Full Service Advice to Labor Organizations
Labor unions confront a broad spectrum of legal issues on which they look to the firm for advice. For many of our union clients, we provide such advice on an ongoing basis. In a number of instances lawyers at the firm serve as general counsel of or regular outside counsel to the union, while other clients come to us for advice on an ad hoc basis. Listed below are some of the areas in which lawyers at the firm regularly provide advice:
Lawyers at the firm are frequently consulted to advise unions in connection with campaigns to organize workers who do not have a union. This is work the firm has done for decades, and it continues to the present, as we have recently provided advice in connection with efforts to organize new hotels in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area and to organize Starbucks workers across the country. Counseling in this area is closely related to our work advising unions in connection with campaigns to improve working conditions of employees who are already represented by a union.
Unions have achieved gains for workers, not only through organizing and bargaining, but through legislation. We often are called upon to consult on the drafting of state or local legislation that improves workers' lives and gives them a greater voice in their dealings with management. Our work in this area includes drafting and successfully assisting our client in pressing for local legislation protecting workers who were displaced when the Covid-19 pandemic devastated the hotel and hospitality industry.
Compliance with the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act (LMRDA)
A union’s relations with its members and the government are highly regulated, primarily but not exclusively by the LMRDA. The firm regularly advises unions regarding LMRDA requirements for union elections, and we have handled many cases before the Department of Labor and the courts concerning union elections. Among those cases are Quigley v. Giblin, 569 F.3d 449 (D.C. Cir. 2009), and three Supreme Court decisions: Steelworkers v. Sadlowski, 457 U.S. 102 (1982), Steelworkers v. Usery, 429 U.S. 305 (1977), and Dunlop v. Bachowski, 421 U.S. 560 (1975).
Similarly, the firm advises unions regarding the provisions of the LMRDA and other laws that define when and how a national or international union may place an affiliated local union in trusteeship. In this area as well, the firm has handled a number of cases in the federal trial and appellate courts.
We also regularly advise unions and their officers concerning the LMRDA provisions addressing financial reporting by unions and their officers, an area in which we developed deep knowledge through our representation of the AFL-CIO in rulemaking and litigation over these issues. See American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Associations v. Chao, 407 F.3d 377 (D.C. Cir. 2005).
Compliance with statutory and constitutional limits on charging fees to nonmembers and dues to members
Unions are unique membership organizations. While largely voluntary in nature, a union’s statutory role as exclusive bargaining agent for all employees in any bargaining unit in which a union becomes certified requires that a union provide representation to all employees, not just its members. That obligation is accompanied by the right of private-sector unions in many states to charge and collect fair-share fees (also known as “agency fees”) from members and non-members alike to defray the cost of that representation. The firm has extensive expertise in the complex issues that surround the charging of fees to private-sector bargaining unit employees who choose not to become members of the union.
In the public sector, collection of agency fees is no longer permitted in the wake of the Supreme Court’s 2018 decision in Janus v. AFSCME Council 31, which overruled a 1977 decision that had upheld laws allowing the charging of such fees. Antiunion groups have tried to extend Janus to certain provisions in dues contracts between unions and their voluntary members, and Bredhoff regularly advises public sector unions as to structure their dues systems so as to successfully defend against possible challenges. We also regularly litigate in this area, having briefed and argued numerous post-Janus appellate court cases.
The Union as employer
The firm provides advice on a wide range of issues that arise for unions in their capacity as employers, including dealing with their own employees and staff unions. This work includes negotiating collective bargaining agreements with staff unions, defending unions in arbitrations and other proceedings brought by employees of the organization or by a staff union, and advising unions about compliance with federal, state and local laws applicable to unions and employers.
The firm is frequently called upon by international or local unions to conduct internal investigations of alleged misconduct by union staff or officers as well as to represent unions and union officials in grand jury or other criminal or congressional investigations of their conduct. The firm has the expertise to handle these highly sensitive matters.
Unions are subject to an increasing number of federal and state laws regulating fundraising for public elections, including so-called “paycheck protection” laws enacted by some states that attempt to restrict union political activity. Lawyers at the firm advise clients with respect to the requirements of these federal and state statutes. In addition, the firm has represented unions in successful challenges to state efforts to limit union political activity in several states, including Nevada, Utah, Idaho and Washington. The firm regularly represents unions in investigations by federal and state agencies—and by Congress—triggered by allegations that their conduct has not been in compliance with campaign finance laws.
Compliance with Section 302 of the Labor Management Relations Act (LMRA)
Section 302 sets strict limits for certain kinds of financial transactions involving unions and establishes criminal penalties for unions and union officials who violate the statute. The LMRA applies to requests for, or receipt of, “things of value” from an employer. While simple on its face, the statute raises difficult questions in many contexts, including jointly-administered benefit funds and other joint union-management programs and activities. The firm regularly advises clients with respect to these matters, and represents both unions and union officials in Section 302 issues before the federal enforcement agencies and in litigation.