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Biden Nominee Recommended Unprecedented Firing of Labor Arbiter

Abruzzo looking to fill vacancy left by NLRB official's ouster

Biden nominee Jennifer Abruzzo / YouTube screenshot
• April 29, 2021 5:10 pm

A major Biden nominee admitted to lawmakers on Thursday that she urged the president to take the unprecedented step of firing the nation's top federal labor prosecutor, creating the vacancy that she now hopes to fill.

Jennifer Abruzzo, nominee for general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), told senators she was part of a team that recommended general counsel Peter Robb be removed before his term was set to end.

"We were part of a team that collaborated after we received information and engaged with internal and external stakeholders. During that collaborative process, we reviewed critical information that we received from stakeholders regarding their concerns over General Counsel Robb's operational management," Abruzzo said. "I along with others felt that those concerns, as well as the stakeholders recommendations, that consideration for the removal of General Counsel Robb be elevated."

Presidents have historically allowed appointees to the board to fulfill their four-year terms to preserve the independence of the agency. Robb's term was set to expire in November. Abruzzo had said she "had no involvement with the president's decision-making" during her testimony when she was pressed on her answers by Sen. Richard Burr (R., N.C.). But Burr said that Abruzzo was taking responsibility for the controversial decision.

"You made a recommendation based upon performance of [Robb's] work that he should be replaced," Burr said.

Biden fired Robb immediately upon taking office after the Trump appointee refused to resign. The firing has sparked legal challenges from workers arguing that the unprecedented firing was an attempt by Biden to shield union allies. Burr described it as an "aggressive and unnecessary partisan escalation" in his opening statement.

"Just as we view the abrupt firing of an FBI director as shocking and unprecedented, we should also view the firing of the general counsel with a similar concern," Burr said. "Ms. Abruzzo says she wasn't involved in the firing, but that's frankly a little hard to believe as she was heavily involved in the Agency Review Team for Labor, which covered the NLRB."

The NLRB consists of five appointees and is empowered to adjudicate conflicts between labor union management, workers, and companies. Sen. Mike Lee (R., Utah) introduced legislation in March to weaken the board following Biden's purge of Republican appointees. The board would no longer be able to "promulgate rules or regulations that affect the substantive or procedural rights of any person, employer, employee, or labor organization."

In addition to his move to purge the NLRB, Biden also called for the passage of the Protecting the Right to Organize Act in his address to the nation Wednesday night. If passed, the act will significantly empower labor unions and overturn right to work laws in more than half of the states in the country.