How the U.S. government oversees the Amazon union vote
Reviewing ballots in the high-profile election on whether workers will form a union at an Amazon.com Inc warehouse in Alabama is expected to last days and is being overseen by the U.S. National Labor Relations Board.
The board oversees private-sector union elections and enforces workers’ rights to organize and advocate for better working conditions. The NLRB is made up of five members who serve five-year terms and are appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate.
The board currently has one vacancy and four members, three of which are Republican appointees. Democratic President Joe Biden has not yet nominated anyone to fill the fifth seat.
The board’s tendency to reverse its positions on divisive issues depending on which party has control has long been criticized by unions and the business community, who say the resulting lack of consistency disrupts labor relations.
Cases reach the board after being heard by an administrative judge. Many NLRB decisions can be appealed to federal appeals courts and ultimately the U.S. Supreme Court, though courts generally defer to the agency’s expertise in interpreting the National Labor Relations Act.
The NLRB’s chair and lone Democrat, Lauren McFerran, has been a consistent dissenting voice in the agency’s Trump-era shift toward more business-friendly policies. McFerran was appointed to the board in 2014 by former President Barack Obama, and was confirmed to a second five-year term last year. She had previously served as chief labor counsel to Democrats in the U.S. Senate and earlier in her career was an associate at Bredhoff & Kaiser, a prominent union law firm.
John Ring, who chaired the NLRB during the Trump administration, was a partner at powerhouse labor law firm Morgan Lewis & Bockius before joining the board in 2018. During his three decades at Morgan Lewis, Ring represented a range of companies before the NLRB. As chair, he advocated for the board to adopt binding regulations establishing its positions on various key issues, which are more difficult to overturn than individual board decisions.
Like Ring, Trump appointee William Emanuel had also spent decades representing employers before joining the board in 2017. As a partner at major labor law firm Littler Mendelson, Emanuel also worked with large trade groups and Republicans in Congress. Emanuel is a member of the Federalist Society, a group of conservative lawyers with considerable political influence. His term expires in August.
Marvin Kaplan was appointed to the board in 2017, and briefly served as chair before Ring joined the following year. Kaplan had been chief counsel for a federal panel that reviews decisions by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Before that, he helped craft employment-related legislation for Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives, including bills aimed at reining in Obama-era labor policies seen as favoring unions.