The White House announced on September 15, 2017, that Vermont labor lawyer Peter B. Robb will be President Donald J. Trump’s nominee to lead the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). If confirmed by the Senate, Robb will succeed Richard F. Griffin, whose four-year term ends on November 4, 2017.
Robb is a traditional choice to lead the NLRB. Republican presidents typically nominate management-side lawyers to the agency, while Democrats typically nominate union-side lawyers. Robb has practiced labor and employment law at management-side firms since 1985, most recently at the Vermont/New Hampshire-based firm Downs Rachlin Martin.
Before entering private practice Robb held two positions at the NLRB that will provide him valuable insight if he is confirmed to lead the agency. Upon graduating from law school, Robb worked as an NLRB field attorney, doing the work of the General Counsel in the Baltimore Region. Later, he served as principal legal advisor to Robert P. Hunter, a Republican-appointed member of the NLRB’s five-member Board. Because the General Counsel is responsible for investigating and prosecuting cases before the quasi-judicial Board, the agency tries to insulate the work of the General Counsel and his or her staff from the work of Board members and their staffs. If confirmed as the next General Counsel Robb will benefit from his valuable experience on both sides of the agency.
Robb would take the reins of an agency where the balance of power will likely resemble what it was when he worked for Member Hunter, with Republicans mostly in control. Currently, the Board is split between two Republican appointees and two Democratic appointees, with one vacancy. President Trump has nominated another appointee who would give the Board a Republican-appointee majority. If that holds throughout Robb’s term, he should find fertile ground for his initiatives.
If confirmed, Robb will likely identify his first initiatives within months. It remains to be seen how much Robb will focus on reversing recent pro-union changes to the labor laws. Employer groups are hungry to reverse many of General Counsel Griffin’s initiatives. Robb has said that new Board members are likely to agree that President Barack Obama’s Board went too far. He has specifically criticized recent Board decisions that apply a narrow definition of supervisor, bringing certain “lead” employees under its jurisdiction. However, he has also spoken about the potential for a collegial and productive Board, and could seek initiatives that benefit employers while not directly targeting all of the recent gains enjoyed by unions.
Employers and unions will closely watch Robb’s Senate confirmation hearings, which should indicate the direction he will take.