As the District 5 Congressional Race Heats Up Unions Stand with Rep. Omar

At a Friday press conference, union leaders weighed in on the congressional race in District 5 between popular incumbent Ilhan Omar and mediator and former corporate attorney Antone M. Melton-Meaux. The speakers emphasized Rep. Omar’s history of advocating for working families and unions, and her opponent’s time representing employers as a non-equity partner at the notorious union-busting law firm Jackson Lewis. 

Minnesota Nurses Association Executive Director Rose Roach described Omar as “bold, fearless, principled and focused” and “the only candidate in the race we can trust to be on our side.”

Ed Reynoso with Teamsters Joint Council 32, noted that the printing firm Monaco that the Melton-Meaux uses,  prints material primarily for Republicans. 

Cherrenne Horazuk of AFSCME Local 3800 noted that Melton-Meaux’s former employer, Jackson Lewis is recognized as one of the oldest and largest law firms specializing in union busting and union avoidance in the United States. According to retired eminent labor reporter Steven Greenhouse, formerly of The New York Times, Jackson Lewis “is widely known as one of the most aggressively anti-union law firms in the U.S.” 

The firm publishes newsletters and papers on how to remain union free. In 1972, Jackson Lewis partners Robert Lewis and William Krupman published the union avoidance handbook, “Winning NLRB Elections”, probably the best-known guide to defeating organizing campaigns. Jackson Lewis runs 2-3 day union avoidance seminars throughout the country, including one entitled, “Remaining Union Free: A Counter-Organizing Simulation”. 

In late 2004, Jackson Lewis made headline news when one of its clients, EnerSys, a multinational manufacturer of industrial batteries, accused the company of malpractice and of advising it to engage in an illegal anti-union campaign. After an eight-year campaign against the International Union of Electrical Workers (IUE) at its Sumter, South Carolina battery plant, the company agreed to a US$7.75 million-dollar settlement. The case opened a window into the activities of union avoidance firms. 

In response to some of the statements made at the press conference, Melton-Meaux described himself as a “strong supporter of unions.” As of our interview Friday, Melton-Meaux had no labor endorsements. Melton-Meaux has not been a member of a union, however, he was an attorney for the NFL Player’s Association in 2010. 

In response to questions about his career at Jackson Lewis, Melton-Meaux explained that Jackson Lewis is a global law firm and that his role was that of an “employment attorney” counseling clients on creating workplaces where employees are valued in their workplace and did not work on any union campaigns.  

In response to critiques of his prior representation of corporations alleged to be engaging in wage theft and harassment, he stated that his role is to “understand the case from both sides” and develop resolutions that worked for both sides. 

Melton-Meaux argued that one of the distinctions between him and Omar is that he would have supported the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), the update to NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement.  He stated that voting against it was “an error on her part.” 

While broadly supported by Democrats and national union leadership, these free trade agreements have been devastating for workers. As described by the Economic Policy Institute, “USMCA will in no way offset or reverse the massive devastation caused by the original NAFTA agreement. Nor is the deal a ‘model for future trade agreements’.” 

Melton-Meaux explained that at its height, organized labor was responsible for decreases in wealth inequality, better pay, benefits and working conditions. A decline in unionization and attacks on unions led to greater wealth inequality. While true, his explanation overlooked the role of union- busting law firms like Jackson Lewis and what role it played in creating such decline.

Filiberto Nolasco Gomez is a former union organizer and former editor of Minneapolis based Workday Minnesota, the first online labor news publication in the state. Filiberto focused on longform and investigative journalism. He has covered topics including prison labor, labor trafficking, and union fights in the Twin Cities.

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