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A Different Kind of Labor Advocacy

Labor Law Clinic advises community group on recommendations for Minneapolis Police Department

A typical case for the Cornell Law School Labor Law Clinic often involves representing workers before the National Labor Relations Board or terminated employees in arbitration and mediation with their former employers. The clinic has also represented several clients with racial discrimination claims over the years.  But clinic students recently took on quite a different case involving public policy that combined labor law with civil rights and racial justice issues.

Beginning in August 2023, the clinic advised Minneapolis community organization Minneapolis-1 on its proposed recommendations for revisions to the city’s police collective bargaining agreement, which are geared toward addressing issues like police accountability and transparency.

Police collective bargaining agreements have come under greater scrutiny because they can shield officers from accountability and undermine transparency for the communities involved even when police officers engage in excessive force. As the city of Minneapolis and the Police Officers’ Federation of Minneapolis are negotiating a new labor agreement, multiple community organizations, including Minneapolis -1, have weighed in on the ways in which the agreement can more broadly consider public safety and accountability. The Minneapolis police force has been under increased scrutiny since the 2020 killing of George Floyd by four of its officers. This is what brought concerned community members together to create Minneapolis-1 and to work for greater police accountability and racial justice.

Recognizing the inextricable link between labor justice and racial justice, the Cornell Labor Law Clinic embraced the challenge of recommending changes to the contract language that would better protect communities in Minneapolis. The clinic reviewed recommendations prepared by Minneapolis-1 and analyzed the labor law implications. The clinic’s report analyzed the organization’s recommendations compared with police collective bargaining agreements from other U.S. cities and advised on best practices. The report also explored whether the city of Minneapolis could implement some of the group’s recommendations without negotiating with the police union.

While community organizations like Minneapolis-1 are not directly involved in negotiating the collective bargaining agreement, they provide important input to the city council.

headshot of Angela Cornell

Angela Cornell

Clinical Professor of Law Angela Cornell first learned of the project through the National Lawyers Guild and discussed it with her students before agreeing to take it on. While the project differs from the clinic’s typical work, which often includes direct representation of workers and advising unions, clinic students were enthusiastic and interested in the racial justice aspect.

In the spring of 2024, the Cornell Movement Lawyering Clinic also began working with Minneapolis-1 to address the police oversight issues outside of the labor law context. According to assistant Clinical Professor of Law Carlton Williams, who leads the Movement Lawyering Clinic, this is not the first time the two clinics have collaborated.

According to Cornell, who founded the Labor Law Clinic and has led it since its inception in 2005, the project showed students a new angle from which to address labor law advocacy and social justice work.

photo of Daniel Bromberg

Daniel Bromberg

“Usually, we’re working with labor rights for the purpose of labor justice, but here we’re working with labor rights and trying to achieve racial justice,” says Daniel Bromberg ’24, one of three clinic students who worked on the project. “The impact of the work is going outside the workplace.”

Bromberg graduated from the Cornell School of Industrial and Labor Relations in 2020. The son of refugees from the former Soviet Union, he was struck by the issues faced by immigrant workers while working at a law firm specializing in workers’ compensation before starting law school. With this background, he notes that it was an adjustment to consider a collective bargaining agreement from the perspective of the employer, the city of Minneapolis.

While this project differs from the typical representation the clinic often handles, it is by no means the first time it has taken on nontraditional advocacy projects. In addition to advising on collective bargaining issues, the clinic also provides “know your rights” presentations to employees and drafts proposals and reports to organizations including the United Nations.

As Cornell notes, “Lawyers do a lot of different kinds of work on behalf of clients.”

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