Senate tees up confirmation vote on NLRB general counsel pick

The seal of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is seen at their headquarters in Washington, D.C., U.S., May 14, 2021. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly
  • Jennifer Abruzzo would be the first woman to serve as NLRB general counsel
  • Republicans have questioned her role in the firing of Trump-era GC Peter Robb
  • Abruzzo is a union lawyer who previously spent more than two decades at the board

(Reuters) - The U.S. Senate on Tuesday paved the way for a confirmation vote on union lawyer Jennifer Abruzzo to serve as general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board over the objections of Republicans who claim she is too partisan for the role.

The Senate voted 50-48 to advance Abruzzo's nomination, a move that was necessary after the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee in May deadlocked 11-11 on whether to approve her for the post.

President Joe Biden tapped Abruzzo, who is currently special counsel to the Communications Workers of America union, a few weeks after firing Trump-era NLRB General Counsel Peter Robb on his first day in office in January.

Abruzzo had previously spent most of her career at the NLRB, rising to become the deputy general counsel during the Obama administration. If confirmed, she would be the first woman to serve as general counsel, who acts as a prosecutor in unfair labor practice cases and is the agency's chief administrative official.

At a confirmation hearing in April, Senator Richard Burr, a Republican from North Carolina, grilled Abruzzo about her role in the firing of Robb, which many Republicans and business groups have claimed was illegal.

Abruzzo told Burr at the time that, as a member of Biden's transition team, she helped vet concerns about Robb's management of the general counsel's office and that she felt "stakeholders' recommendations for removing Robb be elevated."

Burr in a statement after Tuesday's vote said Abruzzo's conduct suggested she lacked independence and integrity.

“I remain unconvinced that Ms. Abruzzo will bring these values to the position," he said.

Unions and Democrats, meanwhile, have lauded Abruzzo's nomination, saying that her experience at the NLRB makes her well equipped to serve as general counsel and protect the rights of workers to join unions and advocate for better working conditions.

If confirmed, Abruzzo is widely expected to reverse course on budget cuts and staffing reductions implemented by Robb, and to eliminate policies that critics say have hobbled the ability of NLRB lawyers to investigate worker complaints and pursue unfair labor practice cases against employers.

On Jan. 25, Biden appointed Peter Sung Ohr, who had been the NLRB's regional director in Chicago, as acting general counsel. He has been notably active in that role, withdrawing several complaints and memos issued under Robb and indicating in a March memo that he would seek to extend the protections of federal labor law to workers who engage in political advocacy, such as protesting workplace immigration raids and race discrimination.

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Dan Wiessner (@danwiessner) reports on labor and employment and immigration law, including litigation and policy making. He can be reached at daniel.wiessner@thomsonreuters.com.