Shortly after taking office on Wednesday, President Joe Biden asked for the resignation of Peter Robb, the controversial general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board.
After Robb refused to resign, Biden fired him, a White House spokesperson confirmed to HuffPost.
Unions despise Robb and wanted to see him ousted quickly, even though presidents usually do not fire the NLRB’s general counsel, who acts as a quasi-prosecutor. Robb had more than nine months left in his four-year term at the board.
Pushing Robb out now leaves the Republican with no more time to pursue anti-labor policies at the NLRB, which enforces collective bargaining laws and referees disputes between unions and employers. Robb was confirmed by the Senate in 2017.
The Biden administration sent an email to Robb giving him until 5 p.m. Wednesday to resign or be fired. A labor source told HuffPost that the Biden team had planned to ask for the resignation shortly after the inaugural ceremonies as part of a blitz of actions he would take on his first day in office.
Biden’s request for Robb’s resignation was first reported by Bloomberg Law, which posted a response from Robb to the administration. Robb said he was surprised by the ultimatum and considered it “an unfortunate precedent.” Robb argued that such a demand from Biden undermined the independence of the agency and could make the general counsel’s work “subject to the political influence of the White House.”
A spokesperson for the board said it had no comment on the standoff. But by late Wednesday, the agency’s website listed Robb’s term as having ended on Jan. 20, 2021.
As HuffPost previously reported, the 2-million-member Service Employees International Union had recently begun pressing Biden to fire Robb, sending a memo to the transition team calling Robb a “uniquely destructive figure” in labor relations. The AFL-CIO, a federation of 55 unions, also supported the ouster, according to a source close to the federation.
Unions were furious over the way Robb settled an NLRB case against McDonald’s that had been brought by his predecessor. They were also deeply displeased with the way he tried to undercut so-called “neutrality” agreements, which make it easier for workers to organize. Robb gained a lot of attention for trying to ban appearances by Scabby the Rat, the labor protest icon, on the grounds that Scabby is “unlawfully coercive.”
In a statement, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka called Robb’s removal “the first step toward giving workers a fair shot again.”
The move by Biden to fire Robb is significant because of how rare it is. Presidents have not fired NLRB general counsels appointed by a previous administration, even if they disagreed with their policies. But labor groups have argued that Robb’s tenure has been egregiously anti-union. Ousting Robb is a sign that Biden may aggressively pursue policies championed by progressive allies like labor groups.
Biden’s ultimatum to Robb was condemned by Republicans and praised by Democrats. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), the highest-ranking Republican on the House Committee on Education and Labor, called the move “outrageous.”
Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), the committee’s chairman, called it a “victory for workers.”
“Peter Robb has consistently neglected his statutory duty to uphold workers’ right to stand together and negotiate for better working conditions,” Scott said in a statement.
This story has been updated with comment from Foxx and Scott.