Steve Irwin, a Pittsburgh attorney and the establishment favorite in a high-profile Democratic primary in Pennsylvania, has spent much of his career defending corporations and their interests in court. For a decade, he led the Labor and Employment division of Leech Tishman, a law firm that provides union-busting services and describes itself as being “predominantly management-side.” Before joining Leech Tishman, filings show, Irwin defended corporations against wage and discrimination complaints, and represented companies against Disability Act lawsuits.
Irwin is currently running for the House seat being vacated by longtime Representative 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 state House seat in 2018, is the other top contender in the race, and represents one of the progressive wing of the party’s best pickup opportunities heading into the 2022 midterm elections. She’s running on a platform that includes Medicare for All, the Green New Deal, and support for the PRO Act, Democrats’ sweeping labor reform legislation, which would bolster organized labor nationwide. The district, which includes Pittsburgh and some southern and eastern suburbs, is solidly blue.
Irwin has won endorsements from top Democrats in the area, including from the congressman he hopes to succeed. The Laborers’ District Council of Western PA, a group of 10 building trades unions, is also backing the corporate attorney. Irwin is leading the field in fundraising, and reported raising $600,000 in the first months of 2022. Lee’s campaign, meanwhile, has raked in endorsements from progressive lawmakers like Senator Bernie Sanders, Representatives Pramila Jayapal and Ayanna Pressley, and groups like Justice Democrats, Sunrise, and the SEIU Pennsylvania State Council, which represents 80,000 workers across the state.
As of last month, Irwin was still an attorney at the anti-union law firm. In 2019, he chaired Leech Tishman’s Government Relations practice and also served on its Corporate, Employment, and Litigation practice groups. In a blog post, Leech Tishman wrote that Irwin “routinely interacts with government bodies and counsels high-level management, defending against or asserting allegations of fraudulent conduct.”
In 2015, as the Pittsburgh City Council considered landmark paid sick leave legislation, Irwin offered his services to companies to express “concerns” about the bill at a hearing. Leech Tishman encouraged businesses affected by the potential legislation to reach out directly to Irwin for help. In the early months of the pandemic, Irwin represented local businesses fighting the implementation of Covid-19 safety measures, as one of the top contacts for the firm’s “Hospitality, Restaurant, and Bar COVID-19 Resource Center.”
Despite his role as chair of the Government Relations practice, where he routinely interacted with government bodies, Irwin was not officially listed as a lobbyist in Pennsylvania, or the US Senate and House.
According to the firm, Irwin also advised investment professionals on licensing and compliance laws, establishing investment entities, and defending against regulatory actions. When it came to his labor work, he advised the financial industry on employment issues, including contracts, discrimination, discipline, harassment, and confidential information.
Early in his career, Irwin was an attorney for several corporations that faced federal lawsuits concerning labor violations, including job discrimination based on sex and unpaid wages. In 2002, Irwin represented a company facing a sex discrimination lawsuit, which they then settled out of court, and in 2000, represented Advance Auto Parts against a lawsuit for a violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act for unpaid wages, which appeared to settle out of court two years later.
Irwin’s campaign has responded by touting his labor endorsements, describing the candidate as “a lifelong progressive.”
This article has been updated to reflect comment from the Steve Irwin campaign.