The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

Obama Administration Hired Nation's Top Anti-Union Law Firm

Lawsuit to Find Out How Much Union-Busting Firm Is Paid and From What Funds


A federal agency has hired the nation's top union-busting law firm
but refuses to say for how much money or whether stimulus funds were
used to pay the retainer, according to a summary judgment motion filed
today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) in
its lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act. Normally a labor
union ally, the Obama administration is paying a firm specializing in
what is euphemistically called "union avoidance" or "preventive labor

This strange bedfellows arrangement arises
out of an obscure federal agency called the International Boundary and
Water Commission (IBWC) which retained the high-priced law firm Jackson
Lewis LLP this summer to defend it against charges that the IBWC fired
its own general counsel in retaliation for reporting agency waste,
fraud and abuse. PEER represents the now ex-general counsel, Robert
McCarthy, in his whistleblower complaint before the U.S. Merit System
Protection Board (MSPB).

In November, 2009 PEER submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)
request for the retainer agreement IBWC signed with Jackson Lewis and
the source of funds for payment. Initially, IBWC refused the PEER
request on the grounds that it would reveal "trade secrets" about
Jackson Lewis which counts Halliburton among its corporate clients. A
month and a half later in response to a PEER administrative appeal,
IBWC added a new reason, claiming it is covered by "attorney-client

In early January PEER filed a federal suit to force release of the
information. Last week, the U.S. Justice Department failed to answer
the complaint within the required 30-day deadline. PEER is asking for
an immediate court ruling in its favor.

"There are no legitimate grounds for withholding this very basic data
about how taxpayer funds are being spent," stated PEER Executive
Director Jeff Ruch. "Federal regulations require every agency to
publicly report how much each is spending on outside private counsel
and for precisely what reason."

McCarthy was removed on July 31, 2009, three days after reporting
mismanagement that threatens the safety of millions of border
residents, the intended beneficiaries of a bungled $220 million
Recovery Act flood control program. Bill Ruth, appointed by President
Bush as IBWC Commissioner in late 2008, fired McCarthy and hired
Jackson Lewis to defend the agency. Ruth was finally replaced by an
Obama appointee, Edward Drusina, on January 19, 2010.

In the McCarthy case, Jackson Lewis has filed a furious welter of
motions and counter-motions - all on the taxpayers' dime. PEER
anticipates receiving documents concerning the firm's arrangement with
the agency soon but not likely before McCarthy's MSPB hearing on
February 11 in El Paso, Texas.

"The IBWC has a history of boondoggles and this appears to be yet
another sorry chapter," Ruch added. "The new Commissioner could put an
immediate stop to this farce, but for now the clock - and the billable
hours - will keep running."

Read the justification for the PEER summary judgment motion

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) is a national alliance of local state and federal resource professionals. PEER's environmental work is solely directed by the needs of its members. As a consequence, we have the distinct honor of serving resource professionals who daily cast profiles in courage in cubicles across the country.