Never Forget: Anti-Union Attorneys Also Love Joe Biden

Hamilton Nolan March 10, 2020

In the week since his strong show­ing on Super Tues­day, Joe Biden has col­lect­ed a raft of new labor union endorse­ments. As vot­ers in more states head to the polls, it is worth remem­ber­ing that Biden launched his cam­paign with a fundrais­er co-host­ed by the head of an anti-union law firm.

On April 24, 2019, Biden kicked off his pres­i­den­tial cam­paign at a union hall in Pitts­burgh, full of mem­bers of the Team­sters, Unit­ed Steel­work­ers and fire­fight­ers union. The fol­low­ing night, April 25, Biden attend­ed his first major cam­paign fundrais­er, held at the Philadel­phia home of Com­cast exec­u­tive David Cohen. That event was co-host­ed by Steve Coz­en, the chair­man of the large nation­al law firm Coz­en O’Connor. That firm’s labor prac­tice works for com­pa­ny man­age­ment against the inter­est of unions.

Biden’s fundrais­er, held right on the heels of his splashy appear­ance with union mem­bers, drew con­dem­na­tion in the labor press. Asked this week about that crit­i­cism in light of Biden’s pos­si­ble impend­ing nom­i­na­tion as the Demo­c­ra­t­ic can­di­date for pres­i­dent, Steve Coz­en said, Total non­sense. We are sup­port­ers of orga­nized labor, as is Joe, though many of our clients are on the employ­er side of dis­putes or nego­ti­a­tions. It was a non sequitor stretch made by some­one who didn’t know better.”

On the web­site of its Labor Rela­tions and Dis­putes prac­tice, Coz­en O’Connor boasts of its capa­bil­i­ty to help clients pre­pare for and respond to pick­et lines, strikes, lock­outs and oth­er eco­nom­ic cam­paigns; and work with employ­ers dur­ing union elec­tion campaigns.”

We also help employ­ers avoid union­iza­tion through pos­i­tive employ­ee rela­tions and regain nonunion sta­tus when employ­ees indi­cate they no longer wish to be union-rep­re­sent­ed,” the firm says. Our attor­neys man­age labor rela­tions with a clear eye toward the bot­tom line.”

The co-chair­men of that prac­tice, Joseph Tilson and Thomas Giot­to, both con­tribute to the firm’s polit­i­cal action com­mit­tee, which donates to a wide vari­ety of Demo­c­ra­t­ic and Repub­li­can can­di­dates nationally.

In Jan­u­ary, research by the Cen­ter for Eco­nom­ic and Pol­i­cy Research (CEPR) found that Biden had received more mon­ey than any can­di­date from attor­neys at law firms with notable his­to­ries of anti-work­er actions.” In addi­tion to mul­ti­ple donors at Coz­en O’Connor, Biden had already gar­nered tens of thou­sands of dol­lars in con­tri­bu­tions from attor­neys at Bal­lard Spahr, Mor­gan Lewis, Jack­son Lewis and oth­er noto­ri­ous­ly anti-union firms. CEPR also found near­ly a dozen Biden donors at Win­ston & Strawn, the law firm that rep­re­sent­ed plain­tiff Mark Janus in the land­mark anti-union Janus v. AFSCME case that severe­ly under­mined the strength of America’s pub­lic unions.

Biden’s nation­al labor union endorse­ments include the fire­fight­ers, the iron work­ers, and the Amal­ga­mat­ed Tran­sit Union. He was also endorsed by the Inter­na­tion­al Broth­er­hood of Elec­tri­cal Work­ers, spark­ing a revolt by mem­bers who unsuc­cess­ful­ly peti­tioned for the endorse­ment to be retract­ed. In just the past week, as his poll num­bers have improved dras­ti­cal­ly, Biden has won the endorse­ment of a long list of union locals across the coun­try, as well as a nation­al endorse­ment from the Inter­na­tion­al Asso­ci­a­tion of Machin­ists, where he won a vote of mem­bers. Strange­ly, the IAM was one of the only major unions to oppose the recent NAF­TA 2.0 trade agree­ment signed by the Trump admin­is­tra­tion. That deal was sup­port­ed by the AFL-CIO and by Biden, but opposed by Biden’s only remain­ing oppo­nent, Bernie Sanders.

Biden has not matched Bernie Sanders’ labor pol­i­cy plan to dou­ble union mem­ber­ship in Amer­i­ca, but orga­nized labor’s polit­i­cal cal­cu­la­tions are not being made on pol­i­cy alone. Unions, like many polit­i­cal enti­ties, often want to back a win­ner. Many of the unions that have sat on the side­lines through­out the Demo­c­ra­t­ic pri­ma­ry have now decid­ed that it is time to endorse Biden, because he appears to be like­ly to win the nom­i­na­tion. But the sup­port that Biden has received from anti-union attor­neys was there long before Super Tues­day. He has been their choice in the Demo­c­ra­t­ic pri­ma­ry from the very beginning.

Though Biden has received more than three dozen dona­tions from Coz­en O’Connor employ­ees totalling many thou­sands of dol­lars, it is only fair to note that the Bernie Sanders cam­paign has also received mon­ey from a Coz­en O’Connor attor­ney. One attor­ney. He works in the bank­rupt­cy prac­tice. And he hasn’t maxed out yet.

Hamil­ton Nolan is a labor reporter for In These Times. He has spent the past decade writ­ing about labor and pol­i­tics for Gawk­er, Splin­ter, The Guardian, and else­where. You can reach him at Hamilton@​InTheseTimes.​com.

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