James J. Brudney

The Joseph Crowley Chair in Labor and Employment Law

The best way to keep agricultural workers from being exploited and deprived of fair wages and working conditions by their immediate employers is to have them team up with the companies that buy crops from these employers. That’s the thinking behind the Fair Food Program, created by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers in Florida. Under this program, produce-picking CIW farm workers go over the heads of the growers who hire them to negotiate private labor standards with the big food brands. If regular audits and a worker complaint hotline turn up any serious infractions against a grower’s operation, Big Food does its business elsewhere.

In a chapter for Temporary Labour Migration in the Global Era: The Regulatory Challenges, published last year, Professor James Brudney analyzed the CIW system in depth and promoted it as a promising model for workers the world over, especially in industries that rely on global supply chains. “A model like this, based on worker-driven standard-setting and monitoring efforts that carry real market consequences, can enable workers along with a relatively small number of transnational buyers to pull the rest of an industry along with them,” he says.

When Brudney suggests a particular course of action in labor law is worth doing, he speaks from a wealth of experience. For decades, he’s had a hand in analyzing and even shaping the way national and international law affects workers.

Having received an undergraduate degree in American studies at Amherst College and a postgrad degree in philosophy and politics at Oxford, Brudney worked for two years with Head Start children in rural Minnesota and inner-city Ohio. Eventually seeing law as a way to influence social change, he went to Yale Law School. He expected to go into education law but ended up more interested in labor law. After law school, Brudney clerked for Judge Gerhard A. Gesell of the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun.

There followed four years of private practice at the nationally recognized labor law firm of Bredhoff & Kaiser. Most of his work involved litigating and counseling on behalf of two national unions: the United Steelworkers and the National Education Association. “During the early 1980s, I witnessed both sides of the labor movement. The Steelworkers were largely seeking to prevent or respond to plant closings and pension plan terminations, while the NEA was expanding membership and promoting new rights for teachers in constitutional as well as organizing settings.”

Brudney next took a position with the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Labor. As minority counsel and then chief counsel and staff director, he helped produce more than 10 major labor and civil rights laws between 1985 and 1992. “I was fortunate to have a year as minority counsel, learning the complexities of congressional procedures. When the Senate flipped to the Democrats in 1986, there was a pent-up demand for social legislation after six years of the Reagan administration,” he says.

Brudney eventually returned to academia, teaching at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law for 19 years before coming to Fordham in 2011. In that time he’s made a name for himself authoring books and articles on the ever-changing nature of workplace law and statutory interpretation.

Much of Brudney’s recent research has revolved around the diminishing impact of the National Labor Relations Act and the predicament of unions (he serves as co-chair of the Public Review Board for the United Auto Workers International Union). He expects to write more in the coming years on the international labor conventions he immerses himself in as a member of the Committee of Experts of the United Nations’ International Labor Organization. He spends three weeks every year in Geneva, working with 19 other “Experts” to research and report on how 187 countries treat their workers under conventions they have ratified. “For transnational corporations, it is challenging to monitor and enforce a corporate code of responsibility across a far-flung supply chain,” says Brudney. “Working with national governments to apply ILO standards is also a vital means of providing basic workplace protections.”

Brudney, Fordham’s new Joseph Crowley Chair in Labor and Employment Law, principally teaches various labor law and employment law courses. In addition, he greatly enjoys introducing first-year students to Legislation and Regulation, and not just because his casebook on the subject is one of the foremost in the field. “At the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee, I was a small cog in the legislative machine. But I felt the power of Congress and saw the effectiveness of bipartisanship in addressing complex policy issues.” Brudney adds, “I try to show students that despite the current challenging political environment, there’s still an important role for lawyers to play in the legislative process.”


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