Ellen Dannin

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Ellen Dannin is Fannie Weiss Distinguished Faculty Scholar and professor of law at the Dickinson School of Law at Penn State University, an expert in the labor law of New Zealand and the United States.

Early life and education[edit]

Dannin was born in Michigan. She received a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1975 and a juris doctor degree in 1978, both from the University of Michigan.


After obtaining her law degree, Dannin clerked for Cornelia G. Kennedy, a judged on the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan in Detroit, Michigan. She clerked for Judge Kennedy from 1978 to 1979. When Kennedy was elevated in 1979 to the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, Dannin clerked for her for a second year (from 1979 to 1980).

From 1980 to 1991 Dannin was an attorney for the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), in the seventh region office in Detroit. During that period, she was appointed a visiting professor at the Department of Commerce at Massey University in Palmerston North, New Zealand, and spent all of 1990 in New Zealand. From 1991 to 2002, she was a professor of law at California Western School of Law in San Diego, California.

In 1992, she took a leave of absence to spend a year as a scholar in residence at the Center for Industrial Relations at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand, and returned in 1994 as a scholar in residence in the university's Law Department. In 1996 she was a scholar in residence at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand, and held a similar position at the University of Waikato in Hamilton, New Zealand. She returned to Victoria University in as a scholar in residence in 1997.

Concurrently with her position at California Western, she held a position as a visiting professor in the Program in Union Leadership and Administration at the University of Massachusetts Amherst from 1999 to 2002, and was a visiting professor of law at the University of Michigan in 2002. In 2002, she permanently left California Western and obtained an appointment as a professor of law at the Wayne State University Law School. She left Wayne State in 2005.

In the fall of 2006, she became a professor of law at the Dickinson School of Law at Pennsylvania State University.

Research interests[edit]

Dannin's research interests focus on United States labor law, New Zealand labor law, collective bargaining, privatization, and legal education.

Her most recent book is Taking Back the Workers' Law (2006), in which she calls for the American labor movement to adopt a strategy used by the NAACP Legal Defense Fund in the 1930s, who laid out a long-term litigation strategy designed to overturn 70 years of court rulings that had limited the civil rights of African Americans. NAACP lawyers first attacked discrimination in law schools, because judges were most familiar with those organizations. Once the legal case had been won ending racial discrimination in law schools, they rapidly expanded their attack to public colleges and university, public elementary and secondary education, and the workplace.

Dannin outlines court rulings and NLRB decision that have, in her opinion, undermined the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) and contributed to a legal environment no longer conducive to union organizing and effective union activities. She argues that the American labor movement must undertake a strategy similar to that of the NAACP. She emphasizes a program designed to educate judges and lawyers about the nature of work (including the collapse of the "bright line" between supervisor and employee), arguing that most judges have little real-world experience in this regard. The book focuses heavily on the NLRA's stated goals of social and economic justice, and Dannin pushes for a legal strategy that takes the preamble to the NLRA seriously; in other words, that labor attorneys should gets courts to see how existing rulings undermine the NLRA's goals of social justice and an effective labor movement.

Many American labor movement activists have argued that the legal framework of the NLRA has been so significantly undermined that union organizing should no longer occur under the auspices of the NLRA but should occur in extra-legal contexts (such as pressure campaigns).

Taking Back the Worker's Law, however, has won praise from the legal community for rejecting this characterization of the NLRA and case law and putting forth a creative and legally strong program. "Ellen Dannin proposes something unique and, ironically, much more likely to have practical effect: an articulate, passionate, even romantic defense of the nation’s basic labor law. Taking Back the Workers' Law invites labor leaders, lawyers, and academics to develop innovative litigation strategies for restoring the original intent of the law," observed Christopher Cameron, a professor of law at Southwestern University School of Law.[1] Fred Feinstein, former general counsel for the NLRB, noted, that Dannin "puts forth an important perspective on how to breathe new life into our labor law. ... In original and provocative ways, Dannin maintains that too many have lost sight of what our labor law could be and argues forcefully that it can be restored to realize its fundamental purpose."[2]

Others have been less enthusiastic about the book's prescriptive program, but acknowledged that it contains a wealth of information about U.S. labor law and the history of court rulings going back seven decades.[citation needed]


Dannin is a member of a number of professional organizations, including the American Bar Association, State Bar of Michigan, Labor and Employment Relations Association (LERA), Law and Society Association, United Association for Labor Education, and the Association of American Law Schools.

She is editor of the LERA newsletter, Labor and the Law, a highly popular publication widely read by academics, lawyers and labor movement activists. She is an advisor to or reviewer for the Labor Law Journal, Berkeley Journal of Employment and Labor Law, Labor Studies Journal, Law and Society Review, WorkingUSA, and the Journal of Socio-Economics.She is Co-Chair, Collaborative Research Network 8 on Labor Rights, Law and Society Association 2003- She has also been a consultant for the United States Department of Labor (1987), U.S. General Accounting Office Workplace Quality Issues Panel (2003), and the New Zealand Department of Labour (1997).

Published works[edit]


Edited works[edit]

  • The Developing Labor Law: The Board, the Courts, and the National Labor Relations Act. 4th ed. Patrick Hardin, et al., eds. Ellen Dannin, et al., contr. Eds. Washington, D.C.: BNA Books, 2005. ISBN 1-57018-505-0