President Trump is close to picking Vermont lawyer Peter Robb to be the next general counsel for the National Labor Relations Board, the main federal labor law enforcement agency, sources indicate. The longtime management-side labor lawyer has little profile in Washington but has been critical of the board's recent direction.
The pick is widely rumored inside Washington's lobbying community, though the administration has given little publicity on who it is considering. "Peter is a terrific pick if he is, indeed, the nominee. He has a history of working at different positions at the board and knows how it operates ... I hope it is true," said one source who requested anonymity.
Robb has practiced labor law at the firm Downs Rachlin Martin since 1995 and has represented companies before the NLRB. His website boasts that he has "successfully defended numerous multi-national corporations in complex arbitrations involving work hours, shifts, apprenticeship issues and work jurisdiction involving complex litigation."
A report by the law firm Jackson Lewis notes that Robb has been critical of the labor board's broad reading of legal statutes to find employer policies unlawful. He has been critical of its efforts to shorten the time from when union elections are authorized to when they are held, which is thought to aid union organizing efforts. "Robb's nomination and confirmation would set the stage for the board to reverse many of the pro-labor rulings issued by the Obama [era] board," it said.
He is little known inside the Beltway, however. "Looking around, there does not seem to be a lot of information about him," said a source at one major trade association who requested anonymity.
Robb did not respond to inquiries from the Washington Examiner made to his office.
The Trump administration has been working to reverse the direction the board took under former President Barack Obama. In April, Trump elevated Philip Miscimarra, then the board's sole Republican member, to chairman and in August pushed the Senate to confirm former House Republican staffer Marvin Kaplan to fill one of its two open seats. When the Senate returns next month, it is expected to vote on labor lawyer William Emanuel to the fill the remaining open seat. That would give the board a 3-2 Republican majority. Senate sources say the schedule for that is still in flux.
While the title of general counsel implies an advisory role, at the NLRB the position is closer to that of a chief executive officer. The NLRB is overseen by the five-member board but the general counsel oversees the agency's day-to-day activities and can start enforcement activities independent of the board. About 1,600 people work for the board, the vast majority of whom report to the general counsel.
Robb would replace Richard Griffin, whose term expires in November. Griffin, formerly a top lawyer with the International Union of Operating Engineers, has been instrumental in pushing the board in a more pro-union direction through inventive re-evaluations of existing rules and procedures.
Griffin had been one of Obama's recess appointees to the board from 2012 to 2013 but his tenure was deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court's 2014 Noel Canning decision. In November 2013, he was appointed as the board's general counsel with five board members as part of a deal between Senate Republicans and the Obama administration to avert the "nuclear option" of ending the Senate filibuster for political appointments. Griffin had been nominated for another board term. Republicans balked at that but agreed to approve him as general counsel instead, apparently believing that it would be a demotion.
"Apparently, the Senate seemed to think that while I was inappropriate for confirmation as board member, I was perfectly fine to be confirmed as the general counsel," a bemused Griffin told West Virginia University students in 2015.