Demonstrators fighting for a $15-per-hour minimum wage march

Demonstrators fighting for a $15-per-hour minimum wage march / Getty Images

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The Trump administration is one step closer to changing the direction of the nation’s top federal labor arbiter on Wednesday.

The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, & Pensions announced it will hold a vote on Oct. 18 on the nomination of Peter Robb to become general counsel at the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). Robb is a management-side attorney at Dows, Rachlin, and Marin and formerly worked as a regional attorney for the agency.

The vote could be crucial to America’s labor landscape and comes in the wake of Republicans taking control of the agency’s national board for the first time in 10 years in September.

The 3-2 majority at the NLRB gives Republicans an opportunity to decide on workplace disputes and set precedent in interpreting national labor laws, but the general counsel is widely considered the most powerful position at the agency. The general counsel sets the agency’s agenda in terms of workplace enforcement and unfair labor practice investigations and oversees its regional offices. Those investigations and their prosecution generate the cases the top board hears and decides upon.

President Obama’s General Counsel Richard Griffin previously served as an NLRB board member before the Supreme Court declared his appointment unconstitutional in 2013; Obama tapped him for the office shortly afterward.

Griffin, a career union attorney, has been the leading force behind several major agency initiatives seen as union friendly, most famously his attempt to prosecute McDonalds for workplace violations committed by its franchisees. Under his leadership, the agency implemented new election rules that dramatically sped up the timeframe for holding union votes, while he called for new restrictions on decertification elections in which workers vote to cut ties with their union representatives.

Labor watchdogs and business groups expect Robb to break sharply from the regulatory environment established by Griffin, whose term expires in November. He has won the support of HELP Chairman Sen. Lamar Alexander (R., Tenn.), as well as the National Restaurant Association. Patrick Semmens, spokesman for the National Right to Work Foundation, called Griffin’s tenure “a disaster for the rights of independent workers who don’t want to associate with a labor union” and said Robb’s appointment is “critical” to winning balance on the board.

“Confirming his replacement prior to the expiration of Griffin’s term in November is critical,” he said. “The new general counsel needs to begin work as soon as possible to return the NLRB to its role as a neutral arbiter of the law, instead of acting as an organizing arm for Big Labor.”

A spokeswoman for the House Committee on Education and the Workforce Chairwoman Virginia Foxx (R., NC) urged swift confirmation to prevent a vacancy after Griffin leaves the agency.

“After years of an extreme and liberal agenda pushed by the Obama-era NLRB, this vote will bring us one step closer to achieving the fair and balanced labor policies America’s workers deserve,” the spokeswoman said.

Robb needs just a majority in the Republican-controlled committee to advance to the Senate floor. If confirmed, he will serve a four-year term at the agency. President Trump’s work at staffing the agency is not yet complete. The administration is searching to replace board Chairman Philip Miscimarra, who has said he will not seek a new term when his appointment expires in December.

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