Republicans will once again have a majority at the nation's top labor arbiter after the Senate confirmed Trump nominee John Ring on Wednesday.
The Senate voted 50-48 to appoint Ring to the National Labor Relations Board. Ring is the third Trump nominee confirmed to the agency and will replace former chairman Philip Miscimarra, an Obama-appointed management-side attorney. The confirmation gives Republicans a majority on the board, which oversees labor disputes and union organizing elections.
The GOP gained its first board majority in a decade when the Senate confirmed career management-side labor attorney William Emanuel in September. The three Republicans quickly began walking back some of the Obama administration's most controversial labor policies, including decisions that broke from decades of precedent to allow micro-unions, give regulators oversight of company rulebooks, and hold parent companies liable for labor violations committed by subcontractors—a doctrine known as joint employer.
Republicans lost their majority after Miscimarra left the board in December. The 2-2 split still allowed Trump appointees to control three-member panels—the most common type of board ruling—but Trump appointees have faced additional headwinds in reversing Obama era decisions. In February, the agency's inspector general declared that Boardmember Emanuel should have recused himself from the joint-employer case because his former law firm had represented clients in such cases, though Emanuel himself did not participate in those cases. The IG memo came despite an agency ethics official's determination that Emanuel should have been allowed to participate in the case. The IG responded by telling the ethics official "not to provide a written Ethics opinion on this subject," according to a response filed by Emanuel's attorney. In March, the board voted to vacate the joint-employer decision, restoring the Obama board's ruling.
Unlike Trump's other appointees, Ring has been on the other side of the union-management divide during his career in labor relations. During his confirmation hearing he emphasized his work as a clerk for the Teamsters, which helped put him through college and law school. He went on to serve as a management-side lawyer, most recently with the influential law firm Morgan Lewis.
"It was my completely accidental experience at the Teamsters that sparked my interest in labor law," he said. "I understand the practical realities of how the board's actions affect labor-management relations across the country, and I have seen the impact the board's decisions can have on how people run their businesses as well as how employees, union and non-union, work to support their families."
Sen. Lamar Alexander, chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, praised Ring's diverse résumé in celebrating his confirmation.
"John Ring's varied experiences working for a labor union while attending college and law school, and then having been a management lawyer will be a strength to the board," Alexander said in a statement.
House Republicans were also pleased with the appointment. House Committee on Education and the Workforce chairman Rep. Virginia Foxx (R., N.C.) and labor subcommittee chairman Rep. Tim Walberg (R., Mich.), said Ring would bring "a balanced and commonsense approach" to labor law on the board. They contrasted his approach to that of the Obama board, which they regarded as too committed to helping organized labor, rather than interpreting federal law.
"John Ring has proven himself to be a strong, experienced, and fair leader when it comes to representing workers and job creators," they said in a joint statement. "Mr. Ring will be a principled and objective voice on the NLRB, and not a rubber stamp to special interests that were in favor during the Obama Administration."
Ring has faced opposition from organized labor throughout the nominating process, sparking the narrow confirmation vote. In February, the AFL-CIO, the nation's largest union, sent a letter to lawmakers calling for increased scrutiny of the nominee because appointing Ring to the board could be "destructive of workers' rights."
"He has no experience representing working people seeking to exercise their rights," the letter said.
Ring's confirmation also won commendations from industry groups. The National Restaurant Association's Cicely Simpson praised Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell for promptly confirming the nomination and called the new majority a "win" for restaurants.
"John Ring's appointment to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is a win for America's restaurants and their employees," Simpson said in a release.
Labor watchdogs also hope that the new majority can restore the joint-employer standard vacated in the wake of the IG's memo. The Competitive Enterprise Institute, a free market think tank that has requested an agency investigation into recusal standards, said the new majority should revisit the controversial liability standards.
"With the complete, five-member NLRB finally back to full strength, it can get to work rolling back a spate of recent decisions that destroyed jobs and weakened worker freedom, such as the ruling on joint employer liability that now threatens so many small businesses, contractors, and franchise entrepreneurs," CEI labor expert Trey Kovacs said in a release.
Ring will serve a five-year term on the board.