An appeal filed by two union dissidents could test the legitimacy of President Joe Biden's controversial labor appointee as he attempts to unravel Trump-era policies that boosted the ability of members to leave unions.
Two workers in a Michigan-based labor union are calling on National Labor Relations Board acting general counsel Peter Ohr to intervene on their behalf in a contract dispute with their union. The workers had attempted to leave the union in early 2020 during its leadership-determined "window period," and they allege the union dragged its feet in allowing them to leave. The NLRB's role in the dispute, however, is heightened by controversy surrounding Ohr, who withdrew a policy memo issued by his Trump-era predecessor that pushed the NLRB to crack down on unions that abuse the "window periods" that restrict when members can leave the labor groups.
Ohr signaled his support for unions by withdrawing the Trump-era directive, and the regional NLRB declined to pursue the case after Ohr's policy change.
"The regional director's partial dismissal of this case cannot withstand scrutiny," the workers' appeal states. "The acting general counsel should reverse it and send the case back with orders to issue a complaint over these narrow allegations that protect employees' rights under the act."
The Michigan workers' case is the latest legal challenge against Ohr's decisions since taking office. Multiple workers and employers have argued the agency improperly dismissed complaints and policies that were in place under the Trump administration. Such challenges threaten to undermine the labor arbiter's credibility and could hamstring Biden's stated goal to be the "most pro-union president" in history.
The two employees, Jesse London and Rob Nevins, notified their union officials with the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 324 chapter that they were withdrawing from the union. According to the appeal, the union officials did not acknowledge the withdrawal request. Local labor regulators initially sided with the workers but reversed course after Ohr's appointment.
The union did not respond to a request for comment.
In a February memo withdrawing the policy, Ohr stated that Trump NLRB general counsel Peter Robb's initiatives were "inconsistent" with the NLRB's mission to encourage "the practice and procedure of collective bargaining."
Patrick Semmens, vice president of the National Right to Work Foundation, which is assisting the workers in the appeal, said that the case is a "litmus test" for how much Ohr will capitulate to union leadership.
"Ohr already rescinded advice from former NLRB general counsel Peter Robb which required union bosses to at least communicate with workers who had missed union-created ‘window periods' in their attempts to stop union dues deductions," Semmens said. "If Ohr rejects London and Nevins's appeal, he will be signaling that even workers who abide by union boss-imposed restrictions on exercising their right to cut off dues payments can be ignored by union officials with impunity."
The NLRB declined to comment.