Labor of love: Labor law expert has presidential ties that still bind


By Sheila Pursglove

Legal News

Labor law is a sexy topic again, according to Frank Mamat, who started teaching at Wayne Law two years ago after his son Steven -- then a second year law student -- suggested dad might share his experience as an adjunct professor.

"For the past two to three years, labor law has been back on the front pages, especially in Ohio, Indiana, and Wisconsin," says Mamat, a shareholder with Foster Swift in Farmington Hills, and one of the nation's preeminent labor law attorneys, with a special focus on union matters, contract negotiations, unfair labor practice litigation, National Labor Relations Board practice, organizing attempts by unions, mass picketing and violence, secondary boycotts and pressure, and Federal and State OSHA matters.

"It's fun interacting with young minds at Wayne Law -- the students are very open minded, and have no idea what they're getting into, or what to expect," he says. "Most of them know a bit about labor law, such as strikes by hockey or baseball players, but they don't know the history of labor law. They seem excited by it, and the feedback is often that it's their favorite class."

Mamat can appreciate their enthusiasm.

"In law school, labor law was the only area I found interesting -- it was flesh and blood, about strikes, picketing, people fighting for jobs, companies fighting to survive. I found it far more interesting than other fields of law that were about analysis or about dotting i's and crossing t's," he says. "I teach by example, and after 40 years I've got lots of examples to share."

Does he ever.

Amongst them are negotiating cheapest labor contracts for the Michigan Road Builders Association; successfully defending dozens of national companies in workplace fatality OSHA cases; and negotiating project labor agreements for the $800-million Vegas-style hotel and casino MGM Grand Detroit.

"We negotiated project labor agreements to get the casino built, the largest community project in southeast Michigan," he says. "The unions complied, the casino got built on time and on budget, and has been generating revenue and providing a lot of jobs for the area."

He was also instrumental in preventing the United Nations from unionizing.

"When I worked in D.C., the firm represented the UN and the teacher's union was trying to organize the staff -- I came up with an arcane case from the 1940s, that even though the UN is on U.S. soil, it's not subject to U.S. jurisdiction and union rules -- and the union went away," he says.

When Mamat worked in Washington, he was involved in key negotiations of labor agreements for all major TV networks and movie studios on the west coast.

"I even missed two private parties for Reagan's inauguration as I was caught up in negotiations, although I made it to the Inaugural Ball," he says.

In one case in the 1980s, Charlton Heston was starring in a big-budget action movie, "Raise the Titanic," filmed on location in Malta.

"The English producer was having problems in Malta, and the unions got involved as there were a lot of American actors," Mamat says. "I was almost on the way to Malta but I found a solution to the problem."

Mamat, a member of the College of Labor & Employment Lawyers, named one of the Top 100 Labor Lawyers in the U.S. by the Labor Relations Institute, and named among the Best Lawyers in America, Michigan Super Lawyers, and dBusiness magazine's Top Lawyers in Detroit, grew up interested in politics.

"My family was active in politics, and as a kid I used to hear dad discussing Dwight Eisenhower and Adlai Stevenson - shows how old I am," he says. "Politics was a natural interest. Dad was involved in the stock market, so economics was also of interest."

The family's neighbor in Syracuse, a child psychologist, asked Mamat what he wanted to be when he grew up.

"When I said I wanted to go in to politics, our neighbor said I'd better do two things - get a law degree and learn to play golf."

In fact, Mamat was so good with a 9-iron he planned on turning pro - leading to a heated altercation with his parents.

"I loved golf, but they persuaded me to go to college. I played on the college team, but when I graduated, I was good enough to beat amateurs but not to turn pro."

Mamat, who earned a degree in political science and economics at the University of Rochester, and his law degree from Syracuse University College of Law, hopes the new generation of attorneys takes up the labor law torch.

"Only 7 percent of private sector employees today are unionized, it used to be 30 to 40 percent. But even with only 7 percent, lots of big companies need labor advice and there's a dwindling number of attorneys in the field -- I'm on speed dial with many of the Fortune 500 companies, we need others to take over my place and others," he says.

"Labor law practitioners expected a radical change under President Obama, an explosive field -- but he focused on health care, so there was no big sea change. If re-elected, he might do more things to help the unions and then labor law will be an expanding field."

A staunch Republican, Mamat worked on Nelson Rockefeller's campaign in college; and while working in D.C., volunteered for Reagan and again in 1980 as co-chair of the Lawyers for Reagan/Bush. He also volunteered as a communications officer for Reagan.

Reagan offered him three federal judgeships.

"I thought it might be boring, now I think it would be good," Mamat says, noting that President George H.W. Bush offered him the post of Assistant Secretary of Labor. "I thought about it and I almost said yes."

A decade or so later, President George W. Bush asked Mamat to serve as Chairman of the National Labor Relations Board.

"I said yes, my wife said no. In hindsight, I should have said yes to all these -- if Mitt Romney becomes President and makes an offer, this time, I'll say yes," Mamat says.

Mamat also knows other big-name Republicans such as former Michigan governor John Engler, Romney, and Newt Gingrich. In fact, Mamat brought Gingrich to Michigan in 1990 -- Newt's first visit to the Great Lakes State -- to speak at Oakland County's Lincoln Republican Party, the oldest Lincoln Republican Club in the country and where Mamat served as president.

He has been general counsel to the Oakland County Republican Club since 1986; and founder and president of the 400 Club of Oakland County Republican Club.

"Oakland County is the most important swing county, a very important role in elections -- if someone can't win Oakland, they can't win," he says.

Mamat and his wife Kathy, a jewelry designer, will celebrate 37 years of marriage in June. Their son Steven is a lawyer with Flood, Lanctot, Connor, & Stablein in Royal Oak; and son Jonathan is a financial analyst for Intel.

In addition to many volunteer activities, in his leisure time Mamat enjoys golf, and recreational bowling at the Detroit Athletics Club, where in 2008 his team won the championship.

"I surprised everyone by bowling four consecutive strikes and the game was over," he recalls with a smile.

Published: Fri, May 18, 2012