Monday, October 12, 2009

New Labor Secretary Worked for Anti-Union Law Firm

Alexander Manuel Sanchez, Governor Martin O’Malley’s new Secretary of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, once worked for a law firm that defends employers from employee discrimination claims, worker class actions, OSHA citations, union organizing campaigns and other litigation by employees.

When the Governor announced Sanchez’s hire, he was a Senior Vice-President at United Way of America. According to Sanchez’s United Way biography, two of the jobs he held prior to his tenure there were an attorney position at Thompson Hine and President/CEO of United Neighborhood Centers of America, both in Cleveland, Ohio.

Thompson Hine LLP is a large law firm with offices in Atlanta, Brussels, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, New York and Washington, DC. It has 28 different areas of practice and hundreds of lawyers. One of its practice areas is labor and employment law, in which it exclusively represents management. Among the services the firm offers are:

Defending unfair labor practice (ULP) charges
Developing strategies to meet union organizing campaigns
Strike planning and injunctions
Union avoidance
Union decertification
The firm boasts the following among its achievements:

Defeated an attempt to certify a nationwide class of over 1,600 individuals in a wage-hour action pending in federal district court in Florida.

Obtained dismissal of a wage and hour collective action against an Ohio nonprofit organization that operates multiple group homes, where the plaintiff claimed that she and members of the class were misclassified as exempt employees.

Obtained summary judgment from the United States District Court for the Western District of Louisiana in an FMLA/pregnancy discrimination case for a national company. The plaintiff was terminated from her employment within days of returning to work from maternity leave. Successfully defended the appeal of this matter before the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Aggressively defended two Fortune Global 500 companies against nine OSHA citation items resulting from a chemical release, eight of which were classified as “serious,” resulting in a successful settlement wherein OSHA agreed to vacate six of the “serious” items, reclassify one of the “serious” items to an “other than serious classification,” and reduce the total fine by more than 60%.

Successfully defended a chemical products manufacturer, resulting in the dismissal of unfair labor practice charges related to the termination of an employee and a company’s non-solicitation policy.

Handled the longest Cincinnati-area strike in recent history, including picket line monitoring, injunctive relief for picket line violence and successful contempt hearings against the union.
The firm also has an ERISA section that defends employers accused of mishandling workers’ pension funds.

Thompson Hine’s individual lawyers advertise their services in more detail. One of them says she can “defend employers in employment discrimination and harassment lawsuits in state and federal courts” and “assist employers in defeating union election campaigns.” Another says he has “successfully defended employers against allegations of employment discrimination, wrongful discharge, violations of the NLRA, and OSHA violations…” Still another specializes in “counseling employers on defeating unionization attempts.” And one more brags that she has “won summary judgment for employer in wage and hour collective action where the class exceeded 30,000 employees” and “won verdict for employer in sexual harassment case involving allegations of physical assault.”

Finally, Thompson Hine has produced an “EFCA Defense Kit” to help employers defeat unions in case the Employee Free Choice Act is passed. The kit includes a “Union Vulnerability Assessment” which is “is designed to leverage the experience of our Labor & Employment team to highlight your company’s strengths and minimize your weaknesses, making your workforce less susceptible to union pushers… We will produce for you a detailed assessment of the union risk, including recommendations on how to minimize that risk. After the Union Vulnerability Assessment is complete, Thompson Hine will work with you on the second component — a customized training program to give your managers the tools necessary to not only recognize obvious and subtle organizational activity, but to combat it as well.”

We have no evidence that Sanchez personally represented employers defending against worker lawsuits or union organizing campaigns. A 2005 biography states that he worked as an associate at the firm for two years in its commercial banking and bankruptcy section. It’s worth noting that firms filing for bankruptcy are permitted to abrogate union contracts and can evade some employee benefit obligations.

After leaving Thompson Hine, Sanchez later went to graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania and became the President and CEO of United Neighborhood Centers of America (UNCA) in 2003, which was then based in Cleveland. Sanchez’s United Way biography describes UNCA as a “national, non-profit association of settlement houses and community centers. UNCA maintained a dedicated membership of 200 organizations from all across the country representing approximately 800 facilities with combined annual budgets well in excess of one billion dollars.”

That overstates the actual financial size of UNCA’s national headquarters. In 2002, the year before Sanchez took over, UNCA reported revenues of $375,154, expenses of $345,841 and an operating surplus of $29,313. It had net assets of $83,835.

By 2005, Sanchez’s last year at UNCA, the headquarters had revenues of $336,717, expenses of $415,538 and a deficit of $78,821. The organization finished the year with net assets of $32,235 – just barely above water.

Sanchez then left for United Way and his successors restored UNCA’s net assets to $148,276 by the end of 2007.

Finally, we find no evidence that Sanchez has ever lived in Maryland. He has resided in Rocky River, Ohio, Cleveland, Ohio, and Arlington, Virginia, and he has attended school at Boston College, the University of Michigan and the University of Pennsylvania.

Sanchez has one important qualification to serve in the O’Malley administration: he is a former college classmate of the Governor’s Chief of Staff, Matthew D. Gallagher. Gallagher obtained a Masters of Government Administration from the University of Pennsylvania in 1997. Sanchez obtained the same degree from the same institution in 1996, as he relates in his Linkedin profile below.

Maryland’s labor community lobbied for two candidates for Labor Secretary. One was Takoma Park resident Holly Fechner, a former Chief Labor & Pensions Counsel for the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee under U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy and a former attorney for the AFL-CIO. The other was Glen Arm resident Ron DeJuliis, a former Baltimore building trades union leader who is the current Commissioner of Labor and Industry (serving directly under the Labor Secretary). Labor had never heard of Sanchez and some union leaders were informed of his appointment just a day before the Governor’s announcement.

The Governor owes labor an explanation as to why a non-resident former bankruptcy attorney for an anti-union law firm is better qualified to run the Labor Department than a former staffer for Ted Kennedy or a long-time Maryland union leader.

Disclosure: The author is an international union employee of the Carpenters and has worked for 15 years in the labor movement. This post has not been sanctioned by the union and is the author’s statement alone.