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President Biden Fires Peter Robb

The NLRB General Counsel refused to resign so Biden fired him on Day 1

Brian Young's picture
Jan 21, 2021

Just hours into President Joe Biden’s first term, he began delivering results for the union members that helped to put him into office. While the 17 Executive Orders that he signed got a lot of attention, union members were more focused on his move to fire NLRB General Counsel Peter Robb.

Robb has been under fire for nearly four years since Trump appointed him to be the General Counsel of the NLRB. In this position, he decided the cases that the Board would prosecute. While usually, the board went after bad employers, under Robb they went after unions, including a case that became a near obsession to Robb, making inflatables, like Scabby, illegal during union pickets.

In the days leading up to Biden’s inauguration, unions began stepping up the calls to fire Robb immediately. SEIU even released a statement calling Robb an “extreme, anti-union ideologue” and a “uniquely destructive figure.”

While other Trump appointees, like Cabinet secretaries, terms ended at noon on Wednesday, Robb’s did not. Instead, he has 10 months left on his term. However, unlike an elected official, the President has the power to fire the NLRB’s General Counsel before the end of their term.

At 12:23 PM, just minutes after he became President, Biden sent Robb a letter asking him to resign by 5 PM on Wednesday. Robb replied saying that he would “respectfully decline to resign from my Senate-confirmed four-year term appointment as General Counsel of the NLRB less than 10 months before the expiration of my term.” His full letter can be read here. Following Robb’s refusal to resign, President Biden announced that he would be firing Robb.

This is a significant move for Biden. This is the first time that an incoming President has fired the General Counsel that was appointed by their predecessor. However, Robb is a special case. As UCOMM previously reported, before joining the NLRB, Robb was a management-side lawyer and started his career by busting the PATCO union during the Reagan administration.

“In his first hours in office, President Joe Biden has taken immediate action to secure the rights and protect the well-being of America’s working families by removing Peter Robb as NLRB general counsel,” said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka. “A union-busting lawyer by trade, Robb mounted an unrelenting attack for more than three years on workers’ right to organize and engage in collective bargaining. His actions sought to stymie the tens of millions of workers who say they would vote to join a union today and violated the stated purpose of the National Labor Relations Act—to encourage collective bargaining. Robb’s removal is the first step toward giving workers a fair shot again, and we look forward to building on this victory by securing a worker-friendly NLRB and passing the PRO Act so all working people have the freedom to form a union.”

Organized labor is hoping that by taking such a bold move just minutes after becoming President, Biden is signaling that he will take quick action on labor issues. At the very least, it ensures that the NLRB will stop pursuing cases that will weaken unions.

"The Teamsters were pleased to see President Joe Biden wasted little time in terminating the NLRB’s general counsel, an anti-union attorney who chose not to honor the traditional protocol of submitting his resignation to the incoming Biden administration,” said Teamsters General President James Hoffa. “Hardworking Americans want the opportunity to join together to negotiate for fair wages, safe workplaces, and a secure retirement. Robb would have hampered that, just like he did during the Trump administration, so he had to go. It’s time for our nation to move forward.”

On Wednesday, Biden also announced that Lauren McFerran, the sole Democrat on the NLRB, would become the Chairman of the NLRB. McFerran has served on the board since 2014 and was renominated to the position in July of 2020. She replaces John Ring as chairman. Ring will continue to serve on the board. Currently, Republicans hold a 3-1 majority on the board with one seat vacant. The next Republican whose term will end is William Emanuel whose term ends on August 27th, 2021.

“It is a tremendous honor to assume the Chairmanship of the NLRB,” McFerran said. “I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to continue serving with our extraordinary agency staff in this new capacity. In these turbulent times for working people, the mission of the Board and the rights we protect are more important than ever. I look forward to this new chapter in the Board’s work, redoubling our efforts to serve the Act’s goals -- ‘encouraging the practice and procedure of collective bargaining and . . . protecting the exercise by workers of full freedom of association."

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