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Steve Moldof is a very busy lawyer, representing unions in the U.S. and giving presentations at international conferences. The Cohen, Weiss and Simon partner is in Dublin May 10 to moderate a panel at the American Bar Association labor and employment law section’s international committee.
The presentation will discuss legal challenges to the gig economy around the globe. “Uber and Uberlike entities are all over the world, and we deal with it differently in different countries,” Moldof told Bloomberg BNA May 4. “How you characterize the drivers has an impact on their unionization rights.”
Although the U.S. divides workers into employees and independent contractors, many countries have additional categories, Moldof noted. Canada recognizes some workers as “dependent contractors,” and England has a third category called “workers.” His panel at the midyear meeting of the American Bar Association’s International Labor and Employment Law Committee will include speakers from India, Canada, the United Kingdom and the U.S.
“There are a lot of unknowns” on the horizon in U.S. labor law because the Trump administration has many vacancies, Moldof said. “How they’re going to approach the issues could affect the opportunities to be successful in union organizing.”
About 75 percent of Moldof’s work relates to the airline industry, with the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) as his main client, and to machinists and municipal workers. His practice also involves the communications, railroad, shipping and entertainment industries.
Of the federal court appearances made by Cohen, Weiss and Simon during the past five years, 15.1 percent were for labor relations cases and 22.6 percent were on ALPA’s behalf, according to Bloomberg Law’s Litigation Analytics.
Moldof handles cases arising under the National Labor Relations Act and the Railway Labor Act. He litigates, negotiates collective bargaining agreements, advises unions and trains union representatives.
One of his most memorable cases occurred in 1991 when United Airlines bought Pan American’s U.S.-to-London routes. Moldof represented the United flight attendants’ union. The Pan Am flight attendants in London sued to keep their seniority rights under British law, but Moldof helped convince the British court that U.S. law and the United flight attendants’ collective bargaining agreement applied. The decision and a later arbitration preserved the United flight attendants’ seniority rights.
In his early years, Moldof also handled numerous employment discrimination matters. “Airlines were infused with sexually discriminatory employment practices” for flight attendants, such as height and weight requirements and rules forbidding marriage and pregnancy. Moldof took part in “very protracted litigation” and settlement negotiations that led to the “loosening” and eventual “elimination of the standards,” he said.
Other aspects of labor law practice have changed since the 1970s, too. “There is increasingly a distinction between labor and employment law,” Moldof said. “The law schools have cut back on their labor law courses. Some don’t even have labor law courses.”
When he was a student, Moldof took as many labor-related courses as he could. He got his bachelor’s degree from Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations and enrolled in labor law courses at Harvard Law School. At Cornell, he edited the yearbook and was a student government representative. He also played intramural basketball and worked as a waiter to help pay his college expenses. At Harvard, he was a case notes editor on The Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review.
After a brief stint doing antitrust law at a large law firm, Moldof went to Cohen Weiss in New York, where he’s been practicing labor law since 1972. He chose the union side because “I have a natural predilection to be on the left side on most issues,” he said. “I wouldn’t have felt comfortable representing the other side.”
Moldof respects the other side, though. “Some of my best friends are people I met as adversaries in court,” he said. His ability to “develop relationships with opposing counsel” stems from his litigation philosophy. “I feel very strongly about taking the high road in litigation” by avoiding personal attacks, he said.
He’s also made friends through professional organizations. “The ABA has been a terrific opportunity to develop friendships and relationships,” Moldof said. He is on the Council of the American Bar Association Labor and Employment Law Section and previously co-chaired the Section’s Committees on International Labor Law and Railway and Airline Labor Law.
Moldof belongs to his firm’s management committee and has headed its ethics committee for more than 20 years.
Moldof also belongs to the Bloomberg Law Labor and Employment Technology and Innovation Board. The board’s goal is to provide feedback that facilitates the development of products and workflow tools for labor and employment lawyers.
Despite his frequent work-related trips, Moldof still enjoys visiting other countries. He and his wife travel “all the time,” he said. “We spent a lot of time in France and Italy” and other parts of Europe. “We’ve gone to Chile and Argentina and loved them both.”
The lawyer also enjoys listening to music, particularly jazz. His son is a jazz musician who is in a doctoral program in music.
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