The AFL-CIO Union Lawyers Alliance (ULA) is a professional association of labor lawyers affiliated with the American Federation of Labor – Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), the largest association of labor unions in the United States. In November 2020, the organization changed its name from the Lawyers Coordinating Committee to the Union Lawyers Alliance. The ULA is housed within the legal department of the AFL-CIO.”
The AFL-CIO has historically aligned itself with the Democratic Party but distanced itself from left-of-center social causes to focus on labor issues starting in the 1970s. According to the right-of-center Heritage Foundation, this changed in the 1990s, when the Federation’s base began shifting from manufacturing workers to white-collar and public sector employees. Richard Trumka, the AFL-CIO secretary-treasurer at the time, specifically attacked more moderate Democrats, calling their efforts to move their party towards the center “a blueprint for political disaster.” Trumka now serves as president of the Federation. He advised future labor lawyers to “be at the forefront of this activism” when he spoke at the 2018 Minority Outreach Conference organized by the ULA (then the Lawyers Coordinating Committee).
Most labor unions have in-house legal counsel at the local and national levels, but independent union-side labor law firms supplement the work of in-house union legal counsels. Many of these union-side lawyers are associated with the ULA. To qualify for membership in the Alliance, a lawyer must devote more than 50 percent of his or her time to practicing union-side labor law and representing AFL-CIO member unions. ULA lawyers gain access to a directory of all other lawyers in the Alliance and a library of legal resources, as well as job placement assistance and other support. The ULA hosts an annual conference where it presents developments in labor law and provides training to its members.
In addition to pro-union litigation, the ULA engages in both legal and conventional activism to advance left-of-center social issues. Same-sex and transgender advocacy is one of the Alliance’s main issue areas. The ULA has also joined the AFL-CIO in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
The ULA has a Law School Outreach Project ULA sends labor attorneys to career fairs to promote its work to law students.
The ULA runs a Diversity, Outreach, Opportunities, and Recruitment (DOOR) program specifically to law students from ethnic minority backgrounds. Like the Law School Outreach Project, this program is designed to introduce law students to labor law and join the ranks of union-side labor lawyers to engage in pro-union legal activism. The DOOR program hosts its own annual conference.
The ULA offers recent law school graduates a one-year fellowship with the AFL-CIO legal department, which engages in pro-union litigation and supports AFL-CIO policy advocacy efforts. Fellows assist AFL-CIO lawyers, attend meetings and hearings, and participate in ULA activities including conferences and law student outreach.
The ULA claims to have more than 2,100 members from more than 500 law firms and union legal departments across the country.
Between 2011 and 2015, the Union Lawyers Association received between $850,000 and $900,000 in annual revenue. Starting in 2015, the Alliance’s annual revenue increased to just over $1 million. The ULA generates most of its income from the legal services it provides to the AFL-CIO and its member unions.