Newt Gingrich: Congress must fix Obama’s joint employer mess

The recent National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) decision that effectively reinstated the Obama era’s over-reaching joint employer regulation is a perfect example of how the left plays by its own set of rules.

The joint employer rule made headlines in 2015 when the NLRB, under President Obama, rewrote the definition of what the government considered a “joint employer.”

Traditionally, a joint employer was an employer who shared direct control over an employee’s workplace or employment with another employer.

The idea was that since all employers shared and exercised similar and immediate control over employees, all should be responsible for making sure the employees had safe and reasonable working conditions. It also meant all joint employers were responsible for mistakes or bad behavior at their businesses.

President Obama’s NLRB, however, decided employers with even indirect control are considered joint employers. This immediately increased legal liability and the complexity of executing basic operations for franchisors and contractors across the United States – including the estimated 760,000 franchise locations in our country.

In response to this enormous government-imposed risk, chain businesses such as restaurants and retailers had more incentive to own all of their individual branches rather than sell franchises. This erased opportunities for small business owners nationwide. For this reason, in December, the labor board under the Trump administration voted to overturn the Obama-era’s destructive, over-reaching rule.

However, the left did not go quietly.

In a February report – at the urging of Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and fellow Democrats – the labor board’s inspector general claimed that one of President Trump’s appointees, Board Member William Emanuel, should have recused himself from the December vote to overturn the Obama-era’s employer rule.

The Democrats said they made this assertion due to Emanuel’s former law firm’s involvement with one of the clients in the 2015 Browning-Ferris decision, which established the indirect control definition of a joint employer. The inspector claimed this could have caused potential conflicts of interest when Emanuel later voted in the recent December decision that overturned the Obama-era Browning-Ferris ruling.

However, the same NLRB inspector general didn’t seem to have any problem when former Obama appointee Craig Becker made rulings on cases in which chapters of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) was involved.

Before joining the NLRB, Becker served as associate general counsel for SEIU. Keep in mind, President Obama’s conflict-of-interest rules were nearly identical to President Trump’s.

Around the time of his appointment, Republicans repeatedly called for Becker’s recusal in SEIU-related cases based on the conflict, and he refused. In fact, as I pointed out during my 2012 presidential campaign, Becker is so radically anti-business, he couldn’t even get confirmed when Democrats controlled the Senate. President Obama had to put him in place with a recess appointment.

Raymond J. LaJeunesse thoroughly analyzed this Democratic double-standard in a recent column for The Federalist Society. Also, one private labor and employment attorney separately noted, according to Allen Smith at the Society for Human Resource Management, that “Becker's refusal to excuse himself from cases involving the SEIU set a precedent for Emanuel being involved in the Hy-Brand case.”

Finally, Emanuel already addressed the complaint about his involvement in Hy-Brand in a letter to lawmakers saying that his former firm, Littler Mendelson, “is a huge law firm of more than 1,000 lawyers,” and that he was “unaware that Littler had ever represented any party when the (2015) case was before the board.” It is true that Emanuel said he would clarify parts of his statement. However, the NLRB vacated the December decision before he got the chance.

Aside from reviving a terrible, job- and opportunity-killing policy, this declaration by the labor board’s inspector general clearly shows that the arrogant, hypocritical left gets to play by its own rules.

This double-standard essentially bars any labor attorney who has previously worked at a large law firm that represents companies in labor disputes from participating on the labor relations board, while allowing union lawyers to do as they please. In addition to effectively turning the NLRB into a taxpayer funded, pro-union body, this undermines Republican presidents’ ability to appoint pro-market board members in the future.

The House has already passed a bill that will permanently define a “joint employer” under the direct control standard and eliminate the Obama-era’s ambiguous, overreaching joint employer indirect control rule. It’s now up to the Senate to pass it. Otherwise, Warren and her liberal friends will keep using this left-leaning, pro-union double-standard to their advantage.

Newt Gingrich is a Fox News contributor. A Republican, he was speaker of the United States House of Representatives from 1995 to 1999. Follow him on Twitter @NewtGingrich. His latest book is "Understanding Trump."