Jim was born and raised on the south side of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His father was a firefighter for the city and his mother was a school secretary. Following high school he worked as a member of the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees, International Brotherhood of Teamsters and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers when he chaired the Executive Board of Local 195.
Jim obtained bachelor degrees in history and economics in 1984 followed by graduate studies in legal history at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. He graduated with honors from Washington University School of Law in St. Louis, Missouri in 1990.
Jim is licensed to practice law in Illinois (1990), Minnesota (1993), and Georgia (2007). He is designated legal counsel for IAM District 19 and the BMWED.