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Donald Slesnick’s resume is overflowing. The Florida labor lawyer has been a politician, a business owner, a soldier, and a prolific civic volunteer. His newest role is chair of the American Bar Association’s Section of Labor and Employment Law.
“I just want to make sure when I leave that the section is as good as it was when I took over,” Slesnick told Bloomberg BNA Sept. 29. “One of my principal goals is to make members feel like an important part of their section,” he said. “Our whole intention is to serve them.” Slesnick’s one-year term will end in August.
The latest major event for the section is its annual conference, starting Nov. 8, where members can keep abreast of the latest developments in their field while earning continuing legal education credit and networking with other lawyers. In the preceding months, the section’s pro bono and outreach committees devised a plan to help the victims of recent hurricanes in Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico, Slesnick said.
Bloomberg BNA caught up with him by phone at his two-lawyer labor law firm—Slesnick & Casey in Coral Gables, Fla. Slesnick represents labor unions, especially public sector employees, and individual union members.
Negotiating collective bargaining agreements and contesting disciplinary measures on behalf of public employees taught Slesnick about the workings of state and local governments. “I knew government backwards and forwards,” he said. This knowledge was useful during his 10 years as mayor of Coral Gables. During his tenure—from 2001 to 2010—the city had to modify the pension system for its employees, but “we did it with a gentle hand” compared with those who came after him, he said.
Surprisingly, his union representation “never became an issue” during political campaigns, even though “Coral Gables is ultra-Republican,” Slesnick said. The lawyer was well-known for participating in numerous organizations, including the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce, the Coral Gables Community Foundation, the Miami-Dade County Cultural Affairs Council, the Dade Cultural Alliance, and the Rotary Club.
Slesnick is also active in historic preservation groups. He’s a board member of University of Florida Historic St. Augustine and the vice chair of Friends of Florida History. He is a former chair of the Miami-Dade County Historic Preservation Board and the Florida Historic Preservation Advisory Council as well as a former president of the Dade Heritage Trust and the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation. “Preserving as much of our built past as possible” is important because “history is the basis of what we build our present and future on,” Slesnick said. “I have a passion for historic buildings.”
In college at the University of Virginia, Slesnick majored in international relations. He also was president of his fraternity and a member of the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC), the honor society, and the debating society.
“I didn’t decide to go to law school until the last second,” Slesnick said. “I just decided I wanted a graduate degree, and I wanted to be practical,” and he figured law school “would provide me with a skill set I could use.”
Slesnick, who was raised in Miami, came home for law school. He went to the University of Florida, where he took several international law and international trade courses.
After law school, Slesnick went into the Army, serving in Germany and Vietnam. When he returned to the U.S., he did employee relations work for the Miami-Dade County police department and school district. Many unions became his clients when he started his own law firm.
Slesnick never stopped practicing law, but he cut back on court work while he was mayor because his schedule wasn’t flexible. Now, with his ABA duties consuming a large chunk of his time, he advises clients and handles negotiations and arbitrations but no longer does trial work. “I’m very active as a lawyer but not in the courtroom,” he said. He’s also serving as the election trustee for two labor union elections.
A football fan, Slesnick also is president of the Orange Bowl Committee, which plans a major college football game held in Miami each year.
Slesnick’s wife is a realtor who recently completed a term on the Coral Gables City Commission. They have two grown children and four grandchildren. Slesnick said all of them, as well as his 95-year-old mother, live within three blocks of each other in Coral Gables.
When time allows, Slesnick plays golf or he and his wife go out to dinner with other couples. He also enjoys listening to 1960s music and reading books with historical themes. He occasionally visits a small farm that he owns near Charlottesville, Va.
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