Work Mode: Detroit attorney ranks as expert in labor law

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By Sheila Pursglove

Legal News

As a kid, John Entenman had only one career goal in mind - the law.

"I read 'My Life in Court' by Louis Nizer when I was in sixth grade, and knew right away I wanted to be a lawyer. I never had a second thought about it," he says. "I was very lucky that way, when I see high school and college students not knowing what they want to do for a living."

It's been onwards and upwards ever since.

Entenman, who earned a bachelor's degree in political science from the University of Michigan, Phi Beta Kappa, and law degree cum laude from Harvard, is a labor and employment attorney with Dykema Gossett in Detroit, and has represented corporations, governments, educational institutions and other businesses in labor and employment matters for more than 37 years.

A certified labor arbitrator, he has extensive experience in public sector labor relations, union-related matters and employment law.

"Labor law is a very personal subject matter," he says. "By that, I mean at issue are matters of discipline and termination, wages and benefits, and more. It's not a mere academic exercise -- people's lives can be profoundly affected.

"I also enjoy negotiating fair labor contracts, where both management and the union feel a reasonable agreement has been reached. I also like the rough and tumble of arbitration, which is just pure litigation unburdened by depositions, interrogatories, and motion practice."

Entenman, who represents clients in proceedings before the National Labor Relations Board, the Michigan Employment Relations Commission and in collective bargaining and arbitration, also provides general labor counsel to clients such as the PGA Tour, the City of Dearborn, Alma Products Company, and United Parcel Service.

"It's sometimes said that a prosecutor is the best friend of the accused, because the prosecutor has the discretion whether to prosecute, whether to accept a plea, whether to dismiss," he says. "In many ways, a management-side labor relations attorney shares those attributes, especially in the context of employee discipline."

Entenman is often sought to provide legal counsel on wage/hour matters, employment discrimination, non-union arbitration, freedom of speech and constitutional issues, and frequently represents clients at the bargaining table with the UAW, Teamsters, SEIU, USW, MEA, POAM and other unions.

"There can be no question that public sector labor relations is very different from the private sector in many very important ways," he says. "Until recently, most public sector unions, certainly those in Michigan, have benefited from the legal structure. For public sector employers to make ends meet, that structure has to change."

He has been closely following the health care debate -- and its potential impact on employers.

"Our health care system needs to be improved, but last year's federal legislation is not the answer," he says. "Among many other improvements, insurance companies should be allowed to sell their products across state lines, thereby improving competition. And, tort reform on a federal level to stop frivolous suits against pharmaceutical companies whose products have been approved by the FDA would be very beneficial."

Named a Michigan Super Lawyer by Law & Politics each year since 2007, and named Best Lawyer in America each year since 2007, Entenman is a frequent speaker on union organizing, collective bargaining, freedom of speech, successorship and other labor and employment issues and author of many articles on union-management relations.

He enjoyed sharing his expertise with law students as an adjunct professor of Public Sector Labor Law at the University of Detroit Mercy Law School of Law.

"Getting feedback from the students was the best thing," he says. "And, being able to bring in to the class representatives from both management and labor to present their respective viewpoints always made for an interesting class."

A native of White Plains, N.Y., who grew up in Grosse Pointe Park, Entenman enjoys working in Detroit.

"Being downtown is exciting," he says. "Being able to walk to Greektown for lunch, or to Joe Louis for a Wings game, or to Comerica to see the Tigers -- it's all good."

As a U-M alumnus, Entenman is passionate about Wolverine sports, especially football. He's no slouch at sports himself.

"I love to water ski, and last summer managed to do so 54 times," he says.

He also spent many years as a volunteer coach of various sports in which his daughter -- who graduates from college this month -- participated.

Law is a family affair -- Entenman's wife is a civil litigator and also works at Dykema.

"We're both pretty good at negotiating but, like other happily married couples, don't need to do much of it," he says with a smile.

Published: Tue, May 17, 2011

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