The National Labor Relations Board is about to shift dramatically in favor of big corporations, as two controversial Donald Trump appointees cleared Senate committee hurdles on July 19.
Trump’s NLRB nominees, Republican lawyer Marvin Kaplan and management-side labor lawyer William Emanuel, advanced past the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on party-line votes and will face confirmation votes by the full GOP-controlled Senate in short order.
The pro-management nominees are likely to fill two vacant seats on the independent board that was created to resolve disputes between workers and employers and to interpret the nation’s labor laws, particularly when it comes to organizing.
“These nominees should be of real concern to those of us in the labor movement,” said International President Lonnie R. Stephenson. “We made a lot of progress under President Obama’s labor board, and we had hoped that all of Donald Trump’s campaign rhetoric about protecting working people would translate into real actions. Marvin Kaplan and William Emanuel are proof that was just bluster.”
Kaplan and Emanuel’s appointments were praised by groups like the National Restaurant Association the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, both of whom have been extraordinarily hostile to working people attempting to form unions. Combined with Trump’s elevation of board-member Philip Miscimarra to chairman in April, the appointments represent a seismic shift in the partisan makeup of the five-member NLRB.
William Gould, who served as chairman of the NLRB under President Bill Clinton in the 1990s took particular offense to Kaplan, who he says will “undercut the integrity of the board.” Calling him “unqualified and hostile to the law that he would interpret and administer,” Gould suggested Kaplan, who has no experience as a labor lawyer, would simply “bring the agenda of a Congress that hates the NLRB.”
Among the first things likely on the newly-constituted board’s agenda is reversing Obama-era rules that allowed for quicker union elections and smaller bargaining units, both of which limited a hostile employer’s opportunities to intimidate workers against supporting organizing efforts. Also, atop the priority list for the National Restaurant Association is the reversal of the NLRB’s landmark joint-employer standard decision that held mammoth corporations like McDonald’s responsible for the working conditions at their franchised locations.
For now, the board can only rule on cases that come before it, and NLRB general counsel and Obama-appointee Richard Griffin Jr. remains largely in control of which cases reach the panel. But his term is coming to an end later this year.
“When Richard Griffin’s term expires, the board will have swung entirely from an Obama board to a Trump board,” National Employment Law Project executive director Christine Owens told The Hill newspaper.
“It’s going to make organizing harder, bottom line,” said Assistant to the International President Ricky Oakland, who leads membership development at the IBEW. “Between the changes to the NLRB and the recent attacks on organizing making their way through this Republican Congress, working people are under attack for simply trying to band together for better pay and working conditions. It’s night and day from just a year ago under President Obama.”
The changes at the NLRB mirror similar efforts at the Department of Labor, where Trump’s labor secretary Alexander Acosta has moved in a few short months to halt the rule that expanded the number of workers who could earn overtime pay and to shelve important safety regulations, including Obama-era protections against exposure to silica dust and cancer-causing beryllium, among others. Congress is also looking to roll back the Obama labor department’s requirement that retirement savings advisors act in the best interests of their clients.
“Republicans in Congress, in the White House, at the Department of Labor and on the NLRB aren’t hiding the fact that they’re coming after working people,” Stephenson said. “They’re proud of it, and they’re serving the big corporate interests that helped put them into office. As working people, we’ve got to recognize what’s going on and be prepared to hold them accountable when election time rolls around.”