Union buster set to be NLRB’s top lawyer

A union-busting lawyer who participated in a 1981 presidential decision that has, over the years, been disastrous for workers was nominated general counsel for the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), the federal agency charged with protecting workers’ rights.

Peter Robb, a New England attorney, was nominated by President Trump as his choice to be the NLRB’s top lawyer. This is a four-year term, and the individual selected is responsible for investigating unfair labor practices. Robb is expected to assume the position in November.

In 1981, Robb was President Ronald Reagan’s attorney when the president fired more than 11,000 members of the Professional Air Traffic controllers Organization (PATCO) who went on strike at the nation’s airports.

Reagan’s decision to fire the controllers was a low point in labor history.

It has proven to be a major factor in the diminishment of organized labor’s strength in collective bargaining with employers over the past 36 years. It effectively limited, if not entirely eliminated, the unions’ right to strike, and set the stage for an all-out attack on organizing rights.

Before Reagan’s decision to break the PATCO strike, strikebreaking – the hiring of scabs to replace strikers – was uncommon, even considered immoral by some employers. During a strike, the strikebound companies almost always continued to engage in collective bargaining with the union.

But when private sector employers saw that Reagan was able to get away with it, they saw an opportunity. They began to copycat Reagan’s hard line when their workers went on strike. Money talked and workers walked.

The late Robert Waldron, former Republican Speaker of the Michigan House of Representatives, when asked why the GOP didn’t support such activities before 1980, said “because we had respect for our workers.” That respect disappeared after PATCO.

Now, 36 years later, Robb has been nominated by President Trump to serve as general counsel of the NLRB, the federal agency charged with protecting the rights, wages and working conditions of workers.

In 1981, Robb filed unfair labor practice charges against PATCO on behalf of the Federal Labor Relations after the court ruled that the controllers’ strike was illegal. The FLRA case led to the decertification of PATCO, and Reagan subsequently banned most of the striking workers from federal service for the rest of their lives.

Robb’s high-profile union-busting activities didn’t end with PATCO. In 2014 he was hired by Dominion Nuclear power plant when the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IPEW) began organizing the company’s workers.

His law firm’s website boasts that Robb represented a major national corporation in a National Labor Relations Board representation case proceeding, which had 34 days of hearings over three months to resolve 80 contested classifications covering hundreds of employees.

The Trump administration’s previous NLRB nominees all have connections to union busting, and the expected nomination of Robb would effectively make the NLRB – responsible for protecting workers’ rights – an anti-labor agency. Many unions warned their members before the election that Donald Trump was not and never will be supportive of working men and women.

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