Workers Battle Trump Appointees on the National Labor Relations Board


Rather than encouraging collective bargaining and protecting workers’ freedom of association, the new leadership is making radical changes to Board policies, paving the way for corporate interests to dismantle unions.

Government employees at the National Labor Relations Board are pushing back against anti-union changes at the agency made by President Donald Trump appointees John Ring, who serves as chair, and Peter Robb, the general counsel.

The board, an independent agency that enforces labor law in regards to collective bargaining and unfair labor practice charges throughout the United States, was created to protect the rights of unions and workers.

On Thursday, November 8, members of the National Labor Relations Board Professional Association, a union of attorneys with the NLRB, protested Ring and Robb at the American Bar Association Labor and Employment Conference in San Francisco, California, over bargaining on a new labor contract.

The protest comes in the wake of a petition delivered earlier by the NLRB Professional Association to Ring in response to an email he sent out on October 12 announcing a change in a collective bargaining agreement with the union to negotiate an entirely new contract rather than make amendments to the existing one.

“The Agency’s current leadership cast aside years of a peaceful, collaborative relationship with its employees by terminating our contract and, by all accounts, preparing dramatic cuts to employees’ benefits, job protections, and compensation—even though there has been no funding change to the Agency and it ended the last fiscal year with a significant budget surplus,” NLRB Professional Association President Karen Cook told me in an email.

Ninety-two out of 110 NLRB Professional Association members signed the petition affirming their support for union officers to bargain on their behalf.

A handbill passed out by the union at the conference stated, “since their appointment, General Counsel Robb and Chairman Ring have engaged in a systematic attack on the employees of the National Labor Relations Board and on the agency as a whole.”

These attacks include budget cuts, hiring freezes, reduction of employee compensation and benefits, and consolidating authority of an agency designed to function as non-partisan, to a handful of Trump appointees.

“We will make proposals, some of which the union leadership may not like,” Ring wrote in the October 12 email. “They will make proposals, some of which we may not like. There will be a healthy exchange of ideas and proposals.”

The bargaining contract is just the latest in a string of anti-union changes enacted by Trump appointees to the National Labor Relations Board and which are openly opposed by NLRB employees. According to the union, employee dissatisfaction at the NLRB increased from 22 percent in 2017 to 47.4 percent in 2018.

John Ring was sworn in as chair of the National Labor Relations Board in April 2018. He was previously a partner at the Philadelphia based union-busting law firm, Morgan, Lewis, and Bockius.

In an email, Ring told me, “As an agency that enforces the rights of employees to engage in collective bargaining, we are pleased to see the enthusiasm of our NLRB employees to engage in bargaining. We look forward to our upcoming negotiations for a new labor agreement which has not been updated in almost twenty years.”

Prior to General Counsel Peter Robb’s appointment to the NLRB, he represented several employers working to stop or reduce unionization of employees. Since being sworn in Robb has made several anti-union decisions in his role overseeing the investigation and prosecution of all unfair labor practice cases and 26 regional field offices.

Earlier this year, Robb announced a restructuring of the NLRB that effectively demoted regional directors, a move perceived to undermine the pro-union leaning of these directors. Robb has also expressed interest in consolidating NLRB districts and appointing his own officers to oversee them.

Under Robb, the NLRB is working to change standards that now hold employers accountable for employees they hire and retain through temporary agencies or subcontractors, making it easier for employers to exploit employees working under subcontractors and temp agencies.

Robb released guidance for field offices to favor any ambiguities in workplace rules in favor of employers and directed NLRB attorneys to permit workers looking to disband a union to intervene in unfair labor practice charges, providing union opponents with a new mechanism to prevent unionization.

In September 2018, Robb recommended the elimination of an Obama-era rule permitting employees to use their employee email to discuss unionization. He also directed regional officials to ratchet up prosecution of “negligent” unions on matters previously treated as harmless error, such as not returning a workers’ phone call.

“The administration’s appointee for General Counsel of the NLRB is undermining the purpose of the National Labor Relations Act,” said General Counsel for the Service Employees International Union, Nicole Berner, in an email. “Rather than encouraging collective bargaining and protecting workers’ freedom of association, Peter Robb continues to make radical changes to Board policies, paving the way for corporate interests to dismantle unions.”

Communications Workers of America spokesperson Beth Allen shared a similar perspective, stating in an email, “Focusing on cases against unions, which are an extremely small percentage of all NLRB charges filed annually, and ignoring or promoting ambiguous employer handbook rules that squelch worker empowerment are, unfortunately, more examples of the Trump administration’s advancement of corporate interests at the expense of workers’ rights.”


November 15, 2018

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Article Photo: The Progressive