Meet Jim Rowader, the Vice President and General Counsel of Employee and Labor Relations at Target. Below he discusses his role and responsibilities at Target, previous experience at the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), and offers practical advice for labor and employment lawyers.
1. How long have you been at Target? What do you enjoy most about your current role?
I joined Target in 1994 at a time when the company was changing. Target was just being recognized as the engine of the Dayton-Hudson Corporation and the future of the company. I was one of three in-house labor and employment lawyers. Our office has since grown to 21 attorneys. Although we are in-house counsel, we actually work in the human resources department. My responsibilities include anything from daily advice on dealing with employee problems or complaints to working on strategic initiatives that impact the entire company.
One of the things I enjoy most about my role is working collaboratively with other divisions in Target. The human resources operation is integrated into almost all strategic business projects. Since the company employs approximately 356,000 staff, we are a very people intensive company. Whenever the business side of the company considers initiatives that impact employees, we have the opportunity to weigh in. This allows us to be more hands on and not just provide legal advice remotely when needed. We get a great balance of knowing the law, but also a unique opportunity to apply it in practical ways that impact the business. This can be challenging at times and make the job harder, but it also makes you feel more valued to the company.
2. Other than the business side of Target, do you have the opportunity to work closely with other parts of the company?
Target has a nice approach to government affairs. We have a team in Washington, D.C. and the Minneapolis headquarters office. If Target needs to meet with members of Congress on a particular issue, our government affairs personnel will often make sure that the appropriate company official responsible for the issue attends, as well. I attend a lot of meetings regarding human resources issues that involve the NLRB, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), and Department of Labor. It’s a great opportunity to educate members on how the work of agencies impacts the company. Sometimes the meetings are driven by upcoming Congressional actions, other times its more proactive.
3. What other experiences with administrative or regulatory law have you had?
I worked for the NLRB Detroit Field Office right out of law school. My professor at the University of Michigan Law School, Ted St. Antoine, had a huge influence on my decision to work there as opposed to a law firm. He recommended that I work at the NLRB at least for a few years to gain a better understanding of labor law. I ultimately took his advice — which was a bit of a leap of faith since the starting salary was about $25,000 — but I believed it would be an invaluable experience. The Detroit office was the largest field office at the time since the car industry was doing well and there was a healthy union presence in Detroit.
When you work for a government agency, you get thrown into the mix relatively quickly. I actually had cases to try before an administrative law judge less than one year out of law school. The majority of my work involved investigating cases. I really enjoyed going out in the field and interviewing people. It was fascinating to move around the Detroit metro area interviewing people and dealing with the companies. Once we did the investigative work, we then had to go through the internal process of building a justification for pursuing complaints further. It was an in-depth and rapid education. Some cases can be straightforward and some were very complicated.
I’m glad I had the opportunity to see things from the perspective of employees, employers and management. At a law firm, I would have primarily interacted with clients, human resources personal, performed research and writing, and maybe managed discovery. While all of these tasks are important, none of them would have provided as in-depth look at the workplace as my position at the NLRB.
4. There is a significant amount of controversy surrounding the NLRB right now. Are you actively following these developments?
I am very in tuned with the recent NLRB developments. If the Supreme Court upholds the D.C. Circuit’s decision in Noel Canning v. NLRB invalidating President Obama’s NLRB recess appointments that would have such a huge impact on the Board’s work.
It’s interesting to compare the NLRB to the EEOC, which rarely has issues confirming Commissioners. At the EEOC, the Commissioners set the policy priorities and the General Counsel does enforcement. At the NLRB, the Board acts as judge and jury of charges. This is why NRLB appointments are so controversial.
I think it’s important to assess how to make the NLRB more effective. The Board used to be considered a fair, consistent arbiter of the issues, but it has since become too political, no matter the administration. The National Labor Relations Act(NLRA) hasn’t been meaningfully updated in 50 or 60 years. In addition, every other federal workplace law except the NLRA is handled in federal court. It is worth exploring whether it would be better to litigate NLRB matters the same way to take some of the politics out of the process.
I am excited to have the opportunity to support a symposium at the University of Minnesota Law School on the future of labor law and the NLRB. I’m also collaborating with two attorneys on a law review article for the symposium regarding how to depoliticize the NLRB and make it more stable. As you can see, I have a lot of passion for the Board and am anxious to see how the Supreme Court rules on the Noel Canning case.
5. Can you provide a few professional tips for lawyers, particularly labor and employment lawyers?
Stay Mentally Engaged – I think it’s important to make sure you are mentally engaged at work. I define success by the results, not necessarily the hours you put in at the office. I think how mentally engaged an employee is has a significant impact on the quality of their work product.
Understand the Workplace – Good labor and employment lawyers have to understand the workplace. Even though I have the luxury of focusing on one corporation, on many occasions I have put on a Target uniform and gone to a store to better understand what it’s like to work in different facets of the company. This also gives me an opportunity to meet with customers and interact with them. Once, I visited one of our distribution centers for an entire week and worked half days on a conveyor line and the other half of the day as a frontline supervisor. This allowed me to see the workplace from various angles. Target has actually become more formal about having labor and employment lawyers experience what it’s like to work in the field. Most new lawyers spend time in stores as part of their training. It usually gets them energized and they have fun.
6. Outside of the law, what are your favorite activities or hobbies?
I played soccer in college and have always been interested in physical activities. I do mountain biking, golf, and yoga. I also participate in a lot of my children’s extra-curricular activities.
My big passion is cooking. I’m the cook in my family and my wife’s the baker. I like cooking all different types of cuisines, but one of my favorite dishes is paella. I also like to go out to eat. Minneapolis has experienced a significant amount of growth in restaurants. It can be fun to try different dishes and have them inspire my own cooking. If I ever buy the big winning lottery ticket, I would definitely buy a restaurant.
This post was originally published on the legacy ABA Section of Administrative Law and Regulatory Practice Notice and Comment blog, which merged with the Yale Journal on Regulation Notice and Comment blog in 2015.