Biden names NLRB Chicago chief Ohr as agency’s top enforcement officer
Peter Sung Ohr will replace Trump's anti-labor chief of the National Labor Relations Board. | Geraldshields11, CC-BY-SA-3.0

CHICAGO—Democratic President Joe Biden formally nominated Peter Sung Ohr, director of the National Labor Relations Board’s Chicago regional office, as the agency’s new General Counsel, its top enforcement officer.

If the Senate confirms him, Ohr would succeed right-wing Republican Peter Robb, whom Biden fired on the afternoon of Inauguration Day. The two could not be more different.

Robb first made a name for himself in right-wing circles as the young Justice Department lawyer who, in 1981, crafted the legal memo to let GOP President Ronald Reagan fire the nation’s 14,000 unionized air traffic controllers, forced to strike over unsafe conditions.

That action destroyed their union, PATCO, and opened the door for ensuing decades of ruthless corporate determination to destroy unions and workers.

And when Robb came to the NLRB post, he openly said in a memo to agency staff that he wanted not just to revoke all pro-worker actions of the Democratic Obama administration and its predecessors, but that he wanted to write anti-worker actions into stone, by making them federal rules with the force of law. Such rules are often tougher to overturn than laws.

He succeeded in that right-wing mission, leading Biden to order his firing.

By contrast, Ohr has been a high-profile enforcer of labor law and is not shy about ruling the National Labor Relations Act covers workers who weren’t included before.

His most high-profile case of that type involved the effort several years ago by Northwestern University’s football players to unionize, with Steelworkers aid and encouragement. Their key issues were small stipends, lack of health care coverage if they got injured, and excessive time and top priority devoted to football practice rather than their studies.

In a decision as Chicago Regional Director, Ohr sided with the players. He also noted college football is a big business, garnering millions of dollars in revenue for each university involved, but that virtually none of it went to the players, other than scholarships.

And they had to devote most of their time, at the employer’s—the coaches’—demands to football practice, not studies. The constant exploitation effectively made them employees, not students, and covered by labor law, Ohr ruled. They were thus eligible to unionize.

But after getting bombarded with briefs, especially from the NCAA and college football powerhouses, the full NLRB ducked the issue.

No date has been set for a confirmation hearing for Ohr. Robb is formally contesting his firing, arguing his term does not legally expire until November. He also noted his last two predecessors in the GC job, one Democratic, one Republican, stayed on to the end of their terms even after the White House, and control of the board majority, switched parties.


CONTRIBUTOR

Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.

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