Law Students Protest Firms

Harvard law students held a rally against "union-busting" law firms in front of the Faculty Club yesterday, calling on their classmates to boycott recruiting sessions with the companies.

Chanting "students here at Harvard Law will not work for Seyfarth, Shaw," about 25 members of the Law School Labor Law Project waved hand-lettered poster-board placards protesting the practices of at least six law firms.

Project literature claimed the firms systematically "develop strategies for employers to systematically violate worker's rights."

But partners from the top firms on the list--Seyfarth, Shaw, Fairweather and Geraldson of Chicago and Littler, Mendelson, Fastiff and Tichy of San Francisco--denied yesterday that their practices violate workers' rights.

This fall, the Labor Law Project has distributed information to Law School students and is holding a petition drive. Organizers said they expect more than 300 students to sign the petition promising not to interview with the targeted firms.

Robert Weissman '89, one of the protest organizers and a former vice president of the group, said it is encouraging students not to work for or interview with firms now involved in "major labor disputes."

"Littler, Mendelson is currently advising Diamond Walnut in California, the largest walnut producer in the United States," Weissman said. "Diamond fired its entire work force, primarily made up of working mothers and Blacks or Latinos, to rehire workers with lower wages."

But Joel Kaplin, former chair of Seyfrath, Shaw's labor and employer's practice committee, defended his Chicago-based firm.

"The charges are really silly," Kaplin said. "There's just nothing there."

An attorney at another top Chicago law firm said that to his knowledge, Seyfrath, Shaw has not used any questionable tactics in cases involving unions.

"I don't know that they [Seyfarth, Shaw] have ever violated any laws," said the lawyer, who asked to remain anonymous. "Different lawyers for different unions have different experiences. I don't believe in characterizing a law firm."

But both Littler, Mendelson and Seyfarth, Shaw are on an AFL-CIO list of "union busting" law firms.

"My contact with Seyfarth, Shaw is that they are an aggressive management firm--if they can help management avoid unions, they will," said Hugh B. Arnold of Arnold and Kadjan, a Chicago law firm that represents many of the city's unions.

Littler, Mendelson does not handle cases involving unions very often, according to managing partner J. Richard Thesing.

"Dealing with unions is a very small part of our practice, likely less than 25 percent, and most of those cases deal with negotiating collective bargaining agreements," Thesing said. "We have never marketed ourselves to beat out the unions, like other firms."

But Thesing did acknowledge that Littler, Mendelson has been successful in fighting unions, particularly in the 1970s and 1980s.

"Out of thousands of cases dealing with unions, extremely few clients lost and were following our advice," Thesing said.

Nationally, one out of every 36 workers who support unions in organizational drives are fired, Weissman said.