President Donald Trump’s labor board pick highlighted his unique experience representing both labor and business management Thursday during his confirmation hearing.
John Ring is not like most labor lawyers in that they typically stick to one side or the other. He began his legal career working with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters before moving onto represent management as a lawyer with Morgan, Lewis & Bockius. President Trump now wants him to serve on the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).
The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) committee held the confirmation hearing to consider whether to advance his nomination. Trump will regain his majority on the board if the nomination eventually gets approved. Former Chairman Philip Miscimarra split the five-member board evenly after stepping down in December.
“For me, this honor is somewhat more personal because if it weren’t for the opportunities afforded to me by so many in labor and management, I would not be here today,” Ring said during the hearing. “As the committee knows, lawyers in labor law typically represent either management or unions, but almost never both.”
Ring is in a particularly interesting position given how partisan the NLRB is often seen. Former President Barack Obama oversaw a board that pushed unionization in order to better protect workers. The new administration has begun reversing those reforms, with critics arguing they were an overreach of federal powers that helped unions at the expense of workers.
The NLRB is an independent federal agency that enforces labor laws covering collective bargaining and unfair labor practices. It is supposed to be impartial. The National Labor Relations Act of 1935 established the board to supervise union elections and investigate unfair labor practices.
Patty Murray, the ranking Democrat on the committee, focused on the business side of his legal career during her opening statement. She argued that the administration has skewed labor law in favor of employers at the expense of workers – and is concerned Ring will do the same given his history representing businesses.
“It is clear the last thing this nation needs is a champion for those at the top,” Murray said during the hearing. “Mr. Ring, I know you went years as a corporate lawyer representing the interests of companies, not workers. And you opposed reforms that would have stopped companies from unnecessarily delaying union elections, and you have encouraged the board to undermine long-established rights.” Murray adds he has also advised corporations on how to avoid their employment responsibilities.
HELP Chairman Lamar Alexander pushed back against the claims – noting that he has worked on the union side as well. Ring started at the Teamsters while studying law before eventually serving as an attorney for the New York State Teamsters Conference Pension and Retirement Fund.
“Mr. Ring worked for the International Brotherhood of Teamsters,” Alexander said during the hearing. “Since then he has been with Morgan, Lewis & Bockius where he leads their Washington office’s labor and management practice group. He’s also a member of the American Bar Association where he has held multiple positions.”
The NLRB was formed in 1935 during a series of economic-related reforms known as the New Deal. Former President Franklin D. Roosevelt helped implement the changes in response to the Great Depression. Those reforms included worker rights laws and support for the economically disadvantaged.
Trump was tasked with filling two vacant seats and selecting a new board chairman when he entered office earlier this year. William Emanuel and Marvin Kaplan were nominated by the president to be members and later approved by the Senate. Kaplan was later picked to serve as chairman after Miscimarra resigned.