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To the tune of clanging pots and megaphoned chants, two labor firms are taking the stage in the San Francisco hotel strike. “This is showtime in the world of labor relations,” said Matthew Ross, a partner at Leonard Carder representing Unite Here Local 2, the union staging loud picket lines at 14 San Francisco hotels. The standoff began Sept. 29, when employees at four hotels announced a two-week strike; two days later, 10 other hotels locked their workers out, prompting noisy demonstrations and long hours for lawyers representing the union. Labor law has evolved since San Francisco’s last hotel strike, in the 1980s. Aggressive campaigns, such as Unite Here’s, have broadened labor law’s scope, said Joseph Grodin, a retired professor at Hastings College of the Law. The move toward direct action is pushing lawyers past traditional court grievances and negotiating tactics, he said. Union attorneys have been spending less time on court filings and more on picket lines and public persuasion. Following the union’s lead, they are focusing more on putting public pressure on employers’clients and coordinating with unions in other cities. Union attorneys welcome the shift. “Too often over the last 40 years, unions have relied on [litigation by] lawyers to make up for shortcomings in their organizing campaigns,” said Richard McCracken, a partner at Davis, Cowell & Bowe, which represents Unite Here nationwide. These days, union lawyers play an intimate role in organizing. “Our work here goes beyond simply being a base that needs to be touched,” said McCracken. “We help develop strategies.” These strategies can spawn a crowd of legal issues, from libel claims to trespassing complaints at picket lines. Attorneys for unions and employers, therefore, have a key voice not just as advisers, but as decision-makers in all aspects of a dispute — from where to picket to long-term decisions about the best way to pressure an employer into meeting union demands. Union officials have even called event planners and corporate clients to discourage them from booking blocks of rooms. “We make a very big effort to turn customers away, and that doesn’t only involve picketing. It involves other types of communications, often very hostile communications,” McCracken said. As he vets union leaflets, Web sites and public accusations about employers, he said, the labor attorney’s role is “very much like that of a media lawyer.” A union may even target hotel clients, McCracken said. He pointed to a 1995 bargaining campaign in Contra Costa County, Calif., in which a union intern created a Web site criticizing PeopleSoft’s business practices, a tactic McCracken credits with persuading the company to stop renting rooms from the Lafayette Park Hotel. Though often effective, such efforts require intense legal review to avoid libel suits, he said. With the current strike only a week old, Ross said, the picket line generates a constant stream of legal work. His staff reviews land ownership documents to determine where it’s legal to stand and shout, visits the lines in the event of a scuffle or dispute with security forces and keeps local government informed of union actions. “There’s a lot of coordination with the police,” he said. Employers’ attorneys are doing much of the same legwork to figure out which picketing actions are illegal. Attorneys from Korshak, Kracoff, Kong & Sugano, which represents the hotel coalition — officially called the San Francisco Multi-Employer Group — would not comment. But Robert Ford, a Jones Day partner who represents management in labor disputes, said that when unions go on the offensive, “the management’s role is to confine the union as much as possible,” often through legal challenges. Ford said employer representation has always required diverse services, from advice on contract language to filing strike injunctions. But the trade has changed somewhat as union tactics have shifted. “A number of the unions, particularly Unite, have focused more on affecting employers directly � through attempts to make the cost of a strike so high that it changes the bargaining position,” Ford said. Employers then find themselves looking for legal ways to minimize picket lines and reviewing union communications for libel. But just as important, Ford said, is advising management on the minutiae of bargaining, such as when and how to restart talks after a polarizing standoff. So far, the San Francisco strike has been nearly litigation-free. The sole grievance that’s been filed is a complaint by hotel owners that Unite is not bargaining in good faith because its locals around the country are trying to coordinate contracts so they expire simultaneously in 2006, giving the union increased national leverage. The National Labor Relations Board is investigating the complaint. Ford and Stewart Weinberg, a partner with Oakland-based labor firm Weinberg, Roger & Rosenfeld, said they are closely watching the hotel strike because two of the key issues — health care costs and national contract coordination — are increasingly important in other disputes. Weinberg called rising health care costs “the theme of every strike nowadays.” As the hotel battle plays out, attorneys on both sides expect to file unfair labor practices claims — likely as a result of picket-line confrontations. And union attorneys plan to increase the pressure on hotel clients. “It means a lot of work for us,” Ross said.

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