3L Amy Brandt recently returned from the National Law Students Workers Rights conference, held on October 17-18 in Baltimore and sponsored by the Peggy Browning Fund.
Brandt was selected to attend by UC Hastings faculty, and received a scholarship to cover her attendance and transport. The weekend-long event featured panels with employment attorneys, union organizers, and offered great networking opportunities with other students and lawyers active in labor law.
“I was excited that the conference had a strong union presence,” Brandt said. “They are powerful voices of workers’ rights, and it was interesting to hear about the biggest movements happening across the country, and the progress being made.”
Brandt was particularly inspired by a panel about low-wage workers, which focused on the national fast food unionization movement, as well as carwash employees in Los Angeles who have recently collectivized as part of the CLEAN Campaign. “Hearing about new unions being created today is encouraging, because it is such a strong way for employees to assert their rights,” she said. These low-wage workers support families on unfair salaries, she explained. And often their working environments are dangerous, or they suffer from wage theft when they are forced to work overtime or off the clock without pay. Employers often take advantage of these low wage workers, and unionizing helps demand what is legally theirs.
A big sports fan, she was also impressed with the panel discussion of labor law in professional sports. These are issues that are on the other end of the income spectrum, but can still amount to exploitation and unfair treatment. She was able to hear from counsel from the Players Associations of the MLB, NFL and NBA. “They covered the hot topics the players are facing now, like bullying and domestic violence, and the role they play as counsel to their union members. We also heard about the role the Players Associations play in advocating for the players in different ways including payscales, reimbursement disputes, punishment, suspensions, fines, and playing field conditions” she said. “They discussed A-Rod and his alleged steroids use. He has been an active union member for many years, so the duty the Players Association owes to him is to advocate for their client, regardless of uncomfortable allegations, to ensure that he is being treated fairly by the team and the league.”
Growing up in Modesto, California, Brandt has always respected and appreciated low wage workers, as a large part of her community was made up of agricultural workers. Her grandfather, a big influence, was a union pipefitter in Chicago. Taking minimum wage jobs as a teenager helped her see labor issues personally, and after working in Human Resources as a union employee at San Francisco State University, she decided to pursue employment law.
At UC Hastings, she participated in the Workers’ Rights Clinic at the Employment Law Center last spring, and gained valuable experience dealing with low income clients who faced issues related to their jobs. “You couldn’t get better direct client experience,” she said. “The clinic is the perfect way to practice interviewing skills, and learn to hone in on specific issues when you have emotional clients. It was also one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had in law school.”
This past summer, she worked at Sommers Employment Law Group, a plaintiff’s side employment law firm which advocates for workers’ rights for employees and unions in the Bay Area. Now working part-time at another plaintiff’s side employment firm, Hoyer & Associates, while pursuing her coursework, Brandt also finds time to extern for a judge at the Department of Labor. There she is dealing with whistleblower cases and claims for workers’ compensation from longshoremen. Even though she’s overworked now herself, she knows that she is on the right path.
“Ultimately the cases you are taking as a plaintiff’s side employment lawyer are about empowering somebody who was wronged, and helping them achieve the remedy they deserve,” she said. “Issues with employment are often very personal to clients. Being able to connect with people is inspiring and motivating, and nothing is more gratifying than helping someone regain confidence.”