WASHINGTON — A standoff between the Biden administration and the National Labor Relations Board’s general counsel ended Wednesday evening in the top lawyer’s firing, according to a White House official.
The fracas over now-former general counsel Peter Robb’s tenure unfolded just hours into Joe Biden’s presidency. It began earlier Wednesday, when the Biden administration asked Robb to resign, the White House official said, a precedent-breaking move first reported by Bloomberg Law.
But Robb, a Trump appointee with 10 months left in his Senate-confirmed role, refused. In a letter to the White House, he called the request “unprecedented since the nascence of the National Labor Relations Act” and said his removal “would set an unfortunate precedent,” according to Law360.
Biden reportedly told Robb he should step down by 5 p.m. or he would be fired. By 8:45, the general counsel position on the NLRB’s online organizational chart was listed as “vacant.”
A spokesperson for the NLRB declined to comment and Robb did not respond to an emailed request.
Labor groups celebrated Robb’s dismissal and hailed it as a welcome departure from Trump administration policies they deemed hostile toward workers and unions. Biden, who pledged on the eve of the election to be “the most pro-union president you’ve ever seen,” has sought to appeal to working-class Americans and received several key endorsements from organized labor.
Advocates said they hope the action is the first of many such changes.
“This is exactly the kind of aggressive posture that I’ve been hoping to see from the new administration,” Angus Johnston, a historian and founder of StudentActivism.net, wrote on Twitter.
Robb, a former management lawyer who was involved in President Ronald Reagan’s infamous battle against the air traffic controllers union, brought a pro-business approach to the board, which is tasked with overseeing union elections and upholding workers’ rights to organize.
Republicans decried Robb’s firing and said Biden was jeopardizing the agency’s independence. Other critics pointed out that President Barack Obama did not fire Ronald Meisburg, the board’s top prosecutor who was appointed by President George W. Bush and served out his term, which lasted more than a year after the Democrat took office.
Rep. Virginia Foxx of North Carolina, the Republican leader of the House Education and Labor Committee, said Biden’s request for Robb’s resignation was “inappropriate” and an “outrageous ultimatum.”
“I urge President Biden to rescind this ill-advised and divisive action against a Senate-confirmed official and allow General Counsel Robb to finish the job he was appointed to do independently and free from political influence,” Foxx said in a statement.
Major labor unions, like the Service Employees International Union and the Communications Workers of America, were among those to raise concerns during his tenure, and they had pushed Biden to sack him.
Emma Kinema, an organizer with CWA, said pressure on Democrats from her union and others made the change happen. Terrence Wise, a McDonald’s employee in Kansas City and an activist with Fight for $15 and a Union, said that Robb “stood in our way.”
“It really is a new day,” Wise said in a statement. “By asking Peter Robb to step down on day one, President Biden is already showing how things are changing in Washington. It’s proof this administration is putting workers ahead of giant corporations and their cronies.”