The Biden NLRB Returns Federal Labor Law to the Side of Workers and Unions

With key new appointments at the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), President Joe Biden is delivering on his campaign promise to be the most pro-union president in history.

First, out with the old and in with the new. Within hours of taking office, President Biden fired Peter Robb, the most anti-union general counsel in the NLRB’s 85-year history and appointed Jennifer Abruzzo to the post. The general counsel is a powerful position that sets the NLRB’s policy and agenda.

A former NLRB lawyer and special counsel to the president of the Communication Workers of America, Abruzzo immediately hit the ground running, reversing the anti-union initiatives Robb had put in place during his tenure under the Trump administration and issuing a memo that outlined the Board’s agenda for the next four years. Every item on Abruzzo’s agenda will change the law to promote collective bargaining, give employees more rights to organize and engage in protected actions such as pickets and strikes.

President Biden has also named two union lawyers to fill NLRB openings: David Prouty, who worked for SEIU in New York, and Gwynne Wilcox, also of New York and who often represented UWUA Local 1-2. Both Prouty and Wilcox have dedicated their careers representing workers and unions. They have expert knowledge in the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) and how it affects workers and unions. Wilcox and Prouty joined Democratic Board Chair Lauren McFerran to establish a pro-worker and pro-union majority on the NLRB.

General Counsel Abruzzo and the new NLRB have been working tirelessly to reestablish the NLRA as a law that protects workers’ rights, promotes collective bargaining, and advances union organizing efforts. Among the action items to watch, there are several of particular interest for the UWUA and its members:

  • Expand the joint employer test to make companies that outsource work more likely to be jointly responsible for unfair labor practices (ULPs) committed by contractors.
  • In Stericycle, Inc., the NLRB will address whether it should adopt a new rule to limit employer work rules which interfere with the right to organize and engage in protected activity.
  • In Atlanta Opera Inc., the NLRB will consider changing its standard for determining the status of workers in a manner that would make it harder for employers to misclassify workers as independent contractors rather than employees that have the right to form unions.
  • In American Steel Construction, the NLRB will address the issue of unit determinations to make it easier for unions to petition for the group of employees it (the union) wants to organize rather than what the employer wants.
  • In Thryv, Inc., the NLRB will consider whether it should expand its traditional make-whole remedy for employees who are discharged, laid off or otherwise discriminated against to fully account for the actual damages caused by the employer’s violation of federal labor law.
  • Expand the definition of protected concerted activity to outlaw retaliation for employee speech and action to protest or improve working conditions.
  • Reverse a Trump NLRB case that severely limited employee use of employer e-mail systems for workplace communications related to union activity.
  • Expand union organizers’ right to have access to employer property.
  • The general counsel will seek full remedies for unfair labor practices in settlements and curtail blanket “non-admission clauses” in settlement agreements.
  • Seek bargaining orders against employers that violate the law when workers are seeking to organize and the illegal actions affecting the union’s support.
  • Reverse the Trump NLRB decision that allowed employers to unilaterally implement new work rules without bargaining with the union.
  • Return to the previous precedent that an employer must show it has a good faith doubt when it refuses to recognize a union after the union presents evidence of majority support. If this rule is adopted, it would make it significantly easier for unions to organize.
  • Use of the NLRB’s injunctive powers to seek federal court injunctions to stop employer illegal actions, especially in union organizing drives.

With General Counsel Abruzzo’s leadership and the new Democratic majority on the NLRB, we are likely to see significant changes in federal labor law that will help unions. These will assist the UWUA and all of organized labor to build on the momentum of the past couple of years where unions have won significant strikes and important organizing victories.

Polls show American public approval of unions is at its highest level in decades, and a pro-union NLRB is necessary for unions and workers to exercise their rights to form and join unions and bargain strong contracts that create good middle-class jobs.

– UWUA General Counsel David Radtke