Barack Obama hasn’t yet turned the Oval Office over to Donald Trump, but already one of his administration’s signature pro-labor rules has been scrapped. Not by the new president, but by a federal court.
U.S. District Judge Sam Cummings in Lubbock, Texas, on Nov. 16 made permanent an earlier temporary injunction halting the Department of Labor’s controversial “persuader rule.” That rule, announced in April, expanded an existing requirement for employers to disclose in government filings when they hire legal counsel to combat unionization drives. Under the new rule, disclosure was necessary even if those lawyers only provided advice on how companies should persuade workers to oppose representation. It was one of several pro-labor rules or standards set recently by Obama-administration agencies, including the DOL, EEOC and NLRB.
“It’s a good result,” says Jeff Londa, a Houston-based labor and employment attorney with Ogletree Deakins who led the legal effort to set aside the rule. As a result, “We’re back where we were.”
Business groups that joined several states in seeking the order included the National Federation of Independent Business, whose members are generally small employers.
But larger companies also will benefit from Wednesday’s ruling, Londa says. Though more likely than small firms to have their own attorneys on staff, larger employers still “typically go to outside counsel” for training and advice on company policies “when there’s a lot on the line” in a major union organizing campaign, Londa says.
The “persuader”rule had stirred widespread objections not only from employers, but also from lawyers, who said it breached the attorney- client privilege.
The Labor Department had filed an appeal with the Fifth Circuit after Cummings issued a preliminary injunction on June 27. That appeal is now mooted b this week’s permanent injunction, Londa says. That means “it would clearly be on the shoulders of a new administration” to appeal again — unlikely, given Trump’s position on the Obama administration’s labor regulations. And given the GOP’s strong showing in Senate and House races on Election Day, Congress is not likely to intervene to revive the “persuader” rule, he notes.
“The inclination of the new Congress would probably be against the new rule,” Londa says. “I’m not sure they would get involved.”