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November 10, 2017

Asking Few Questions, Senate Confirms Peter Robb to Lead NLRB

On November 8, 2017, Senators voted along party lines to confirm Peter B. Robb as the next general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).  

Once sworn in to his four-year term, Robb will succeed former General Counsel Richard F. Griffin, whose term ended on October 31, 2017. In the meantime, the agency is being led by Griffin’s former deputy general counsel, Jennifer Abruzzo. 

Robb’s Senate confirmation hearings were relatively brief and muted. After Robb introduced himself in his planned testimony, senators asked Robb only two questions. In response to a question about how he would respond if a case involving one of President Donald J. Trump’s businesses came before the NLRB, Robb predictably responded that he would seek guidance from the agency’s ethics staff. In the other, a senator asked whether Robb thought it was appropriate for General Counsel Griffin to have issued a nonbinding memorandum in which he took the position that scholarship football players at private universities are employees who have the right to unionize. At the point that General Counsel Griffin issued that memorandum he had already asked the five-member Board to assert its jurisdiction over Northwestern University’s football players and give them the right to unionize, and the Board had already declined to do so. Robb indicated that he disagreed with Griffin’s actions. He described the role of the general counsel as that of a prosecutor who presents issues to the five-member Board, which then decides the issues. He said that he would ask his staff to follow the law as the Board sets it forth.  

Robb’s answers indicated that he is committed to the NLRB’s traditional way of operating. The general counsel traditionally seeks to change the law in some areas, but does so by selecting cases to prosecute and arguing his or her positions in those cases before the agency’s judges, the five-member Board and the courts. Although Robb’s confirmation hearings gave him no opportunity to respond to questions about his priorities for the agency or specific positions he would take, he will likely begin to identify those in the coming months through speaking engagements, internal NLRB memoranda, and the first cases he prosecutes. Employers and unions will be watching closely.  

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