Management lawyer John Ring was appointed chairman of the National Labor Relations Board on Thursday, one day after the U.S. Senate narrowly confirmed him as an NLRB member.
Ring’s appointment returns control of the five-seat board to a GOP majority that has already shown its determination to destroy Obama-era rules protecting workers’ rights.
The board had been split 2-2 since the previous chairman’s term ended in mid-December. Until then, with the Republican chair and two of President Trump’s nominees in place, the board worked at near-record pace in the fall of 2017 to reverse eight years of progress.
“There is an agenda: fewer workers will have fewer rights,” Wilma Liebman, a former Democratic chair of the board told The Huffington Post in December.
The flurry of rulings “hobble the ability of millions of working people to organize, which goes right against the mission of the agency,” International President Lonnie R. Stephenson said in an IBEW report on the board’s assault on unions.
The board’s Republican majority comprises Ring, employer-side attorney William Emanuel and Marvin Kaplan, a former Capitol Hill staffer who worked on policies to strip workers of union right. Another management lawyer, Peter Robb, was appointed by Trump as NLRB general counsel.
Until his appointment, Ring was a partner at the law firm Morgan Lewis, where he represented “management interests in collective bargaining, employee benefits, litigation, counseling, and litigation avoidance strategies. He has an extensive background negotiating and administering collective bargaining agreements, most notably in the context of workforce restructuring and multiemployer bargaining,” according to the firm’s website.
In a February letter, the AFL-CIO implored senators on the Health, Education Labor and Pensions committee to scrutinize Ring’s record, saying Trump’s earlier NLRB nominees weren’t living up to their confirmation hearing promises.
“Despite their commitments to your committee that they brought no agenda or prejudgments to the agency, these appointees have carried out the agenda of the Chamber of Commerce and Republicans in Congress, ignoring established agency practice and, in one case ignoring a clear conflict of interest to reverse precedent and take other actions to undermine workers’ rights,” the letter stated.
One such ruling overturned the joint employer rule that gave workers employed by contractors or franchises more power to bargain with and hold parent companies accountable. The board was forced to reinstate the rule in February, however, in response to revelations that Emanuel had a conflict of interest and should have recused himself from the case.
Ring and the earlier nominees were approved on party-line votes in both the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee and in full Senate, with all Democrats opposed.
In a December column at Slate.com, legal reporter Mark Joseph Stern said that in their zeal to “incinerate every Obama-era rule as quickly as possible,” Republicans are turning the NLRB’s mission on its head.
“The NLRB was not designed to veer wildly when the presidency changes hands,” Stern wrote. “Congress directed the agency to protect ‘the exercise by workers of full freedom of association’ and ‘self- organization.’ Although conservatives often accused Obama’s NLRB appointees of stretching the law, each of their decisions explicitly advanced this founding mission.
“Trump’s appointees, by contrast, are contracting the law in a manner that’s utterly incongruous with the policy of the board as prescribed by Congress. All indications are that they’ll succeed in this partisan mission, and American workers will pay the price.”