Unions hail nomination of high-profile labor lawyer to NLRB

4 minute read

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

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  • Unions praise Gwynne Wilcox's deep experience
  • Republicans will scrutinize her long record of aiding unions

(Reuters) - President Joe Biden's nomination of veteran union lawyer Gwynne Wilcox for a vacancy on the National Labor Relations Board is drawing praise from many of the country's largest unions, who called on the Senate to swiftly confirm her and push the agency closer toward a Democratic majority.

Wilcox, a longtime partner at Levy Ratner in New York, would be the first Black woman to serve on the board after representing workers and unions in a series of high-profile cases, including a major recent NLRB case accusing McDonald's of retaliating against franchise workers who participated in an organizing campaign.

Republicans currently have a 3-1 advantage on the board. Biden in January named the agency's lone Democrat, Lauren McFerran, as its chair and took the unprecedented step of firing Trump-era General Counsel Peter Robb.

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Biden will have a chance to cement a Democratic majority at the NLRB once the term of Member William Emanuel, a Republican, expires in August.

The White House's announcement of Wilcox's nomination on Wednesday immediately drew applause from a varied group of unions including the AFL-CIO, International Brotherhood of Teamsters and United Food and Commercial Workers.

Teamsters President Jim Hoffa said Wilcox's deep experience, including a stint as an NLRB field attorney, makes her uniquely prepared to tackle challenges faced by workers.

"She is someone who understands the importance of the agency in sticking up for hardworking Americans who are just trying their best to support their families," Hoffa said in a statement.

Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, said in a Twitter post it was a "great day for working families and historic day for the NLRB." Hoffa and Trumka, two of the most powerful labor leaders in the country, both urged the Senate to act quickly on her nomination and fill the long-empty vacancy.

Some Republicans, who have criticized the changes Biden has made at the board as showing favoritism to unions over workers, saw the nomination differently.

Rep. Virginia Foxx of North Carolina, the top Republican on the House Committee on Education and Labor, said Wilcox's appointment "deals a blow to the American workforce" and would harm economic recovery amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Ms. Wilcox's track record representing unions demonstrates consistent support for radical, one-size-fits-all regulatory policies that will harm small businesses across the country and greatly diminish the rights of workers and job creators," Foxx said.

Wilcox is likely to take heat from Republicans for her role in the McDonald's case, which began a decade ago and settled in 2019 over the objections of organizing group Fight for $15, which Wilcox represented.

Fight for $15 had claimed that McDonald's was a "joint employer" of franchise workers and was liable for alleged violations of federal labor law.

Wilcox also represented the Vulcan Society, an organization of Black firefighters, in a 2007 race discrimination lawsuit that the U.S. Department of Justice brought against New York City. The city in 2014 settled the case for $98 million.

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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.