Trump Nominee Touts Teamsters Work in Confirmation Hearing

Management attorney John Ring would give GOP control of top labor arbiter

Members of Teamsters Local 332
Members of Teamsters Local 332 / Getty Images
March 2, 2018

Republicans are seeking to reestablish control of the federal government's top labor arbiter.

On Thursday, management-side labor attorney John Ring appeared before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, & Pensions to make his case for joining two other Trump appointees on the National Labor Relations Board, which settles labor disputes and oversees union organizing campaigns. Ring highlighted his work as a clerk with the International Brotherhood of the Teamsters to put himself through college and law school.

"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."

Ring's nomination earned praise from Senate Republicans. HELP Committee chairman Lamar Alexander (R., Tenn.) said Trump's nominees to the board have helped restore balance to the agency, which swung in a decidedly pro-union direction under the Obama administration. Republicans gained a 3-2 majority on the board for the first time in a decade in 2017 and quickly overturned a series of the Obama board's most controversial decisions. The board reversed course on allowing unions to form micro-units within companies and reestablished longstanding precedent that prevented parent companies from being held liable for labor violations committed by franchisees or subcontractors.

"Under the Obama administration, the board too often acted as an advocate rather than neutral umpire. The additions of Mr. [Marvin] Kaplan and Mr. [William] Emanuel last year helped restore some balance to the labor board and to our nation’s workplaces," Alexander said in his opening statement. "I hope confirming Mr. Ring will continue the trend of returning balance to our labor laws."

The NLRB has two Democrats and two Republicans, though the GOP is still able to hold majorities in three-member panels as Kaplan serves as the board's chairman. Control on the board, however, may not guarantee the outcome of cases. On Monday, the board voted unanimously to vacate its December decision concerning franchisees because Emanuel's former employer, Littler Mendelson, worked on litigation concerning joint employer. The agency inspector general said Emanuel should have recused himself from the case. Ring's employer, Morgan Lewis, is a highly influential firm, and he faced pointed questions about his ability to navigate potential conflicts of interest.

Sen. Patty Murray (D., Wash.), the ranking Democrat on the committee, said the Trump administration "has broken promise after promise made to workers" and accused Trump appointees of "undermining" the agency's mission. She criticized Emanuel's participation in the franchising case and scolded Ring for his past representation of corporations.

"Unfortunately, the Trump administration has taken the National Labor Relations Board in the wrong direction," she said. "The last thing [the NLRB] needs is a champion for those on the top."

Ring attempted to assuage Democratic concerns about his career. He took the job at the Teamsters without knowing what the union actually did. He said his nearly seven years at the union along with his three decades as a management-side attorney allowed him to approach labor law from both sides. He said he signed a commitment to comply with all ethics rules. He and his firm are compiling a list with the board to avoid any allegations of conflicts of interest.

"These ethical issues are something that are very concerning and they cast a shadow on the integrity of the board," Ring said. "My hope is the list [of potential recusals] will be smaller and my conflicts of interest will be less."

Alexander defended Emanuel from the charge of having conflicts of interest, as well as the administration's approach to the joint-employer standard. He asked Ring about the Obama era decision. Ring said he would not "prejudge the case" and spoke broadly about specific issues before the board, including unionizing student athletes and the joint-employer standard.

"There were whole industries built up based on ... the structures of certain laws. In the past year we've had a flip-flop," Ring said. "It's very important for the integrity of the board to have some finality and clarity on the joint-employer issue as soon as possible."

If confirmed, Ring would fill the vacancy left by former chairman Philip Miscimarra, who decided not to seek reappointment to the board.

Published under: NLRB