Alumni Spotlight: Union General Counsel and Author Mark Torres ‘08


Mark Torres ‘08 calls himself “a Teamster with a law degree,” but he’s much more than that. In addition to serving as general counsel of the Teamsters Local Union 810 in Long Island City, he is the author of four books, most recently Long Island Migrant Labor Camps: Dust for Blood, which was published in March 2021.

Wearing many hats is not new to Torres. In the 1990s, he worked as a refrigeration engineer at New York University and became a member of the Local 810. Serving as a shop steward, Torres recalls enjoying problem-solving and serving as a liaison between the union and members. 

Inevitably, Torres began searching for more of a challenge. The job provided him with tuition remission at NYU, so he enrolled as an undergraduate student and found what he calls a “new calling in academia.”

Balancing Law School and Work

The combination of his experience as a shop steward and newfound academic interest led Torres to law school at Fordham, where he enrolled in the evening program in 2004. He continued to work as a refrigeration engineer at NYU throughout law school.

“It was somewhat of a lonely journey” in the evening division, he says. “You’re on definitely a different path from your colleagues in the day program.” He remembers walking through the atrium after class every night, seeing the library crammed with students, and worrying he wasn’t studying enough. “But I knew going in that was my lot,” he says, recalling how he used his vacations from work to study for finals.

On graduation day, Torres walked across the stage carrying two of his three young children, both of whom were born while he was in law school. Torres remembers wondering how he was going to retrieve his diploma as former Dean William Treanor and Professor Jennifer Gordon chuckled with understanding at his predicament as he approached.

“It wasn’t rolled up in a scroll. It was this big, square diploma,” he says. Dean Treanor tucked the diploma under Torres’ arm as one child slept and the other fussed. “It was just kind of symbolic of the whole struggle and of the determination of it all, and their support meant a lot.”

Navigating the Economic Crisis of 2008

After law school, Torres began working as an associate in the Labor & Employment Law Department at Proskauer Rose. He remembers that his colleagues appreciated his non-traditional background, which gave him perspective on both sides of the issues he worked on.

But in the economic downturn of 2008, Torres was laid off. “For the first time in my life, because I’d always been a union member and had job security, I was left out on the lurch and it was a really terrifying experience.”

“That’s the only time that I really took stock and reflected on was this ever really what I wanted to do,” he says, noting that it would have been more difficult to walk away from the comfortable position if he had not been let go.

When Torres learned that the Local 810, where he had been a longtime member, was looking for a general counsel, he interviewed for and eventually took the position. Today, he is the sole attorney working on behalf of more than 3,000 union members and their families. “You try to do everything you can, and if you can’t, you learn how to do it,” he says.

Writing as a New Challenge

“My profession is all about writing,” Torres notes. But the same curiosity that led him to college and law school prompted him to try something different with his writing. At first, he wrote short vignettes in his spare time. This led to two historical fiction crime novels.

His first novel, A Stirring in the North Fork, features a young attorney who, like Torres, lost his job and had to find his way and ends up working as a private investigator on a murder case. His novel contains a brief mention of a migrant labor camp on Long Island.

Torres’ second novel, Adeline, follows Torres’ fictional attorney-turned-investigator as he probes the murder of a woman who had been wrongly sent to a mental asylum.

In between the two novels that Torres says “scared the hell out of” readers, he took on a decidedly different project—a children’s book about labor unions, Good Guy Jake. Torres’ children, who by then were in elementary school, gave him advice on the plausibility of his story. “My kids were part-editors,” he laughs.

For Adeline, Torres extensively researched the “dark history” of New York State’s mental health system. This piqued his enthusiasm for historical research, which he turned to digging into the migrant camps he’d learned of for his first book.

The result was Long Island Migrant Labor Camps: Dust for Blood, Torres’ new book and first non-fiction title.

Exploring a Dark History on Long Island

In an event on July 12 sponsored by Fordham Law and the Center on Race, Law and Justice, Torres discussed the book—which he says is the first to cover the subject—with Professors Tanya K. Hernández and Jennifer Gordon.

According to Torres, hundreds of migrant labor camps operated on Long Island from the 1940s until near the end of the 20th century, supplying workers for potato farms. “Conditions can best be described as from poor to terrible,” he says. Camp life was rife with violence, and camp operators deducted expenses from the workers’ paychecks—from the bus that brought them to the camps in the first place to the cost of their meager shelters. 

Today, Torres says many people on Long Island do not know the camps existed. Even when the camps were in operation, Torres notes that workers were largely cut off from surrounding communities. Local residents saw them as outsiders and were reluctant to help change the conditions.

While Torres’ job with the union does not include advocacy for agricultural workers, he says he offers pro bono services to such workers, who continue to face legal challenges. “These are the people who feed our nation.”

Asked how he manages his legal career along with his interest in writing, Torres says he’s disciplined to maximize his time and “driven by passion to get it done.” This is the same drive that led him to figuratively balance his work and study schedules on those long nights of class after work and literally balance his babies and diploma on the graduation stage. And, he says, “I love what I do.”

Long Island Migrant Labor Camps: Dust for Blood, Book Talk Event from Fordham Law School on Vimeo.


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