The head of the federal labor board accused Democratic members of Congress Aug. 21 of “improperly” trying to influence the outcome of an ongoing case against McDonald’s.
Democratic staffers with the Senate’s labor committee reached out to the National Labor Relations Board’s inspector general about a pending request for Chairman John Ring (R) and Member William Emanuel (R) to sit out the case because of alleged conflicts of interest, Ring said in a letter obtained by Bloomberg Law.
The chairman accused Democrats on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee of trying to “politicize” the board’s recusal process by involving Inspector General David Berry. NLRB ethics official Lori Ketcham, not Berry, has a say in whether Ring and Emanuel can participate in the case, Ring said.
Ring’s missive is the latest move in an ongoing battle between the board’s three Republican members, all appointees of President Donald Trump, and Democratic lawmakers seeking to prevent what they say are unlawful expansions of employers’ rights. It comes as McDonald’s recently asked the board to overturn an administrative law judge’s rejection of a proposed settlement in a case alleging that the fast-food giant is a “joint employer” of franchisee workers fired for participating in Fight for $15 demonstrations.
Presidential appointees like the NLRB members typically determine for themselves whether recusal is warranted, after consulting with their designated agency ethics official. Ring said he and Emanuel consulted with Ketcham—before the Democrats’ inquiry—on whether they can participate in the case.
“Unquestionably, the HELP Committee has important oversight functions over the NLRB, and we pledge full compliance with those responsibilities,” Ring wrote. “It is distressing, however, that the Committee’s minority staff would reach out to the IG to discuss a pending recusal motion where there is currently no IG involvement.”
Spokespeople for HELP Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-Wash.) didn’t immediately respond to Bloomberg Law’s request for comment.
McDonald’s Case Looms
The union-backed Fight for $15 movement, which has been working to get improved wages and working conditions for employees at McDonald’s franchises, has been locked in yearslong litigation trying to tag the fast-food multinational as a “joint employer.”
That would mean McDonald’s shares legal responsibility for violations of franchise workers’ rights. It would also open the company to possible union organizing drives for franchisee workers.
The Democratic staffers’ contact with the IG “has the unfortunate appearance of an attempt to improperly influence the outcome of the pending recusal motion,” Ring said. “There is no room for politicization of this process.”
“I agree entirely with the chairman that this is yet another unfortunate attempt to politicize decision-making at the board,” former board member Brian Hayes (R) told Bloomberg Law.
“As a general proposition, Congress certainly has a right to talk to the IG, I don’t quibble with that,” he said. “But everyone knew a recusal motion is pending, so that begs the question: What was the purpose of the call?”
Former Member: Ring’s Tweets ‘Questionable’
Ring also made a statement on Twitter shortly after sending the letter to Congress.
“It is essential that NLRB recusal issues be handled under the prescribed government ethics rules and procedures—not driven by political considerations,” his tweet said. “Everyone needs to play by the rules!”
Wilma Liebman (D), a former chairman and board member under three presidents, said Ring’s tweets may be inappropriate given that the board has been asked to weigh in on the pending McDonald’s case.
“I’m uncomfortable with the use of Twitter by board members and other quasi-judicial officials in general,” Liebman told Bloomberg Law. “It’s one thing to tweet an article or something, but if you’re tweeting about deliberations or pending cases I think that’s questionable.”
The NLRB declined to provide further comment on the issue.