Why are Democratic Candidates Taking Money From Union-Busting Lawyers?

Photograph Source: Gage Skidmore – CC BY-SA 2.0

The Iron Workers Union endorsed Joe Biden last week, citing his dedication to “defend rights and jobs of American workers”, and calling him “a friend to union ironworkers”. The union endorsement marks one of many that Democratic candidates are fighting for by unveiling detailed labor plans and promising to overturn “right-to work laws” that weaken unions. While they seek union endorsements, several of the candidates are also seeking direct contributions from wealthy individuals. And therein lies a largely hidden tension.

Attorneys at law firms with notable histories of anti-worker actions have been coalescing around the candidates. Our preliminary analysis shows Joe Biden in the lead for such donations with Pete Buttigieg in a distant second. These groups include elite law firms and consulting companies with long histories of offering expensive “union avoidance” services to employers looking to squash their worker’s organizing efforts among other anti-labor services. Employees of these firms range from associates to CEO’s and from low dollar donors to bundlers, but their support of these candidates may hint that the labor policies they expect from a Biden (or Buttigieg) administration are more employer-friendly than what unions are expecting. At the very least, these firms may be looking to influence strategic appointments at Departments and Agencies like the Department of Labor and the National Labor Relations Board, where sympathetic board members can help ensure the firm’s clients stay “union free”.

This list is a work in progress. The firms named have national presence with a labor practice that engages in anti-union strategies, as well a notable number of donors to presidential candidates. Our analysis is based on FEC data and other publicly available information, and the underlying profiles and numbers are available in this spreadsheet. If any firms have been misrepresented, or if there are any notable groups missing, please reach out to us at our email address: oversight at cepr.net

Biden bundler and Comcast exec David Cohen appears to be at the center of some of this anti-worker influence, as his guest list for a Biden kick-off fundraiser last April included Steven Cozen, founder and chairman of Cozen O’Connor, as well as Ballard Spahr partner and lobbyist Ken Jarin. Cozen and Jarin were revealed to have raised at least $25,000 for Biden when the campaign released its bundlers list at 11pm the Friday after Christmas. Former Pennsylvania Governor and Ballard Spahr Special Counsel Ed Rendell was a co-host of the fundraiser.

Cozen O’Connor details the firm’s union busting services its own website: the Labor Relations & Disputes practice helps employers “avoid unionization through positive employee relations and regain nonunion status when employees indicate they no longer wish to be union-represented.” More than ten Cozen O’Connor employees have maxed out contributions to the Biden campaign. Among the donors are Cozen O’Connor CEO Michael Heller, president and managing partner Vincent R. McGuinness, Cozen family members Cathi Cozen Snyder and Lori Cozen Rosenberg, and Joseph Quinn, a member of the firm’s Labor Relations & Disputes department.

Ballard Spahr seems to be the firm of choice for universities looking to suppress graduate student unionization. Both the University of Pittsburgh and University of Pennsylvania hired the firm during negotiations with graduate students, with Pitt revealed to have spent $240,000 on the firm. The firm’s Labor and Employment group offers legal services including “union avoidance training and counseling” and “prevention and control of strikes and picketing” in order to “help clients maintain a union-free environment.” Ballard Spahr counts six employees who have contributed at least $2800 to the Biden campaign, with over 20 contributing in total. The maxed out donors include Jarin and Rendell as well as firm partners David Pittinsky and Stephen Kastenberg, and practice leader of the Labor and Employment group Brian Pedrow. Pedrow worked as Edward Rendell’s labor counsel during his administration and continued that role into successive gubernatorial administrations.

Biden’s anti-union donors also include employees from Morgan Lewis and Bockius, a law firm that promises employers will “avoid union penetration, and strategically shape bargaining units to minimize potential union organizing victories” with their help. Morgan Lewis has 6 employees that donated at least $2800 to Joe Biden’s campaign, including Morgan Lewis Chair, Jami McKeon. The remaining donors are all partners: Lawrence Silverstein, Jim Hamilton, Paul Zevnick, John P. Lavelle, and Marc J Sonnenfeld.

Morgan Lewis has a long revolving door history with the National Labor Relations Board. John Ring was appointed under the Trump administration to chair the NLRB in April of 2018. Prior to his appointment, Ring was a Labor and Employment partner at Morgan Lewis, and represented employers in collective bargaining and other labor law issues. He was preceded at the NLRB by another Morgan Lewis alum, Philip A. Miscimarra, who was named chair by Trump in 2017 after being appointed as a member of the board by the Obama administration in 2013. Miscimarra returned to Morgan Lewis as a partner and leads the firm’s NLRB special appeals practice. Morgan Lewis employs two other former NLRB board members: partner Harry Johnson and senior counsel Charles Cohen.

Biden also has supporters among O’Melveny and Myers, the law firm that provides advice on union- avoidance, elections, and strikes, and represents employers in front of the NLRB. Three Biden bundlers are connected to the firm, including O’Melveny chair Bradley Butwin, former attorney and current Cityview CEO Sean Burton, and former attorney Bruce Karsh, CFO of Oaktree Management. O’Melveny partner Bruce Tobey has contributed $2,800 to the campaign.

Biden isn’t the only candidate with anti-union firm ties; Buttigieg received significant support from Barnes & Thornburg, which has an enthusiastic Labor and Employment practice that boasts “favorable results in more than 96% of the campaigns” in which they represent employers facing union organization. Buttigieg has over 20 donors from the firm in total. All four maxed out donors are partners at the national firm, which seems to have a strong presence in the Midwest and has four offices in Indiana alone.

Amy Klobuchar also enjoys support from notorious anti-worker law firm Jones Day, which made headlines for recent union-busting efforts. The staff of Slate made their first union agreement this month, a year after management retained Jones Day to attempt to undermine their unionization efforts and take hardline stances at the bargaining table. Jones Day also represented Paul Public Charter School in DC when staff tried to organize, and engaged in union busting tactics that caused the American Federation of Teachers to withdraw its petition in 2017. Klobuchar’s donors from the firm include partner Andrew Luger, who has raised at least $25,000 for her campaign, as well as Annmarie Daley, Brad Brasser, Joseph W. Hammell, and Erin Sindberg Porter, all of whom are partners at the firm.

As our research into anti-worker law firms and big dollar presidential campaign funders continues, we will be updating both this narrative as well as the underlying spreadsheet. And, as mentioned, tips welcomed!


Biden has also accepted over $4000 in donations from six principals and counsels at Jackson Lewis, including $2800 from Of Counsel Angela Quiles Nevarez. Jackson Lewis is one of the most well-known anti-worker firms, and has a long history of orchestrating aggressive anti-union campaigns for retailers like Ikea, as well as manufacturers, media outlets, and universities.

Biden and Buttigieg alike have accepted donations from law firm Gibson Dunn, which famously represented Wal-Mart in the class action lawsuit in which the Roberts Supreme Court allowed Wal-Mart to evade full responsibility for seemingly having systematically discriminated against its female employees for promotions and pay. Both candidates have two donors that gave at least $2800. Biden’s includes Jose W. Fernandez, Gibson Dunn partner and former Obama administration State Department appointee.

Hogan Lovell’s employment practice negotiates with unions on behalf of employers, while high profile partner and former Obama administration Acting Solicitor General Neal Katyal has filed anti-union briefs in Supreme Court cases that helped undermine worker’s rights. Biden received $2800 donations from three Hogan Lovell attorneys, including partner and global board member Michael Silver, while Buttigieg had 14 smaller dollar donors and one partner max out to a total of over $10,000.

Winston Strawn represented the plaintiff, Mark Janus, who brought the historically devastating case against public employee unions Janus v. AFSCME. Janus eviscerated a 41 year old precedent protecting public employee union workers’ right to organize effectively and without free riders. (Janus himself now works for the funders of the case, rather than as a public employee) Biden had 11 Winsyton & Strawn donors, two of them max contributors, while Buttigieg had 6, among two have given the $2800 maximum.

Starbucks hired Akin Gump to conduct an anti-union campaign when employees began organizing; the NLRB later ruled that Starbucks had illegally fired three baristas in an attempt to thwart the unionization effort. The Obama Administration went on to nominate Akin Gump Co-Chair Patricia Ann Millett to the DC Circuit Court, causing an outcry from members of the union. Biden, Buttigieg and Elizabeth Warren each received $2800 from a partner at the firm.

This article first appeared on the CEPR blog.

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