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Infighting at NLRB

In response to new National Labor Relations Board General Counsel Peter Robb’s proposed changes to case processing and regional office structure, two groups of senior managers and organizations representing the Board’s front-line staff deemed Robb’s ideas an “existential threat” aimed to destroy the NLRB from the inside. A group of NLRB associate regional directors indicated the potential moves have caused general anxiety Agency-wide and have noticeably hurt morale in the field.

To increase efficiency due to possible budget cuts and a decline in the number of cases handled by the NLRB, Robb proposed eliminating or combining certain field offices, eliminating the senior executive status of the regional managers, and shifting more decision-making to the Board’s office in Washington, D.C., among other changes. Further, Robb has proposed for review by NLRB employees 59 ideas to overhaul how unfair labor practice complaints are processed and how union elections are handled. Some of the ideas include: shorter investigation times, strict time limits on responses before dismissal, and entrusting investigators with authority to dismiss cases, approve settlements, or withdraw a union’s complaint without regional director approval.

The groups responding to Robb agree with some of his proposals (including placing an emphasis on early resolution of unfair labor practice complaints through settlement), but fear the majority of Robb’s ideas will “contravene” the mission of the NLRB. The regional directors stressed Robb “reread” the opening section of the National Labor Relations Act. The NLRA establishes that the mission of the NLRB is to protect workers’ rights and encourage collective action by overseeing union elections and adjudicating unfair labor practice complaints.

While the business and management community has supported Robb’s proposals, NLRB employees have sought congressional intervention over concerns about a hiring freeze and other cost-saving measures introduced by Robb and NLRB Chairman Marvin Kaplan. The union representing NLRB workers has indicated Robb and Kaplan incorrectly based their cost-cutting measures on White House budget requests, instead of actual funding provided by Congress. As expected, Robb’s proposed changes have been met with opposition from Democratic lawmakers and worker advocates. A recent letter from 56 retired regional directors also opposed Robb’s reorganization proposals for field offices.

Employers should keep an eye on these developments, as they may significantly impact how NLRB matters are going to be handled. The emphasis on settlement could result in NLRB agents applying earlier and greater pressure on charged parties to settle or being more willing to be flexible in settlement discussions. 

Jackson Lewis P.C. © 2020


About this Author

Howard Bloom, Jackson Lewis, labor union attorney, unfair practice investigations lawyer, employment legal counsel, bargaining law

Howard M. Bloom is a Principal in the Boston, Massachusetts, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He has practiced labor and employment law representing exclusively employers for more than 36 years.

Mr. Bloom counsels clients in a variety of industries on labor law issues. He trains and advises executives, managers and supervisors on union awareness and positive employee relations, and assists employers in connection with union card-signing efforts, traditional union representation and corporate campaigns, and union decertification...

Philip B. Rosen Jackson Lewis  Preventive Practices Lawyer & Collective Bargaining Attorney

Philip B. Rosen is a Principal in the New York City, New York, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He is a member of the firm's Board of Directors and co-leads the firm's Labor and Preventive Practices Group. He joined the firm in 1979 and served as Managing Partner of the New York City office from 1989 to 2009.

Mr. Rosen lectures extensively, conducts management training, and advises clients with respect to legislative and regulatory initiatives, corporate strategies, business ethics, social media, reorganizations and reductions-in-force, purchase/sale transactions, sexual harassment and other workplace conduct rules, compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act, wrongful discharge and other workplace litigation, corporate campaigns and union organizing matters, collective bargaining, arbitration and National Labor Relations Board proceedings. He has been quoted by the press on many labor matters, including the National Labor Relations Board’s recent initiatives on protected concerted activity and the proposed Notice Posting requirements.

Mr. Rosen has extensive experience advising clients developing integrated corporate-wide labor relations strategies - whether the organization is union-free, partially unionized or entirely unionized. He has led teams conducting multi-facility labor-related legal assessments where clients are seeking to develop creative, strategic legal approaches which anticipate major issues and achieve a company’s labor relations goals. Mr. Rosen also has advised clients being confronted with corporate campaigns and requests for neutrality agreements. He has represented organizations seeking to maximize management rights through their development of pro-active employee relations approaches to remain union-free. He also has advised unionized organizations on lawful negotiating strategies – in situations ranging from “hard bargaining” to recapture management rights to more “cooperative” negotiations – in all cases, providing legal advice designed to assist clients in achieving their primary goals.