Peter Robb must switch sides if he wants to challenge his own fire from Joe Biden.
Photo: Sarah Silbiger / Bloomberg via Getty Images
To anyone wrongly convinced that Donald Trump’s promotion of the white working class meant breaking with the anti-union animus and favoritism of his employers, his appointment of Peter Robb as General Counsel of the National Labor Relations Board should have been rude Awakening. To say Robb is a labor lawyer is like saying Babe Ruth is a ball player: in 1981 he was the federal government’s chief attorney in the successful effort by the Reagan administration to break a strike by the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization. The government then placed the strikers under a life-long reemployment ban (repealed by Bill Clinton in 1993). As the government’s most conspicuous assault on workers’s rights since Calvin Coolidge broke the Boston police strike, the PATCO case was one of the great symbols of the new conservative hegemony in Washington that Reagan represented.
After that big moment, Robb returned to a legal career focused on advancing employers versus employees on a wide variety of cases, as New Yorker Sarah Jones noted: “Before he was general counsel, Robb once worked as a special advisor to Proskauer Rose, a notoriously anti-union law firm. Proskauer Rose’s attorneys have represented Volkswagen, Columbia University, the NFL and the NBA in battles with existing unions or in organizing actions at various points in the law firm’s dismal history. “
But he happily resumed his career in Washington with worker harassment and union destruction when he was appointed by Trump, and set quite a record – summed up by a critic who wrote an open letter to Biden requesting Dismiss Robb:
The General Counsel is responsible for investigating and following up cases of unfair labor practices. Since Robb’s appointment in 2017, it has instead been used to fuel a crusade against workers’ rights.
Robbs NLRB sued Oregon over law protecting workers from common anti-union tactics by employers. They also allowed a hotel to proceed with an unfair and questionable legal mass layoff of employees after the pandemic this year. His office used flawed logic to deliberately make it harder to negotiate initial contracts. Peter Robb, the President-elect, has even followed the beloved “Scabby the Rat” picket line.
Indeed, as Jones reported, giving this defender of the employer’s dismissal rights his own moving papers until the actual laws could be passed was a test of Biden’s trustworthiness:
[Labor leaders] I agree that no matter who Biden chooses to be his labor secretary, that person and the administration could take steps to immediately protect workers. [Sara Nelson of the Flight Attendants union] Intelligencer told Intelligencer that it believes Biden has authority to fire Peter Robb, the management attorney who is now general counsel to the National Labor Relations Board, before his term expires in another year. With Robb gone, the NLRB could restore union electoral rules that Trump overturned when he took office, removing an obstacle to union formation in the process.
Well, Biden passed the test. He asked Robb to resign, and when Robb refused (citing his unexpired tenure), Biden fired him on his first day in office, to the predictable delight of those Robb had tormented in the NLRB.
I don’t know much about the strength of Robb’s legal argument against his dismissal. But it is clear that after defending employers’ right to lay off countless workers over the years, he is not coming to his own case with clean hands.
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