Reaching Out to New Generation of Labor Lawyers

Fordham Law student Artemio Guerra in AFL-CIO Now Blog, June 08, 2009

Media Source

by James Parks

Some 26 law students spent two days in Washington, D.C., learning about opportunities to join the ranks of union lawyers in the ongoing battle for social and economic justice.

The students participated in the law clerk training and networking conference at AFL-CIO headquarters June 5-6. The conference was sponsored by the Minority Outreach Program of the Lawyers Coordinating Committee (LCC), a network of 1,900 union lawyers from around the country.

Artemio Guerra, a law student at Fordham University, says he learned everything he knows from the union movement. Guerra worked 11 years as a community organizer in Texas, and his parents were activists in the United Farm Workers. Guerra, who is clerking this summer at the law firm of Gladstein, Reif and Meginniss, says:

I can’t think of anything else to do in my life except help working people and their organizations be stronger. I’ve learned that when people come together for a cause, they can get things done. 

LCC created the Minority Outreach Program 12 years ago to encourage law students of color to apply for summer clerkship opportunities at LCC law firms and legal departments. Students also participate in the LCC Mentoring Program, through which experienced LCC attorneys provide guidance and support during and after the students’ summer clerkships.

More than 350 minority law students have participated in the program and summer networking conference, gaining valuable exposure to labor law and the labor movement, and making important career contacts.    

Joining the students at the conference, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney told them that “today, more than ever, working people need to have bright, creative, young lawyers on their side.”

 I say that not only because we need to have you in the ongoing battle for social and economic justice, fighting against corporate greed and defending the rights of working people, but because we also need your fresh, creative and unique views on what a proactive agenda looks like.

Pilar Castillo, a law student at Temple University, is helping carwash workers in Southern California who are seeking better working conditions and decent pay. She is one of the AFL-CIO’s Law Student Union Summer interns. The Union Summer interns work with affiliated unions across the country. During the program, students are involved not only in legal research and writing but also in activities such as community outreach, member mobilization, corporate research, legislative campaigns and general litigation, canvassing, planning and implementing solidarity-building activities and participating in meetings and home visits.

Castillo says:

The labor movement in general is very important. But it’s not just workplace issues, it’s social justice. I am very interested in immigration and how it intersects with labor. I came to the conference to meet other minority students who have the same interests as I do and will be involved in similar work.

As part of the conference, the students learned about key issues now on our working families agenda, such as the relationship between trade, globalization and workers’ rights; the labor movement’s involvement in civil rights; the economic crisis; the interconnections among social justice, organizing and the law; and immigration and immigrant workers.

Lawyers who work for or represent unions shared with the students their real-life experiences representing workers in lawsuits, enforcing contracts, lobbying and providing legal assistance in campaigns.