Joe grew up on picket lines, worked in the law firm’s offices on weekends and after school helping with projects for his father Marty, volunteered for the United Farm Workers while in high school and met with Cesar Chavez on several occasions, including while coordinating a strike rally as a labor lawyer, and has a profound commitment to the labor movement. Joe’s grandfather, Charles Burns, was an Executive Board Member of ATU Local 308 and a trustee on the CTA–ATU pension plan in 1947. Joe is a proud third-generation member of ATU Local 308, having worked for the CTA putting himself through college. Joe’s father, Marty, began as an attorney for Jacobs & Gore in April 1960. Joe is fond of saying that he is a trade unionist who happens to have a law license. Loyola University School of Law gave him (and nearly every other lawyer in the Burns family) a law degree, and the Illinois Supreme Court gave him his law license in 1979.
Joe proudly represents a variety of labor organizations, including unions in the transit industry, construction and mechanical unions and unions in the entertainment industry. Joe enjoys the role of counselor as much as he loves handling IRS and DOL matters, arbitrations, and litigating. We think of these wonderful clients as being part of our JBOH Family, some of them going back as far as 1958.
Joe especially loves working for the employee benefit plans which provide such outstanding and well-earned retirement security and decent health insurance to working men and women. Joe has helped multiple unions start journeymen & apprentice training programs that will help sustain the skilled work force that our Chicago labor community needs to thrive. Joe is proud to represent several Chicago public pension funds, as well as numerous private pension and health and welfare funds, both here in Chicago and throughout the Midwest. As counsel to employee benefit funds, Joe attends trustees’ meetings and provides a full range of legal services to employee benefit funds. Joe handles the funds’ investment relationships and is responsible for evaluating and negotiating investment management agreements, including complex alternative investment fund agreements. Joe is especially proud that the firm is the sole counsel to every jointly trusteed fund client because the employer trustees respect his and the firm’s independent judgment.
Joe has a Martindale Hubbell peer rating of AV and was the first member of the firm elected a Fellow of the College of Labor and Employment Lawyers. In 2009, he was designated by Illinois Super Lawyers as one of the top attorneys in labor and employment law, and he was recently named the 2019 Lawyer of the Year in Chicago, in the area of Labor Law – Union. In 2010, Stagehands Local 2 awarded Joe an honorary “Gold Card” membership. He is waiting for the “call” to work U-2 or the Rolling Stones.
Joe is a member of the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Funds and the National Association of Public Pension Attorneys.
Joe has traveled frequently to East Africa to assist with Global Alliance for Africa projects dealing with micro-enterprise programs and to support families affected by HIV/AIDS. Joe organized and led two groups of judges, lawyers, and medical professionals on trips to East Africa, including with an Illinois Supreme Court Justice, to explore micro-finance, legal rights, and therapeutic arts programs. Joe is also a Board Member of the Spectrios Institute for Low Vision.
Joe has been married to Penny, his best friend and high school sweetheart, since 1976 and has three exceptional children and four awesome grandchildren. He absolutely loves and enjoys being a father and grandfather. Like the entire Burns family wherever they live in the U.S., Joe loves the White Sox and the Blackhawks.