Plenary, Keynote & Workshops

The 25th Annual National Law Students Workers' Rights Conference is returning to Philadelphia! 
Our 2022 Conference was an amazing return to in-person programming. Attended by 200 law students, with over 50 presenters from across the country, the 2022 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 laywering. 
Planning for the 2023 NLSWRC is underway. For information on sponsoring, attending, or presenting, reach out to We’d love to hear from you!

While planning for our 2023 conference is underway, the below schedule for our 2022 NLSWRC provides interested attendees and presenters with a framework for our general schedule.

Friday Plenary
IUE-CWA/Peter Mitchell Labor Law Plenary - Amazon Labor Union
                Panelists: Seth Goldstein, Eric Milner, Retu Singla & Chris Smalls

Saturday Plenary Sessions
Keynote Address- Jennifer A. Abruzzo, General Counsel of NLRB

From Smokestacks to Library Stacks: Organizing Cultural Workers in Pittsburgh 
Over the last decade, workers in public and private higher education and cultural non-profits in Pittsburgh have been building unions with the support of the United Steelworkers, winning some of the largest campaigns the region has seen in years. What began in a small campaign to organize adjunct faculty in a Catholic university turned into a national battle over the tension between religious freedom and workers' rights, followed by an increasingly coordinated effort to raise standards across multiple employers and transform an entire regional labor market. Hear from key leaders in these campaigns, which illustrate how litigation and seemingly small differences in statutory frameworks can shape the battle for workplace justice.

                Panelists: Melinda Ciccocioppo, David Jury, Inga Schmidt, Robin J. Sowards

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 - 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 present only a brief summary of the major concepts. 

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.

The Rewards of Labor Law Practice - Representing unions and workers as a lawyer in 2022 is a consistently rewarding, but sometimes frustrating endeavor. Progress has been made in protecting workers’ rights, but the possibility always exists for much of it to be undone. 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.

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.

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 conservative legislatures and governors have undertaken against public sector unions; and highlight the new and creative ways organizing is happening in the public sphere.

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 demagoguery have 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 introduced seemingly pro-worker provisions in emerging new free trade agreement models, and the Biden administration has carried this forward with strong efforts as implementation. 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. A further innovation of tremendous significance is the intensified utilization by both Trump and Biden administrations of Section 307 of the Tariff Act of 1930 to exclude from importation into the U.S. goods manufactured using in any respect forced labor, including forced child labor. Although the plight of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang, China was received the most publicity, this provision also has been applied to several other countries with industries reliance on modern day slave labor. This workshop will examine prior and current FTA models and other trade-related mechanisms for implementing workers’ rights around the world, 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.

Organizing at Starbucks & Beyond - This workshop 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 a lead 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 Eisen is a long-time Barista at Starbucks working at the first Starbucks store to unionize, and a leader in the national campaign. She will discuss the history of organizing Starbucks locations store-by-store and the problems raised by the company’s violations of the law, and what that history tells us about organizing similar employers.