On a Mission: Pamela Newport’s journey to union-side law

Social justice missions can come in many forms, believes Cincinnati Law alumnae Pamela Newport (JD ’05), particularly if you consider international opportunities. Typically, “You think of these bigger international issues like helping children involved in armed conflict or certain global women’s issues when thinking about social justice and human rights,” says Newport, “which are most certainly incredibly important and valid. I feel like, however, labor gets overlooked in the discussion. And it shouldn’t. It’s at the heart of many social justice movements that have occurred, because pretty much everybody has to work, right?”

Newport was raised around the world of unions and union organizing. Her interest, she says, comes from her father—a former steel mill worker who went on staff with the United Steelworkers Union (USW). She watched him travel across Ohio and surrounding states, going from plant to plant to service different locals and help enforce contracts through grievances and arbitrations. She then watched him help the unorganized form a union until he retired as the Organizing Coordinator for District One of the USW. 

The University of Cincinnati (UC) was her destination for college. It was there that she would become immersed in learning more about labor movements and how they function. Before continuing her graduate studies at UC—with the goal of earning a JD and a master’s degree in women’s studies—Newport had the chance to become actively involved in union work, participating in the AFL-CIO's “union summer” program, a four-week crash course in union organizing. She moved to Hartford, CT, lived in a hotel with other intern union organizers, and helped organize workplaces across the community. These experiences solidified her interest and led her to realize that working in union-side labor law could be a career goal. 

Labor is at the heart of many social justice movements that have occurred, because pretty much everybody has to work, right?

Pamela Newport (MA '04, JD '05)

The art of global organizing

Photo of Pamela Newport, UC Law graduate

Pamela Newport

Back at UC, Newport became one of the early cohorts of Cincinnati Law’s joint degree program in law and women’s studies. She spent her first year in the women’s studies program and held a graduate assistant position in UC’s Ombudsman’s Office. It was at this time she learned about the Urban Morgan Institute for Human Right’s summer fellowship opportunities and became very interested.  

“I don’t think I really understood at the time how big of a deal it was to get [an Arthur Russell Morgan] fellowship,” Newport said. “I had the women’s studies degree that I was pursuing, and then, of course, I was still interested in labor and employment and the labor movement. And so, I decided that I wanted to try and merge those two and be able to do something through the Human Rights Fellowship.”  

The Urban Morgan Institute provides opportunities for those interested in human rights work to intern abroad during the summer after their 1L year. After much thought and with her goal in mind, Newport approached Professor Bert Lockwood, director of the Urban Morgan Institute, with her idea for a unique summer fellowship opportunity. “I went to Bert Lockwood, and asked could I basically develop my own summer? And he said, ‘Tell me what you want to do.’ ’’ 

Newport explained her plan to go to London to work with the International Union of Sex Workers, a faction of the GMB (Britan’s General Union). Then, she’d follow that experience by moving to Amsterdam to work with Humanitas, specifically on a project called BLinN (Bonded Labour in the Netherlands) which assisted victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation. Her goal was to examine the differences and similarities in the experiences between those who say they are engaging in sex work voluntarily and those who found themselves in that industry against their will – could organizing sex workers happen in both instances? And how would the legal framework around sex work in different places affect this? 

She recalls, “Professor Lockwood quickly agreed and said . . . ‘I don't think we've ever had anybody else do that before.’ To this day, whenever he introduces me to someone, [this is often] the first thing that he tells them [about me],” she laughed.  

Newport recognizes that the idea of unionizing workers in the sex industry may seem strange to most, particularly since prostitution is illegal in some places. Newport argues illegality doesn’t mean they can’t organize, and “ . . . there’s a larger sex industry that is very much legal and they should have the right to organize just like anybody else,” she said.

That’s how she came to spend the summer between her 1L and 2L years as a legal intern and organizer in England. She assisted the union with organizing sex workers, including expanding services and financial benefits for current union members. As part of her work, she helped with public information campaigns, breaking down complex legal matters into easy to understand English to educate the public on the union’s causes and the need for legislative reform. In Amsterdam, Newport helped develop a list of resources for trafficking victims who weren’t permitted to stay in the Netherlands and were going to be deported to their home countries. Part of BLinN’s mission was to ensure effective reintegration for these women and girls.

“I feel like in some ways it was much more organizing oriented than maybe traditional legal work that . . .  some of my cohorts were doing. But it was real life. And that’s what I liked about it. I was affecting real lives of real people.”

Asian male construction worker holding hammer ready to work at construction site

Gaining experience, building a career

To build her educational foundation, Newport took as many labor and employment law classes at Cincinnati Law as she could. She also completed externships with the National Labor Relations Board Region 9, the United Steelworkers Union, and the Department of Labor, Office of Administrative Law Judges  

After graduation and passing the bar, she began her career at local law firm Manley Burke LPA, practicing union-side labor and plaintiff-side employment law, with a particular focus on issues that impacted low wage workers. This position helped prepare her to go in-house as General Counsel with the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 75. “I don’t think I quite knew what I was getting into,” said Newport. “But I thought it would be a really good way to learn.

“I liked being on the inside and being at the start of organizing campaigns because I worked really closely with the organizers.” 

After eight years, Newport went back to firm life in 2017. She went to the Cincinnati office of Kircher, Suetholz & Associates (KSA), developing the breadth of her labor and employment practice, working for KSA’s principal David O’Brien Suetholz, who is located in Louisville, KY. While the firm names have changed over the last six years, she continues to work closely with Suetholz, now as a partner at Herzfeld, Suetholz, Gastel, Leniski and Wall, PLLC (HSGLaW Group), a union-side firm with offices in Cincinnati, Louisville, Nashville, and Washington D.C.

Newport says her Cincinnati Law training and externship experiences were key to her success. “I had the opportunity to get involved in the things that I wanted to get involved in. And I think that I could have done more of that. But I tried to seek out the things that I was interested in and figure out a way to do those things.

She continued, “I had . . .  professors like Bert Lockwood, who were open to hearing why I wanted to do something that was a little bit different than everybody else. It was really beneficial and a good way for me to grow the foundations of my career.”

Newport is appreciative of the opportunities she had at Cincinnati Law. “I had opportunities to maintain that foot in the practical world, which was great. There are a lot of opportunities for whatever anybody wants to be involved in.”

Her connection to Cincinnati Law isn’t over. Earlier in her career, Newport worked as an adjunct professor co-teaching a course on International Women’s Human Rights. She will return to her roots during spring semester, teaching a course in Labor Law.  

I had professors like Bert Lockwood, who were open to hearing why I wanted to do something that was a little bit different than everybody else. It was really beneficial and a good way for me to grow the foundations of my career.

Pamela Newport (MA '04, JD '05)

The case with Churchill Downs

Over the last five years, Newport and her partner David Suetholz have worked together on a case representing the Laborers International Union, Local 576 in Louisville, KY against Churchill Downs, involving Churchill’s subcontracting of bargaining unit work at a particular facility. Suetholz conducted the arbitrations, while she worked on the briefs, including the litigation that ensued. You can read her account of the case here: Union Gets Early Win in Churchill Downs Back Pay Spat (Law360)


Lead photo: istockphoto.com; profile: provided

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