Labor-Management Office Gets a Director at Long Last

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By Ben Penn

Arthur Rosenfeld, a veteran Republican labor official, is now the director of the Labor Department’s Office of Labor-Management Standards, a DOL official told Bloomberg Law.

Effective this morning, Rosenfeld assumes control of the small agency charged with enforcing union disclosure laws. He becomes the first politically appointed leader of the OLMS since the end of the Obama administration. Rosenfeld had been working at the DOL as a senior counselor to the solicitor since last year, which marked his return to government service after holding top labor posts throughout the George W. Bush administration.

Republican lawmakers and employer representatives have been growing impatient in their calls for Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta to name an OLMS head. They’ve been hoping that new leadership will bring an uptick in investigations into union finances and officer corruption, as well as more probes into the status of worker organizing centers.

Starting in the prior administration, the office has been hamstrung by budget cuts that business groups say have limited its ability to ensure democracy for union members. Unions on the other hand have complained that under Republican presidencies the OLMS is typically leveraged as a means of labor movement harassment.

Rosenfeld’s name first circulated in December, when Bloomberg Law reported that he would become OLMS director pending White House background check clearance. The position doesn’t require Senate confirmation. The DOL official, speaking on condition of anonymity, didn’t offer an explanation for why it took more than six months for Rosenfeld to gain approval to head the office.

NLRB, FMCS Background

Rosenfeld was general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board from 2001-2006, overlapping with Acosta’s nearly one year on the NLRB from 2002-2003. Rosenfeld was then appointed as director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, a post he held for the final three years of the Bush White House.

This is Rosenfeld’s second stint at the DOL, after arriving in 1986 and holding a range of positions, including as a career civil servant attorney in the Clinton administration.

Rosenfeld, a graduate of Villanova Law School, began his legal career in 1979 as a labor attorney at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. That was before the Chamber launched an initiative focused on pressuring the OLMS to scrutinize worker centers. In recent years the business group argued that the OLMS should treat worker organizing centers as labor organizations subject to Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act filing requirements.

In a recent letter to GOP lawmakers, the DOL said it’s already in the midst of investigating several worker centers to determine if they’ve been skirting disclosure law requirements. Such reporting requirements could impose severe burdens on worker centers, particularly the smaller, less-sophisticated operations.

The DOL official wouldn’t specify whether Rosenfeld’s arrival at the OLMS would lead to a new policy on this matter.

Sources familiar with Rosenfeld’s reputation in Washington have told Bloomberg Law that he’s a traditional conservative lawyer but not the type of right wing hard-liner one might expect to rubber stamp the employer community’s OLMS wish list. Under George W. Bush’s labor secretary, Elaine Chao, the office conducted full-scale audits of national and international unions for alleged union official embezzlement and ballot-stuffing at union officer elections. The office was armed at the time with about twice the number of full-time employees it has today, as the Obama administration shifted enforcement resources to investigate businesses for wage and safety misconduct.

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