Sunday, August 26, 2012

Panic Street Lawyer: One big holiday - Pittsburgh Post Gazette

20120826_holidaychecklist_photocom147445447_150Actually, I prefer to think of it as an unpaid sabbatical.

This week I received email confirmation that, for the first time in 20 years, I will not be teaching one fall semester undergraduate “law and ethics” course at a certain private university here in the city. It was a mess-up (their description, not mine) connected to a transition at the business school that is occurring at a level far above my adjunct pay grade ...

Thankfully I am not exclusively a permanent nontenure-track university professor, dependent on teaching more than one course per semester (sometimes on more than one college campus) in order to contribute to my household’s income. The part-timers’ plight was described in an article I first read almost five years ago: less remuneration, less support (in terms of offices, secretarial help and time), and less job security.

20120826_lecture_photocom123186286_150Here in Pittsburgh, there has been a 2012 adjunct faculty union organizing effort involving a private university (not mine) which has made both local and national news.

The angle to this story which has received the most attention has been the interaction of law and religion (Duquesne University is a Catholic institution of higher education). But one Duquesne adjunct’s reason for supporting the union struck home:

“Our contracts are written in such a way that the university can cancel our courses at any time for any reason, and you have no assurance that you can teach from one semester to the next. We have people who have been teaching here 25 years and never know if they have a job next semester.”

Following receipt of my own adjunct news, I decided to follow the sage advice of contemporary American political philosopher S.T. Colbert, who asks us to remember:

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. Provided life also gives you water, sugar and ice. Otherwise, that advice is just cruel.

20120826_stephencolbert_150One of the ways I plan to use the extra time I have been given during in the next few months is working up more of the client cases that I have in my office, where I concentrate my legal practice in the area of plaintiffs’ employment and labor law.

But I thought of two other activities that I could more seriously engage in following the one big holiday that signals the start of autumn in the United States (and Canada): Labor Day (Labour Day).

1. Get in better physical shape

The idea here is to stretch out, and improve the quality of, the life that I choose to lead. I also figure that the healthier I stay, the fewer the number of interactions that I have to have with the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

20120826pg_upmctower_150Please don’t get me wrong: my dealings with non-supervisory UPMC Health System personnel at hospitals and medical offices have always been generally positive. UPMC employees have tough jobs to do and, for the most part, they perform those jobs with kindness and competence.

But the employer they work for -- Pittsburgh’s largest private employer in 2012 -- have established wages, hours and working conditions which some consider the early 21st century moral equivalent of Carnegie Steel in late 19th century. UPMC is fighting back against an effort by SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania to convince nonclinical employees to join a labor union in order to negotiate better terms and conditions of employment.

2. Watch more NFL football and NHL hockey

Yes, I realize that this non-activity is in direct conflict with the first activity (unless I do my sports watching on a running treadmill, of course).

20120826_NFLlogo_150But in 2012 America, even this non-activity presents labor law (and ethical) issues. Both the National Football League referees and the National Hockey League players are members of established labor unions. And both of those unions are working under collective bargaining agreements with their respective leagues which have expired or are about to expire.

The expired NFL CBA has resulted in the league’s decision to hire what union-side labor lawyers prefer to as scabs (what others politely call “replacement workers”). These scab referees have been working the 2012 pre-season games and, unless a new agreement is reached in the next 1 ½ weeks, they will start working the regular season games.

A senior writer for ESPN.com posed the following question this week: why aren’t we all supporting the replacement referees in this dispute? I think his excellent piece also suggests that whether one watches NFL games officiated by scab refs presents an ethical dilemma. It does for me.

20120826_NHLlogo_150I doubt that any of us will have to confront the same dilemma if the National Hockey League does not reach a new CBA with its players by September 15. That is because, rather than bringing in scabs to wear the uniforms and skate on the ice in games on behalf the 30 NHL teams, the league will order all players to vacate the premises until an agreement is reached and simply shut down operations.

That would be neither one big holiday nor an unpaid sabbatical. That situation is what all labor (labour) lawyers refer to as a lockout.


The Panic Street Lawyer is a personal opinion column by attorney Jay Hornack. Contact him right here at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .



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