Trump Picks Second Republican to Seize Mediation Board Power

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By Larry Swisher

President Donald Trump unveiled his choice to fill a second Republican spot on the National Mediation Board in a move to place the three-member panel under GOP control.

The June 22 announcement of Trump’s pick—Gerald W. Fauth, a former staff member at the Surface Transportation Board—came two days after the president said he planned to appoint long-time Senate Republican staff member Kyle Fortson to the board. The NMB handles labor disputes and union contract bargaining in the airline and railroad industries.

Two Democratic holdovers are continuing to serve, while the NMB’s third seat, formerly held by a Republican, is vacant.

The White House faces a short timetable for gaining Senate confirmation of important nominees before Congress goes on a month-long recess in August. Prospects for doing so should be helped by the two NMB choices’ connections to the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, which will vote on their nominations.

Fortson currently is the committee’s director of labor policy and has served on its staff since 2004. She has the strong support of Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), the panel’s chairman.

Fauth, a transportation economic consultant based in Alexandria, Va., is the brother-in-law of committee member Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.). While under White House consideration this spring, Fauth met with airline and railroad industry representatives on both the labor and management side.

“He doesn’t have any direct experience in collective bargaining, but he didn’t exhibit any hostility to labor unions or their work,” an airline union official who met with Fauth told Bloomberg BNA June 23. “I can’t say he’s an out-of-bounds choice for a Republican administration.”

Most of Fauth’s experience has been in the freight railroad industry. “He certainly understands the economics of the railroad industry,” said the union official, who asked not to be named because he was not authorized to speak for the union.

"“The railroads look forward to working with both of the nominees,” Joanna Moorhead, general counsel of the National Railway Labor Conference, said June 23 in an emailed statement. The group currently is bargaining with unions on a new contract for the major freight railroads, covering some 140,000 workers.

In choosing Fauth, Trump passed over right-to-work advocate Vincent Vernuccio, who was interviewed for the post by White House officials and was a member of Trump’s Department of Labor transition team following the presidential election. An attorney and director of labor policy at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy in Ann Arbor, Mich., Vernuccio likely would have drawn strong Democratic opposition.

Longest-Serving Member Out

Fauth disclosed his interest in being appointed to the NMB in a March interview with Bloomberg BNA. He has nearly 40 years of experience with railroad and other transportation issues, according to the White House.

He would serve a three-year term ending July 1, 2020, replacing current NMB Member Harry Hoglander. Democrat Hoglander has served on the board for nearly 15 years, since 2002. Hoglander had acknowledged he was unlikely to remain. “Being a practical sort, I recognize this is probably my last air and railway meeting,” Hoglander said March 10 at an airline and railway labor law conference.

It’s unclear whether Trump will reappoint the NMB’s other Democratic holdover, Linda Puchala, or select a third newcomer to replace her. By law, he must nominate one Democrat. “The general expectation in the air and rail industries is that Linda will be reappointed, but I have not heard anything confirming that yet,” a railroad industry practitioner told Bloomberg BNA June 23.

To contact the reporter on this story: Larry Swisher in Washington at lswisher@bna.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Peggy Aulino at maulino@bna.com; Terence Hyland at thyland@bna.com; Chris Opfer at copfer@bna.com

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