Labor Board Nominee Breezes Through First Hearing

From labor disputes cases to labor and employment publications, for your research, you’ll find solutions on Bloomberg Law®. Protect your clients by developing strategies based on Litigation...

By Hassan A. Kanu

President Donald Trump’s choice for the federal labor board’s top lawyer job got little attention in a Senate panel round of questioning Oct. 4, despite only partisan support for his nomination so far.

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee combined Peter Robb’s National Labor Relations Board general counsel confirmation hearing with a review of two other labor-related nominees. The hearing was also interrupted for about half an hour for a floor vote, leaving lawmakers little time to dig into Robb’s position on various hot-button issues likely to face the board.

Robb, a management-side attorney in Vermont, fielded just one direct question by the end of the hearing.

Democrats on the HELP Committee accused the committee’s Republican leadership of “jamming through” nominees shortly before a previous hearing for three other nominees to high-level posts at labor agencies. They raised the issue again at the outset of Robb’s hearing.

“I’m disappointed about holding this hearing because there are a lot of conflicts this afternoon, including votes,” Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said. “Working families deserve to hear if these nominees will stand up for them, so it’s a challenging afternoon.”

The single question Robb was asked came from Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), who was concerned about the nominee’s stance on whether student-athletes at private universities could be considered legal employees of the colleges.

That “doesn’t seem consistent with the direction I would” take, Robb said.

Nominee Likely Has Sufficient Partisan Support

Robb likely won’t need the support of any Democrats to receive approval of his nomination by the Republican-controlled HELP Committee. He can be approved for a full Senate vote with the full support of the panel’s Republicans.

The five-member board recently switched to Republican control for the first time in nearly a decade and seems primed to use that power to undo many Obama-era labor policies. The general counsel plays a significant role in shaping labor policy and functions as a sort of gatekeeper who decides which cases the board will hear.

Robb has represented the largest employer association in the elevator industry for several years. Some observers expected that he would face tough questioning from liberal lawmakers because of his long record of representing employers, and a central role in a controversial 1980s air traffic controllers case that some historians cite as a primary cause of decades of declining union membership and political power.

“Now, more than ever, it is important that the NLRB is committed to standing up for workers and their right to collectively bargain,” Murray said in her introductory remarks. “Mr. Robb, you have spent most of your career as a corporate lawyer representing big business and fighting against workers, so I hope you are prepared today to discuss how, as General Counsel at the NLRB, you would use your position to take on cases where workers are being treated unfairly.”

But Democrats didn’t get to those issues, possibly because the meeting was interrupted by votes and there were two other nominees to question. The committee also took up Cheryl Stanton’s nomination to head the Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division and David Zatezalo’s nomination for assistant labor secretary for mine safety and health.

Worker advocacy group Good Jobs Nation opposed all three nominees. The group called Robb a “notorious union buster,” citing his work on the controversial 1980s case that resulted in the dissolution of an air traffic controllers’ union.

Votes on the nomination will likely be held in about two weeks, Alexander said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Hassan A. Kanu in Washington at hkanu@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Chris Opfer at copfer@bna.com

Copyright © 2017 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Request Labor & Employment on Bloomberg Law