The Corporate Lawyer Running for Congress in Pennsylvania

Steve Irwin, a Pittsburgh attorney and establishment favorite at a top-flight Democratic elementary school in Pennsylvania, has spent much of his career defending corporations and their interests in court. For a decade, he LEDs the labor and employment department of Leech Tishman, a law firm that provides anti-union services and describes itself as “predominantly on the management side”. Prior to joining Leech Tishman, the filing shows, Irwin defended companies against wage and discrimination complaints and represented companies against claims under the Disability Act.

Irwin is currently running for the House seat vacated by longtime Rep. Mike Doyle in Pennsylvania’s newly drawn 12th congressional district, where he faces a crowded primary field. Summer Lee, a Democratic socialist who won a House seat in 2018, is the other top contender in the running, representing one of the progressive wings of the party’s best choices heading into the 2022 midterm election. She runs on a platform called Medicare for All, the Green New Deal and support for the PRO Act, the Democrats’ sweeping labor reform legislation that would strengthen organized labor nationwide. The borough, which includes Pittsburgh and some southern and eastern suburbs, is solid blue.

Irwin has garnered support from leading Democrats in the region, including the congressman he hopes will succeed. The Laborers’ District Council of Western PA, a group of 10 building unions, is also involved support the company attorney. Irwin is a leader in fundraising and reported $600,000 was raised in the first months of 2022. Lee’s campaign, meanwhile, has garnered support from progressive lawmakers like Senator Bernie Sanders, Reps Pramila Jayapal and Ayanna Pressley, and groups like Justice Democrats, Sunrise and the SEIU Pennsylvania State Council, which represents 80,000 workers across the country.

As of last month, Irwin was still an attorney at the anti-union law firm. In 2019 he led Leech Tishman’s Government Relations practice and was also a member of the Corporate, Employment and Litigation practice groups. In a blog post OfficeLeech Tishman wrote that Irwin “routinely interacts with government agencies and advises senior executives to defend or assert allegations of fraudulent conduct.”

In 2015, while the Pittsburgh City Council was considering a landmark paid sick leave law, Irwin offered his services to companies to raise “concerns” about the bill at a hearing. Leech Tishman encouraged Businesses affected by potential legislation to contact Irwin directly for assistance. During the early months of the pandemic, Irwin represented local businesses struggling to implement Covid-19 safety measures as a key point of contact for the company’s Hospitality, Restaurant, and Bar COVID-19 Resource Center.

Despite his role as chairman of the government relations department, where he routinely interacted with government agencies, Irwin has not been officially listed as a lobbyist in Pennsylvania or the US Senate and House of Representatives.

According to the firm, Irwin also advised investment professionals on licensing and compliance laws, forming investment companies and defending against regulatory action. In relation to his work, he has advised the financial industry on employment law issues, including contracts, discrimination, discipline, harassment and confidential information.

Earlier in his career, Irwin served as counsel for several corporations facing federal lawsuits alleging labor rights violations, including workplace discrimination based on gender and unpaid wages. In 2002, Irwin represented a company faced with a gender discrimination lawsuit which they then settled out of court, and in 2000 she represented Advance Auto Parts in a lawsuit alleging violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act over unpaid wages, which was apparently settled in court two years later.

Irwin’s campaign has responded by promoting his endorsements and calling the candidate “a lifelong progressive.”

This article has been updated to reflect comment from the Steve Irwin campaign.

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