of meeting in person, but we still want students to be able to meet and interact with as many others as possible. We expect these sessions to be lighthearted and interactive but also have some useful takeaways at the same time.

Meet-Ups will be offered on all three days of the conference. Each student will have the opportunity to participate in at least two sessions. Topics will be offered in variety of groupings: regional groups, affinity groups, social justice groups, labor and employment groups, and personal improvement groups. Click here for more details.

IUE-CWA/Peter Mitchell Labor Law Keynote Session
COVID-19 and Essential Workers

The COVID-19 pandemic has fallen hardest on the nation’s most vulnerable workers: meatpacking workers, home health aides, farmworkers, low-wage retail and on-demand delivery workers, and more.  These workers - who despite their low pay are increasingly being recognized as our most-essential - are much more likely to be black and latinx, which helps to explain the fact that black and latinx people in the United States are nearly twice as likely to die from COVID-19 as white people are.  This keynote will explore the underlying reasons for the racial disparities in these jobs, the ways in which employer and government responses to COVID-19 have unnecessarily exacerbated risks, and steps workers, unions, and communities have taken to fight back.

We are grateful to the IUE-CWA for sponsoring this session in honor of Peter Mitchell, who served as IUE-CWA's General Counsel for more than 30 years.

    Moderator: Sarai King, Assistant General Counsel, United Food & Commercial Workers
    Panelists:   Margo Feinberg, Partner, Schwartz, Steinsapir, Dohrmann & Sommers
                       David Seligman, Executive Director, Towards Justice
                       Walakewon Blegay, Staff Attorney, DC Nurses Association
                       Amanda Morejon, Assistant Attorney General, Massachusetts Attorney General's Office
                       Bruce Harland, Shareholder, Weinberg Roger & Rosenfeld

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. Unlike in previous years, workshop topics will be offered only once.

The following workshops will be offered:

Workshop 1: Introduction to Basic Labor Law - In this workshop we will provide 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.  There is no way to cover all of labor law in an hour and a quarter, so this will only be a brief summary of the major concepts.  Because this workshop covers some of the basics of labor law, it is not recommended for those students who have taken or are currently taking an introductory labor law course. Presenters: Jay Smith (Gilbert & Sackman) and Gwynne Wilcox (Levy Ratner, P.C.)

Workshop 2: Immigrants' Rights Are Workers' Rights: Protecting and Organizing Immigrant Workers - The labor movement and the fight for workers’ rights now more than ever revolve around immigrants’ rights, while the effort to protect the rights of immigrants frequently depends upon workplace and labor organizing. Wages continue to fall, work hours continue to rise, and workplace conditions continue to deteriorate into dangerous conditions while entire industries exploit the cultural and language barriers, anonymity and fear inherent in an undocumented workforce. Employers resist any changes that would stop the system of maximizing profits by exploiting immigrant workers. They especially resist the efforts of immigrant workers to join unions or enforce existing workplace protection laws. Those efforts are made more difficult by the fear felt by many immigrant workers that standing up publicly to organize or reporting unpaid wages, sexual harassment, or unsafe working conditions to a government agency could lead to an enforcement action by ICE. 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 grass-roots strategies for overcoming those challenges and protecting immigrant workers who take steps to exercise or enforce their workplace rights. Presenters: Ingrid Nava (SEIU 32BJ) and Brian Petruska (LiUNA Mid-Atlantic Regional Organizing Coalition).

Workshop 3: The Rewards of Labor Law Practice - Representing unions and workers as a lawyer in 2020 is an often rewarding, sometimes frustrating endeavor: rarely has the work been more important, but rarely has the deck been so stacked against us.  Progress has been made in protecting workers’ rights, but the possibility always exists for much of it to be undone.  Meanwhile, the anti-union backlash in state capitols has presented both new challenges and, many would argue, new opportunities.  Regardless of what the immediate future holds, a career in labor law gives socially conscious lawyers an almost unmatched opportunity to make a real and positive contribution in a way that both improves and empowers workers’ lives.  Unfortunately, however, it is a notoriously tough field to break into.  In this workshop, practicing lawyers from a variety of labor positions will briefly offer their perspectives on working and practicing law in and for the labor movement, and on the positives and negatives of such a practice and the lifestyle that goes with it.  The lawyers will also offer suggestions on how law students might best go about seeking a union, government or plaintiff-side job.  Students should bring with them questions of general interest about job-seeking, about resume-building, and about the life of a labor lawyer. Presenters: Jessica Drangel Ochs (SEIU 32BJ), Antonia Domingo (United Steelworkers) and Melissa Woods (Cohen, Weiss & Simon, LP).

Workshop 4: Employee Benefits Law: What Do I Need to Know and Why Do I Need to Know About It? - Employee benefits, including health care and retirement benefits, 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 very 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 Employee Income Security Act (ERISA) and related laws, the issues facing workers regarding employee benefits as well as a discussion regarding the types of careers a student could pursue in employee benefits law. Presenters: Lisa Gomez (Cohen, Weiss & Simon, LP) and Sharon Aguirre (Cohen, Weiss & Simon).

Workshop 5: 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. Meanwhile, attacks on teachers, federal employees, other public workers and independent providers in a host of states and in the Supreme Court (including the Janus case) have heightened attention to public sector labor law in recent years. Meanwhile, the COVID-19 crisis has heightened the challenges facing public sector workers and their unions. This workshop will provide an overview of public sector labor law and how it differs from private sector law; discuss the types of attacks that the Trump administration, conservative legislatures and governors have undertaken against public sector unions; and highlight the new and creative ways organizing is happening in the public sphere and the litigation strategies and other efforts to fight back against these attacks. Presenters: Michael Artz (AFSCME) and Fernando Colón (AFSCME)

Workshop 6: Trade and Labor in the Intertwined Crises of COVID-19, Racial Inequality, and Economic Injustice - For decades, the labor movement has fought the dominant, neoliberal model of free trade. Its claimed improved business efficiency and lower prices have come at the cost of exporting workers’ jobs, undermining their union representation, and exacerbating racially-based and class-based economic disparities. 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 has caused U.S. workers’ real wages to stagnate or decline while enforcement of labor standards has been undermined.  Race-baiting as well as anti-immigrant demagogueryhave been used to pit workers against each other, within countries and across national boundaries. Despite anti-immigrant and anti-BLM policies, however, the Trump administration has introduced seemingly pro-worker provisions in emerging new free trade agreement models. COVID-19 has revealed critical deficiencies in PPE resulting from reliance on production in foreign supply chains, compelling further reconsideration in the U.S. and abroad of the neo-liberal free trade model.  On the other hand, abrupt swings in trade policy jeopardize existing supply chains, threatening workers’ jobs in many countries. This workshop will examine prior and current FTA models, in light of new understandings stemming from the coronavirus crisis, taking into account their race and class-based effects on workers, unions, and labor rights. Presenters: Marley Weiss (University of Maryland School of Law) and Chaumtoli Huq (CUNY School of Law).

Sunday Workshops

Workshop 7: Sports and Labor Law - The unions representing professional athletes are some of the most visible and controversial in the labor movement. How they act, and how successful they are, 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. Presenter: Joe Briggs (NFL Players Association)

Workshop 8: Fellowships and Career Paths - The Peggy Browning Fund is proud that, with this year's class of 91 new Peggy Browning Fellows, we will have well over 1,100 talented alumni across the country. The PBF network extends widely and for 23 years has helped shape the careers of young attorneys dedicated to workers' rights and public interest law, passionate about social and economic justice. Typically 70% of our alumni can be found in international and local union legal departments, public defenders' offices, legal aid, nonprofit and human rights organizations, labor-side and employment law firms, as well as in all levels of government. This workshop will feature Peggy Browning alumni who will talk about their PBF experiences and how their fellowships helped them embark on careers in workers' rights advocacy. Information and advice will also be provided on how to apply for a fellowship for 2021. Moderator: Leo Gertner. Panelists: Mary Anne Moffa, Cassie Peabody, Claudia Williams & Other Peggy Browning Alumni