New Right-Wing NLRB General Counsel Threatens to Reverse Labor Gains

Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

Discrimination against union workers during bargaining. Holding joint employers – a corporate headquarters and its local franchise-holders – responsible for obeying, or breaking, labor law. Using company e-mail systems to announce union meetings.

These National Labor Relations Board decisions, and more, are under threat, according to a memo from the agency’s new general counsel, Peter Robb. In so many words, he wants to stop or reverse all pro-worker board rulings of the last eight years.

Robb, nominated by GOP President Donald Trump, took over the agency’s top enforce-ment post on Nov. 17. He succeeded Richard Griffin, the former general counsel who, before that, had been the lead counsel for the Operating Engineers. Griffin’s term ended Nov. 1.

By contrast, Robb, a management-side labor lawyer from Vermont, was the young attorney in the Federal Labor Relations Authority who, 36 years ago, drew up the memo justifying GOP President Ronald Reagan’s firing of the Air Traffic Controllers.

Robb’s position is important: The NLRB General Counsel is its top day-to-day manager and the decision-maker on what cases to pursue before the full board or in the courts.

No sooner did he enter the GC’s office than Robb sent out a memo to all NLRB regional directors on Dec. 1, freezing enforcement actions and indicating he wants to roll back dozens of NLRB pro-worker rulings handed down in the last eight years, when Democratic President Barack Obama had named a board majority.

Robb also said any new initiatives will come to a screeching halt.

“Cases should be processed and complaints issued according to existing law. No new theories will be presented on cases that have been fully briefed to the board, to avoid further delay,” his memo said. And “the general counsel will not offer new views” on NLRB’s court cases, unless the board or the courts order him to do so.

But the heart of the memo is Robb’s order that cases “involving significant legal issues” should be sent to the board’s advice division in advance – including cases during the last eight years where “the board overruled precedents and involved one or more dissents.”  The implication is Robb wants to reverse those pro-worker rulings.

That covers virtually all the key cases the labor board, which governs worker-boss relations in most private industry, decided. That’s because, by law, no political party can have more than three of the five NLRB members, and the minority two. So 3-2 votes on notable issues, with dissents, are common.

And then Robb listed some of those cases, in groups, that he wants to override, or, as he put it, “provide alternative analysis” to the board’s five members. One case he wants to override lets union members use employers’ e-mail to post meeting notices, rather than restricting them to bulletin boards, for example. Another lets union reps have a wider range of employer discipline to tackle when standing up for workers who invite them into the meetings with the boss.

And while the National Labor Relations Act legalizes workers joining together – in unions or otherwise – for “mutual aid and protection,” Robb’s memo says that shouldn’t apply where only one worker is involved. The 2014 Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market case extended the law to a sole woman worker, who was subject to sexual harassment on the job.

And a big one is the board’s “joint employer” ruling, which Griffin favored, holding the big franchisor, such as McDonald’s headquarters, equally liable with the local franchisee for following or breaking labor law in relations with their workers.

Griffin made the practical point that the franchising firm’s headquarters governs virtually all aspects of labor relations for its local affiliates, from what uniforms workers wear to what prices they can charge – and what labor laws to obey, or not.

Robb did not forecast what impact his memo and directions to the board’s regions would have on the quantity of cases the NLRB handles, or on any change in justice, other than to say he would review everything. The AFL-CIO’s general counsel’s office, which includes former NLRB General Counsel and Board Member Craig Becker, was unable to return a call to discuss Robb’s memo.


Posted In: Allied Approaches

Union Matters

Get to Know AFL-CIO's Affiliates: National Association of Letter Carriers

From the AFL-CIO

Next up in our series that takes a deeper look at each of our affiliates is the National Association of Letter Carriers.

Name of Union: National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC)

Mission: To unite fraternally all city letter carriers employed by the U.S. Postal Service for their mutual benefit; to obtain and secure rights as employees of the USPS and to strive at all times to promote the safety and the welfare of every member; to strive for the constant improvement of the Postal Service; and for other purposes. NALC is a single-craft union and is the sole collective-bargaining agent for city letter carriers.

Current Leadership of Union: Fredric V. Rolando serves as president of NALC, after being sworn in as the union's 18th president in 2009. Rolando began his career as a letter carrier in 1978 in South Miami before moving to Sarasota in 1984. He was elected president of Branch 2148 in 1988 and served in that role until 1999. In the ensuing years, he worked in various roles for NALC before winning his election as a national officer in 2002, when he was elected director of city delivery. In 2006, he won election as executive vice president. Rolando was re-elected as NALC president in 2010, 2014 and 2018.

Brian Renfroe serves as executive vice president, Lew Drass as vice president, Nicole Rhine as secretary-treasurer, Paul Barner as assistant secretary-treasurer, Christopher Jackson as director of city delivery, Manuel L. Peralta Jr. as director of safety and health, Dan Toth as director of retired members, Stephanie Stewart as director of the Health Benefit Plan and James W. “Jim” Yates as director of life insurance.

Number of Members: 291,000 active and retired letter carriers.

Members Work As: City letter carriers.

Industries Represented: The United States Postal Service.

History: In 1794, the first letter carriers were appointed by Congress as the implementation of the new U.S. Constitution was being put into effect. By the time of the Civil War, free delivery of city mail was established and letter carriers successfully concluded a campaign for the eight-hour workday in 1888. The next year, letter carriers came together in Milwaukee and the National Association of Letter Carriers was formed.

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