Congress will move on two fronts this week to reshape the National Labor Relations Board, the main federal labor law enforcement agency.
The Senate will vote on Peter Robb's nomination to be the general counsel for the board, while the House will vote on legislation to roll back one of the board's most controversial moves, its expansion of the "joint employer" doctrine. The board gained a reputation for pro-labor activism during former President Barack Obama's administration, and the Republicans' efforts would push it into the role of neutral umpire.
Originally joint employer liability applied only when one company had "direct control" over another, but under Obama the board expanded the rule to the much vaguer "indirect control." Business groups fear the change could make employers responsible for violations by other companies they have only a tangential connection to
Titled the "Save Local Business Act," the House legislation would rewrite the National Labor Relations Act to codify the direct control standard. The bill is scheduled to be considered in the House Rules Committee on Monday and could see floor action as soon as Tuesday, said a congressional source with knowledge of the situation. It has 123 co-sponsors, including three Democrats.
"I’m pleased the House will take action to provide much-needed clarity to American workers and job creators by considering the Save Local Business Act. Without action, more than 1.7 million jobs could be at risk, and I hope for a strong vote of bipartisan support next week," said Rep. Bradley Byrne, R-Ala., lead sponsor of the legislation.
Robb, meanwhile, would replace the recently retired Richard Griffin, the board's previous general counsel and the architect of the current joint employer rule. While the title implies an advisory role, at the NLRB the position is functionally the same as a chief executive officer. The agency is overseen by a five-member board,but the general counsel manages the agency's day-to-day activities and can initiate enforcement activities on his own. The board has about 1,600 employees, the vast majority of whom report directly to the general counsel.
Griffin was a formerly a top lawyer for the International Union of Operating Engineers, before being recess appointed to the board by Obama in 2012. The Supreme Court later determined that his appointment was unconstitutional, but Obama then appointed Griffin as general counsel in 2013 in a deal with Senate Republicans. Griffin sought to reinterpret old workplace rules to aid labor organizing, most notably by expanding the board's joint employer rule.
Robb, by contrast, was the attorney who litigated President Ronald Reagan's firing of the striking Air Traffic Controllers Association members in 1981. The move is generally considered a watershed moment in labor history, greatly weakening unions' political power in Washington. Robb, a Vermont resident, has practiced labor law at the firm Downs Rachlin Martin since 1995.
"I have always believed in the core values expressed in the [National Labor Relations] Act, which can be paraphrased as protecting the rights of employees to engage in union or other protected, concerted activity with respect to wages, hours and working conditions as well as the rights of employees to refrain from such activity. And once employees have freely chosen a labor organization to represent them, the act promotes collective bargaining. I believe these principles are the foundations of our successful economic system," Robb told the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee last month.