Practice Areas » Labor and Employment
Our breadth of experience enables us to better serve our clients in all areas. We understand the interplay of individual employee rights and collective bargaining, the effects that different employment policies may have upon workers' compensation cases, and a variety of other such interrelationships that can make the difference between smooth sailing and rocky seas. We apply an aggressive yet reasoned approach to labor relations, ever mindful of the needs, goals and pocketbooks of our clients. Efficient resolution consistent with our clients' objectives is the hallmark of our representation.
Collective Bargaining Representation:
Today's union-management relations require a defter touch and deeper understanding than those of prior generations. With conditions of economic hardship and fiscal restraint, the challenge to bring home an agreement without breaching labor peace is greater than ever. Add to this a growing list of employee rights and grievances and stepped-up governmental regulation, and the task can seem practically insurmountable.
Our employment lawyers have negotiated scores of agreements for clients in a wide range of businesses. We provide hard bargaining when required along with practiced persuasion and an understanding of our clients' goals. Our lawyers have achieved unprecedented agreements on topics such as compensation concessions, health care benefits and production efficiencies.
We have represented such divergent employers as a county non-profit organization operating on behalf of mentally retarded persons, one of the nation's largest steelmakers, school districts, several local municipalities, a local business college, a printing company, the largest American manufacturer of ferroalloys, a local women's college, and a railroad engine repair business in negotiations with unions such as the United Steelworkers of America, the United Autoworkers, the SEIU, the Teamsters, the PSEA and the IUE. In our collective bargaining representation we have:
- Negotiated contracts that achieved unprecedented cost savings on behalf of one of the nation's largest steelmakers during the turbulent period of its genesis as a 100% employee-owned company.
- Successfully negotiated union concessions in today's most troublesome area of collective bargaining: health care benefits.
- Eliminated labor contract impediments which jeopardized the attainment of key business objectives.
- Helped distressed communities maintain essential services throughout tough economic times.
We believe that effective representation at the bargaining table demands a thorough and practical understanding of all areas of labor and employment law. The extensive practice base of our employment lawyers enables them to negotiate knowing all of the effects an agreement may have, as well as a true understanding of the overall employment considerations which are vital to our clients. Some of the results which we have achieved for our labor clients are described below.
- After a client purchased another company, labor concessions at a key plant were badly needed. We negotiated for and got the concessions even though the company could not deliver on its threat to move the plant's production to other facilities.
- The nation's largest investment banking firm needed labor counsel after acquiring a large stake in a multi-billion dollar corporation mired in bankruptcy. It turned to us. Despite the availability to the client of high profile players like a former Vice President of the United States, our lawyers led the client's bargaining effort and provided the insight necessary to advance the client's interests in negotiations with the company's union.
- When a client wished to purchase another multi-billion dollar company, provisions in its labor contract could have gutted the company of key members of its workforce by permitting them to transfer back to the seller. Our attorneys negotiated terms which resulted in the orderly transfer of assets and operations with a steady supply of skilled employees.
- A facility in West Virginia had been closed for nearly two years. Our lawyers negotiated the labor agreement and sales agreement provisions that enabled our client to purchase the facility, avoid costly plant shutdown provisions and return 180 employees to work.
- A foreign steel company with plants in three different countries wanted to purchase the shut down assets of one of the country's largest bar and rod manufacturers. Needing the best negotiators to deal with the Steelworkers, the company called upon our employment lawyers to lead negotiations.
- When a municipal client suffered through such economic hard times that it became designated as a distressed community, our lawyers succeeded in negotiating arrangements to maintain adequate services such as police and fire protection.
- When a client was forced to file for bankruptcy due to unbearable increases in its employee health care costs, our employment lawyers achieved union concessions that allowed the company to continue in business.
Public Sector Representation:
Our employment lawyers have represented municipalities in varying capacities. Specifically, the Firm's lawyers have negotiated labor agreements involving firefighters, police and municipal workers. Additionally, the Firm's lawyers have represented municipalities in labor grievances, arbitrations, contract mediation and interest arbitration. Representation has included the City of Clairton and the Boroughs of Glassport and Middletown.
Employers today face a growing list of discrimination claims: race, color, age, sex, disability, religion, national origin and veteran status. Recent legislation in this area, including the Civil Rights Act of 1991 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, make it significantly easier for employees or applicants to bring lawsuits alleging that they were victims of unlawful discrimination. The new statutes also make it harder for employers to defend themselves against such claims and increase employers' potential liability.
Recently, sexual harassment cases also have commanded much attention in the media. As a result, employees who believe that they have been subjected to improper conduct of a sexual nature have more readily filed actions against their supervisors and/or employers.
To help our clients beat back this barrage of claims, our lawyers work closely with human resource personnel to ensure that sound anti-discrimination policies are in place, and that supervisors and managers are following and implementing those policies. If a charge is filed, we aggressively defend it from the outset. We have successfully defended over 95% of all discrimination charges in administrative proceedings, before they can go to trial, thereby saving clients the expense of judicial adjudication. Through our vigorous defense of these claims and daily advice on employment matters, our clients have avoided costly litigation. We consistently deliver the winning edge for employers combating the ever-increasing flow of employment related lawsuits.
- Our employment lawyers obtained summary judgment on behalf of a national client facing an age discrimination suit in federal court, saving the client the expense of a jury trial and the risk of an adverse verdict. We achieved this result in spite of the federal judiciary's increasing reluctance to grant preliminary judgments in this area of law.
- When a major steel company was faced with a race discrimination class action lawsuit, one of our lawyers negotiated a favorable consent decree resolving the case. Our lawyers have also successfully defended this client in over 90% of the enforcement actions brought under the consent decree by the union and individual employees.
- Our lawyers aggressively defended a pension discrimination suit and obtained a summary judgment in favor of the employer, saving the client the expense and potential exposure of a trial.
- An employee who had been disciplined for failing to perform her duties and thereby causing production losses, filed a race discrimination charge with the West Virginia Human Relations Commission. Our lawyers aggressively challenged the charge, coordinated the investigation, and obtained a no cause finding which withstood appeal.
- An employee was disciplined for insubordination and threatening his supervisor. We successfully opposed his national origin discrimination charge, obtaining a no cause ruling by the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission.
- A female asbestos remover brought a sexual harassment claim against her male supervisor and employer. Despite the existence of inflammatory evidence against our client, our lawyers negotiated a settlement for an amount that was far less than the cost of trial would have been.
- An employee returned to work after open heart surgery. She then demanded that the client permit her to attend rehabilitation sessions at her convenience rather than a mutually agreeable time and place. After being discharged, she filed a handicap discrimination claim which we defended, achieving a finding of no cause and avoiding any further proceedings.
Employment At Will:
The time-honored rule of employment at will, which permits managerial flexibility in termination decisions, continues to be attacked. Many jurisdictions have carved out such major exceptions to the employment at will doctrine that it essentially no longer exists. In Pennsylvania, although the rule retains its vitality, plaintiffs' attorneys continuously attempt to chip away at it with wrongful discharge actions. The doctrine endures daily assault by lawsuits which portray employment-related actions as violative of public policy, and which demand excessive relief, frequently even punitive damages.
Furthermore, discharged at will employees increasingly sue for any of a host of claims which have recently gained in popularity. From claims for fraudulent misrepresentation, defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress and invasion of privacy, to interference with contractual relations, false imprisonment, and assault and battery lawsuits, former employees are finding more and more ways to extract money from their prior employers.
Our lawyers have successfully obtained dismissal of wrongful discharge actions in the early stages of litigation, thereby saving our clients the costs of discovery and trial. We also have achieved highly favorable settlements in the early stages of wrongful discharge actions, thereby saving our clients the costs of defense and possible adverse verdicts. In addition, we work closely with our clients to develop employee handbooks, discipline policies, efficient screening and recruitment methods, and detailed recordkeeping and documentation procedures so as to minimize the threat of litigation.
- A client with over 4,000 employees was sued in several wrongful discharge lawsuits. A flood of such claims could have created a litigation nightmare. Our lawyers stopped the flow by removing the cases to federal court and achieving their dismissal before the cases could even get off the ground.
- We have repeatedly assisted our clients in termination practices and have negotiated voluntary resignation and release agreements which have precluded any possible future employment litigation.
- Our client discharged an employee who was on workers' compensation. He sued for wrongful discharge and damages of $250,000. After minimal discovery, our lawyers negotiated a settlement for $7,000, well below the cost of defending the case at trial.
Occupational Safety and Health Cases:
Safety concerns often result in some of the most contentious and emotionally charged disputes that exist between management and labor. Physical emergencies require immediate assessment and expert consultation. In addition, employee OSHA safety charges must be handled carefully and conclusively, to avoid precedents that can create future liabilities.
- When an explosion killed one of our client's employees, our lawyers were present at the scene within the hour. As a result of our prompt investigation and preparation, OSHA limited its focus to the issues pertaining to the explosion, recognized the contributory fault of the employee, and issued a reduced citation.
- OSHA shut down the construction job of our client due to alleged violation of ditch safety standards. Our lawyers convinced OSHA to permit resumption of the job after only two hours, and to cut the fine in half.
- Employees challenging a new company production procedure filed charges with the state Occupational Safety and Health Agency. We resolved the charges and maintained the procedure without change.
Matters before the National Labor Relations Board:
The National Labor Relations Board enforces the rights and obligations of parties pursuant to the National Labor Relations Act and related federal statutes. Our lawyers have handled every variety of NLRB petition, from election certification petitions to unfair labor practice charges.
- A union which did not represent our client's employees began picketing the client's business, disrupting product deliveries and pick-ups. We successfully challenged the picketing before the NLRB -- the day after our petition was filed, the picketers were gone for good.
- Due to staffing changes, a client fired an active union supporter at the worst possible time: in the middle of a union organizing campaign. Our lawyers obtained a complete dismissal of the resulting unfair labor practice charge.
We have represented our clients in literally hundreds of grievance arbitrations, many of which resulted in decisions which saved vital business practices being challenged by the union.
- When the union attempted to reclassify an entire group of employees to create higher wages for them, our lawyers thwarted the challenge and held the line on wage rates. In the face of a union grievance challenging company manning practices, we preserved the ability of our client to continue to make fundamental production and manning decisions, even where they resulted in lost work for certain employees.
- Our lawyers won 15 consecutive grievances for one client in the difficult area of crew size reductions and job combinations -- and lost none.
- We successfully defended both our client, which had spun off from a multi-billion dollar corporation, as well as the predecessor company, in pension benefit claims filed by a former employee.
- Through an arbitration victory, our lawyers preserved the ability of our client to change its longstanding absenteeism policy from one based upon unexcused absences to a strict occurrence-based policy.
- Our client sold a subsidiary and paid severance benefits to only a fraction of its union workforce. We defended the grievance filed by those former employees who did not receive severance benefits, obtaining a dismissal by the arbitrator. We have won numerous arbitration decisions upholding discharges in the area of substance abuse, in cases ranging from selling drugs on and off company property, to possession and use of drugs on company property.
Wage and Hour Cases:
Our lawyers have been involved in many wage and hour investigations on both the state and federal level, including those where issues of compensation for commissioned employees have been at issue. We have also counseled public contractors who are subject to the intricacies of the Pennsylvania Prevailing Wage Act and the Davis-Bacon Act and have guided private employers to ensure compliance with state and federal wage laws. We understand these questions and can help resolve disputes.
- We successfully defended an engineering company in a suit where a claim of unpaid overtime compensation was litigated by a past employee. We obtained a complete defense verdict.
- Our lawyers have successfully counseled a public utility through an eighteen month wage and hour investigation that resulted in no claim from the Department of Labor.
- We successfully defended a national diversified financial services company in a wage and hour investigation. We were able to eliminate the majority of the claims and expeditiously resolve the troublesome claims.
Structuring Employee Stock Ownership Plans:
Our benefits lawyers provide assistance in all facets of benefits plan design. We guide each client through all the necessary steps, then go the extra mile to ensure that their plan meets all of their business needs. Beginning with a careful analysis of a client's objectives, our lawyers develop and refine a plan that is suited for the client's particular circumstances. We finish the job by providing documentation and advice for proper.
Administration, Analysis and Amendment
Our expertise goes on to help our clients well after adoption of a plan. We provide customized advice for plan administration, developing specific strategies to avoid operational deficiencies. We examine and provide counsel on entitlement issues, law and plan interpretation, procedural questions, complex tax issues, distribution rights, prohibited transaction analysis and fiduciary counseling.
Modification of Plans
Our benefits lawyers are prepared to provide the answers to questions about options for freezing, termination, merger or spinoff of plans. We regularly represent clients in these difficult matters, performing comprehensive due diligence analysis, and coordinating with other professionals to provide a complete and accurate assessment.
Multidisciplinary Analysis and Support
The capabilities of our pension and benefits lawyers are greatly enhanced by the support of the Firm's other practice areas. Employee benefits issues do not exist in a vacuum. Rather, they typically are a key piece of a bigger picture--a court case, a merger, a bankruptcy, a tax controversy, a labor case. Our benefits lawyers regularly draw upon the Firm's substantial resources in these areas. For example, the day before the scheduled closing on the sale of one of the nation's largest steelmakers, salaried employees filed suit seeking an injunction to block the sale based upon alleged pension law violations. Our benefits, litigation and corporate lawyers joined forces to defeat the challenge. The result: the court denied the employees' demand for preliminary relief, and within hours the deal was done, effectively terminating the lawsuit. The ability to recognize and act upon such interrelationships enables Keevican Weiss Bauerle & Hirsch LLC to provide the multidisciplinary approach to our employee benefits practice which is so vital in today's complex business world.
Employee Benefits and Pension Cases
- A Fortune 500 company wanted to spin off its specialty steel manufacturing subsidiary. When disagreement over employee benefits issues led to union rejection of the proposed labor agreement, our lawyers devised the profit sharing plan that gained union acceptance, resurrected the transaction and accomplished our client's goals.
- The Internal Revenue Service brought an action against a plan sponsor for failure to timely amend their employee benefit plan. The IRS claimed that our client owed $400,000. We had discussions with the IRS and based on a novel approach developed by our lawyers, we were able to negotiate a settlement of the entire matter for only $8,000.
- Our pension lawyers were brought in as special counsel in a bankruptcy proceeding involving two unionized plants in Connecticut and Vermont. They successfully negotiated a reduced fringe benefit package with the two unions while also negotiating a standstill agreement with the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation that permitted both facilities to be sold out of bankruptcy.
- A national bank asked us to review and structure a proposed multimillion dollar loan to a large manufacturing company. Even though the company had the ability to cash collateralize the loan, our benefits lawyers identified a high risk of superpriority PBGC liens that threatened to impair the bank's collateral. We thereby saved the Bank from making a loan that likely would have gone sour.
- Another national bank was asked by a large customer to make available a $7 million credit facility to an insolvent pension plan to which the company contributed. Our benefits lawyers analyzed the unique legal issues that threatened to prevent the bank from making the loan. They then structured a facility that met ERISA requirements and satisfied the bank's and its customer's needs.
- A small but highly visible tool and die maker faced an impasse in collective bargaining over installation of a defined benefit plan for a group of employees whose average age was 57. Our pension lawyers negotiated the retention of the company's existing defined contribution profit sharing plan, thereby maintaining the company as the only employer in its segment of this highly unionized industry not to have a defined benefit plan.
- Our lawyers have successfully defended both the purchaser of a major facility of a Fortune 100 corporation, as well as the pension fund involved, in the pension claims arising since the sale of the facility. When one of the nation's largest auto manufacturers wanted to spin off its integrated steel manufacturing subsidiary, the tangled web of intra-company employee benefits questions threatened to stymie the whole transaction. Our benefits lawyers were able to sort through the complex issues, assess the costs and risks involved for our client, and structure a deal that satisfied not only the transacting parties but also the unionized workforce that could have vetoed the deal.
- Our client wanted to purchase the assets of another company without incurring shutdown costs under the applicable labor agreement. Our lawyers structured a purchase of selected assets that achieved the business objective while insulating our client from any shutdown liabilities.
- Our lawyers designed the acquisition strategy that was used to purchase a Fortune 500 manufacturing company. Using the overfunded pension plan for equity, our lawyers' program resulted in the successful purchase of a company that has since paid down its acquisition debt and returned to public ownership.