By Samantha Ojo.
I had the pleasure of attending the 18th Annual National Law Students Workers’ Rights Conference, sponsored by the Peggy Browning Fund. The Peggy Browning Fund is an organization like no other, providing forty law students with stipends and summer fellowships in labor-related positions across the nation. The conference brought law students from schools nationwide together at the Maritime Institute in Maryland for two jam-packed days of unique labor and workers’ rights themed programming and networking.
Conference events began on Friday evening with a networking reception and dinner, followed by a screening of the film Farewell Ferris Wheel, which shed light on workers’ rights issues surrounding the United States’s controversial H-2B guest worker visa program. Saturday’s programming began with a keynote address from Mark Gaston Pearce, Chairman of the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”). Mr. Pearce shared his work experiences that he gained during his transition from union-side work to leading the NLRB, advancing as a minority lawyer, and beginning his career in the NLRB’s Buffalo office. St. John’s Alumna and NLRB Staff Attorney, Amanda Jaret ‘13, moderated the panel.
Following the keynote address, I attended two breakout sessions: Introduction to Labor Law and Employee Benefits. The sessions offered great overviews to the fundamentals of Labor Law and Employee Retirement Income Securities Act (“ERISA”) Law.
After lunch, I attended my favorite panel of the weekend: Sports and Labor Law. The panel consisted of attorneys from three major sports unions, the NBPA, NFLPA, and MLBPA, and delved into the unions’ history and development, current initiatives, and stances regarding legal issues. The conference concluded with a panel discussion on organizing workers in the gig economy, which highlighted the unique nature of organizing employees or independent contractors of companies like Uber, Lyft, and Airbnb.
As a first-year law student, it can be difficult to leave the classroom and see legal work in action, but the Peggy Browning Conference both exposed me to new and fascinating legal issues and provided me insight into my desired career with unparalleled access to distinguished individuals at the top of their field. I hope to be able to formally become involved with the Peggy Browning Fund throughout my time in law school, and I strongly suggest that students with an interest in workers’ rights or Labor and Employment Law should research the fellowship and aim to attend the conference next fall.