Protest at Wisconsin state capitol
against law restricting public
employee collective bargaining
(photo by Peter Gorman)
Arthur Goldberg
(Wikipedia)
Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley (l.)
congratulates Abe Brussell (r.) on
becoming a judge, 1960
(Courtesy Shirley Brussell)
Linzey Jones
(photo by
Arnold Charnin)
Barbara Hillman,
Peggy Browning
Fund honoree,
2011
Our members support social
causes, such as the 1960s grape
boycott (photo by Arnold Charnin)
 

Representing workers and their unions for more than 50 years
Haymarket Riot, Chicago, 1886
(Wikipedia)
Our History

Our founding partners—Bernard Kleiman, Gilbert A. Cornfield, and Gilbert
Feldman—were associates of Abraham W. Brussell, a Chicago labor union attorney. 
Brussell had been a law partner of Arthur J. Goldberg, who went on to serve as
Secretary of Labor, Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, and Ambassador to the United
Nations.

When Brussell was elected a Cook County Circuit Court judge in 1960, Kleiman,
Cornfield, and Feldman purchased and expanded his legal practice. In 1965 Kleiman
was named general counsel of United Steelworkers of America (USW) in Pittsburgh, a
position he held for 32 years.  In 1976 the law firm became Cornfield and Feldman.

Social Action and Social Change

Our attorneys played an important role in major social causes of the 1960s, working
pro bono with the civil rights, open housing, and tenant union movements in the
Chicago metropolitan area and seeking to build bridges between those progressive
initiatives and the labor movement.  Arnold E. Charnin, a partner in the firm and an
accomplished photographer, documented Rev. Martin Luther King's Chicago area
marches for economic justice. Barbara J. Hillman,  a grand-niece of the labor
organizer Sidney Hillman and a pioneer advocate for women's and minorities' rights,
was one of the first female members of the Chicago labor bar and the firm's first
female partner.  Linzey D. Jones, a former steelworker, headed our Workers
Compensation department and later was appointed to the Illinois Industrial
Commission.

The fracturing of the anti-war and civil rights movements gave conservatives a wedge
to divide workers from other progressive forces.  Beginning with President Ronald
Reagan's wholesale firing of striking air traffic controllers in 1981, corporations and
their powerful political allies have waged a vigorous battle to undermine unions and
the institution of collective bargaining. But their tactics have shifted.  All but gone are
such violent struggles as the historic Haymarket Square bombing.  Instead, the threat
and frequent use of permanent replacement workers have severely undermined the
right to strike, and employers have poured enormous resources into combating
organizing drives. As a result, private sector unions have suffered. In the public sector,
though, where employers have shallower pockets and civil service employees have
statutory protections, unions have grown tremendously.

Our Changing Practice

Our law practice has changed with these economic and social trends. Since the 1960s,
we have helped develop constitutional doctrines based on due process and the rights
of free speech and association to protect public sector unions and their members. We
played a major role in drafting the Illinois labor relations acts and handled many
precedent-setting cases under these statutes. Our representation of public sector
unions now comprises about half of the firm's work; it includes collective bargaining
assistance, appearing before state labor relations agencies, and major state and federal
court litigation.

In the private sector, we help our client unions face unprecedented corporate
onslaughts. We assist in organizing campaigns that minimize an employer's ability to
terrorize employees with threats of discharge and plant closure. We advise our clients
carefully on the possible consequences of striking and help them develop and
implement strategies to put economic pressure on employers without risking
temporary or permanent replacement of  employees. We work to protect hard-won
retiree health and pension benefits.

Promising Developments

The battles of the past 30 years have led to some promising developments. Many of
our client unions have begun to build sustained relationships with their counterparts
abroad. Unions also are forging connections with religious, environmental, and civil
rights groups and other community organizations.

Recent attacks on public sector collective bargaining have triggered a renewed debate
over the role of unions in a democratic society. Together with the steady erosion of
middle-class incomes during the past decade, these attacks have begun to fuel a
resurgence in the labor movement. Such a resurgence may move us closer to the
vision of a just society that has animated this law firm since its earliest days—a society
in which all workers have the right to participate meaningfully in economic decisions
that affect their lives and to receive a fair reward for their labor.

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Copyright © 2011 Cornfield and Feldman
Designed and edited by Ruth D. Feldman
Text by Stephen A. Yokich
In-house photography by Taylor Rausch and Ruth D. Feldman
In-house coordination by Robert A. Seltzer
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