Another day, another conflict of interest in the Trump administration. Donald Trump just lost his Centers for Disease Control head because it’s not a good look to be investing in tobacco companies while running federal anti-smoking efforts, but William Emanuel is still hanging on at the National Labor Relations Board. Emanuel voted to reverse a major Obama-era NLRB ruling despite the fact that his former law firm represented a party in the case—and, Ian MacDougall reports for ProPublica, while under investigation by the NLRB’s inspector general, Emanuel defended his failure to recuse himself with a lie.
In the Jan. 26 letter, Emanuel defended his involvement in the case. Among other things, he claimed he was unaware that Littler had ever been involved in the Browning-Ferris case when he participated in it. “Littler Mendelson is a huge law firm of more than 1,000 lawyers,” Emanuel wrote, “and I was involved in only a small fraction of the firm’s practice.”
During the Senate confirmation process, however, Emanuel acknowledged that he knew about Littler’s involvement in the Browning-Ferris case. In response to a request from Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., Emanuel provided “a list of all cases decided by the NLRB and that are currently on appeal in which Littler Mendelson represents a party.” On that list is Browning-Ferris.
Browning-Ferris had broad implications for workers employed through staffing agencies—the issue with Browning-Ferris, the company, itself—but not just them. Bruce Vail explains that “The case turned on the issue of how the NLRB would define the term “joint employer” in union organizing cases—and was broadly viewed as a blow to McDonald’s and other fast food companies that exploit the franchise business model as a tool to help defeat unions.”
And a deciding vote to overturn that major precedent for exploited workers was cast by a Trump appointee who has not only spent his career exclusively representing employers but whose own former firm was involved, a fact he subsequently lied about knowing. Emanuel has said he’ll recuse himself going forward if his firm is actively involved in an appeal, but talk about too little, too late.
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