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Biden Picks Union Lawyer for NLRB

The SEIU lawyer will be the deciding vote on the board

Kris LaGrange's picture
Jun 23, 2021

Although a spot does not open on the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) until the end of August, President Biden has made an early announcement that he will fill that deciding seat with a longtime union attorney.

On Tuesday, Biden announced that David Prouty will be chosen to fill the upcoming vacancy that will be created when Trump appointee, William Emanuel’s, term ends at the end of August. Prouty is a long-time union lawyer, currently working as the general counsel for the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 32BJ. The union represents about 175,000 cleaners, property maintenance workers, doormen, security officers, window cleaners, building engineers, and school and food service workers mostly in the Northeast. They are one of the largest local unions in the country. Before joining SEIU, Prouty worked as the general counsel for the MLB Players Association from 2013 through 2017. Before that, he worked from 2008 to 2013 as the Chief Labor Counsel for the players union.

Prior to joining the MLBPA, Prouty worked as General Counsel for UNITE and then joined UNITE HERE after UNITE and HERE merged in 2004. He also worked for UNITE’s predecessor union ACTWU for fifteen years litigating some of the union’s landmark organizing cases including Fieldcrest Cannon, S. Lichtenberg, Tultex, and Kmart.

Prouty will be the second consecutive NLRB pick to come from the SEIU. Last month, Biden announced the appointment of Gwynne Wilcox to fill a vacant seat on the board. Wilcox was a lawyer for 32BJ’s sister union 1199 United Healthcare Workers East.

The appointment was immediately praised by labor unions with the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) applauding the move. “We are pleased that President Biden has nominated a person with such outstanding credentials to the National Labor Relations Board, and we look forward to seeing the NLRB restored to its statutory role of safeguarding employee rights and fairly adjudicating disputes. Prouty is the right person, at the right time, for this job,” AFSCME President Lee Saunders said in a statement.

In between college and law school, Prouty worked from 1980-83 for AFSCME as a researcher and organizer. He left AFSCME to get a law degree from Harvard where he graduated in 1986.

32 BJ also released a statement calling the appointment a “Homerun for strengthening labor rights worker-centered standards in our country and restoring the NLRB’s core function to protect the interests of workers.”

A native of Nyack, New York, Prouty was a CYO basketball coach and currently sits on the board of O.U.R. Upper Nyack Kids, a non-profit that manages The Carol Slaybaugh Fund and distributes mini-grants to provide funding for programs that benefit children in Upper Nyack.

“It is important that the people who serve in a position to carry out the law have a real-world understanding of how the Act operates on a practical level, as well as have an in-depth understanding of the Act's legal intricacies,” the International Machinist Union (IAM) said in a statement. “Mr. Prouty began his career as an organizer for the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees. Having this hands-on involvement as an organizer is a vital experience for someone who must enforce our laws governing how workers can exercise their rights to join a union.”

Prouty will need to be approved by the Senate, but when that happens a drastic shift will occur at the NLRB. Since Trump took over, the board has been filled with management-side attorneys and union-busters like Peter Robb, the former General Counsel. However, Robb was fired on Biden’s first day in office and is being replaced by Jennifer Abruzzo, who was working as the Special Counsel for Strategic Initiatives for the Communications Workers of America (CWA) before her appointment to be the NLRB’s General Counsel. This will mean that all three of Biden’s NLRB appointments will be union lawyers, a drastic change from the last four years and a glimmer of hope that the NLRB will once again protect and encourage union organizing.

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