Union Summer

William Warwick, L'12, will spend his summer working with AFL-CIO

May 5, 2011

Growing up in a working-class neighborhood in Indiana, William Warwick, L’12, saw firsthand how labor unions impacted the lives of those in his community. Many of his family members belonged to unions, and Warwick recognized how individuals could join together to strengthen their power by becoming part of an organized labor group.

This summer, through the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO)’s 10-week Union Summer program, Warwick will work with the United Mine Workers of America in Charleston, W.Va. As part of his job responsibilities, Warwick will encourage and help non-union mine workers to organize.

After a weeklong orientation, Warwick also will work on state legislative battles, visit mine workers in their homes to find out what they want to change about their jobs, advise striking and picketing mine workers, and investigate complaints. “It is an incredibly diverse internship,” he says. “Most of my work will be done after hours with mine workers.” He will also assist a staff attorney with legal matters.

While many of West Virginia’s mines are unionized, some newer mines are not, Warwick says. Mines owned by Massey Energy­, whose Upper Big Branch mine collapsed and killed 29 mine workers last April, and Peabody Coal, are currently non-union.

“There is no more dangerous job in the private sector than working hundreds of feet underground to pull out the lifeblood of what makes our nation run,” Warwick says. “Safety concerns are very big. Anything I can do to help the people who live like they do…to collectively organize to make simple safety and fair wage demands to their employers is important.”

Warwick learned of the internship while attending the National Law School Workers' Rights Conference in Maryland this fall. The conference is sponsored by the Peggy Browning fund, a nonprofit corporation established in the memory of Margaret A. Browning, a prominent labor attorney and member of the National Labor Relations Board. According to the group’s website, the Fund’s mission is to provide law students with diverse, challenging work and educational experiences in the area of workers' rights.

Warwick began working with the labor movement as an undergraduate at the University of Evansville in Evansville, Ind. A history major, Warwick was president of the College Democrats where he worked on Brad Ellsworth’s congressional campaign for Indiana’s 8th district. After Ellsworth was elected, Warwick continued to work for him as a labor constituent advocate, serving as a liaison between Ellsworth’s Washington, D.C., office and the Central Labor Council of Southwestern Indiana for two years.

Warwick chose to attend the University of Richmond School of Law because of its proximity to Washington. “I was still working with Ellsworth when I started law school,” he says, “but I didn’t want to live in Washington. I am not a big fan of city living.”

During Warwick’s first year of law school, Rep. Ellsworth ran for U.S. Senate and was defeated. Although this marked the end of Warwick’s involvement in Indiana labor politics, it did not signal the end of his interest in labor law. At Richmond, he has taken all the labor law classes that have been offered, and has done an externship with the Virginia AFL-CIO. He credits Prof. Margaret Bacigal with putting him in touch with the general counsel of the Virginia AFL-CIO. “That has been really helpful in helping me to develop my career,” he says. Last summer, Warwick worked with the National Labor Relations Board in Maryland.

After law school, Warwick hopes to continue his work with the labor movement. He is thinking about applying for a federal clerkship, because, he says, “Labor law is federal law.” He could also see himself going back to work at the National Labor Relations board to enforce fair labor practices.

“Going into college I knew I wanted to go to law school but I had no idea what kind of law I was interested in,” Warwick says. “Just being able to use the rules and the legal system to help people appealed to me. I really believe in collective advocacy, and the community that labor unions bring to the workplace — the sense of belonging to something larger than yourself.”