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Too often I get a call from a Local Union that is in trouble because of their own lawyer. As I said previously, there are some very good union lawyers, some who dedicate their lives to protecting workers.

There are others who are involved just to make money. It’s the second group I’ll be talking about here.

The other day I talked with a Local Financial Secretary who described his Local as broke. He said the Local got involved in a lawsuit, and the attorneys bills piled up.

Here is something I learned from my favorite good guy lawyer: don’t start lawsuits you can’t afford, but don’t avoid the ones you must prosecute. A good guy lawyer can help you tell the difference. A money first guy lawyer, on the other hand, will try to turn every problem the Local has into a legal bill. Too many ATU Local Unions have their finances put in peril this way.

It’s easy to fall into this trap. I know firsthand running a Local can be challenging and lonely. The guy the president can usually trust to have an intelligent, non-political discussion with is the union lawyer. But those conversations cost. That can be ok and controlled. It usually is. But where lawyers cross the line is in trying to control the Local, its policies, and behavior.

Greatest Power is Informed Members

Most of what union members have and need has nothing to do with lawyers. Those things we need we get from having power, and the greatest power a Local has is informed members.

The second greatest power is the riders, who will be on your side if you organize them. This is way cheaper than putting your lawyer’s kids through medical school.

Local Union Executive Boards need to pay careful attention to the litigation the Local pursues. It is probably at the top of your expenses. It does not need to be. The International offers a weeklong training for serious Local officers to give them the skills to represent our members at arbitration. If they develop the skill, they will be as good as any lawyer in almost any routine case.

Before entering into expensive litigation, Local Presidents should consult with my office. We will give a second opinion on your chances and other options. Most important is don’t let lawyers run your Local Union.

Win through Power Building

We also run classes on power building, and through this Locals are winning huge victories, without lawyers.

Lawyers do not have training in power building, just lawyering. You wouldn’t ask a lawyer to fix your car; don’t ask her to fix your Union. Don’t ask them to negotiate your contract.

Don’t get lawyers involved in fights with the statehouse or battles with the company over things like privatization. When I see Locals do this, usually against our advice, I shudder.

I have seen lots of lawyers negotiating give backs for workers for instance. It was the best they could do.

While I have seen Local Presidents cut their own wages and benefits, I have never seen a lawyer offer to cut what they charge the union (our members) after a contract disaster.

I have seen Locals led into arbitrations that cost the members piles in legal fees when they should have organized the members and riders and fought power with power. And I have seen huge benefit cuts in that process. The members got the cuts; the lawyers got the fees.

Again, we are training your officers for these fights. We are leading more strongly than ever. We need our members involved now. And, we will train members right in the Local Union to win these fights.

ATU training costs nothing when we do it in your town. See this magazine to get ideas on training. You might want to form a training committee…because that’s how we win.