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Arthur Rosenfeld is one of the most powerful labor lawyers around Washington, D.C., now. The new general counsel for the National Labor Relations Board, he manages 1,500 of the board’s 2,000 employees, including roughly 600 lawyers. Although board members are the ultimate judges for cases that actually reach them, much of the agency’s power is vested in the general counsel. The NLRB enforces the National Labor Relations Act, which governs employees’ ability to organize and collectively bargain with their employers. It is the general counsel’s office that decides whether complaints are worth pursuing, and it has significant leeway in that decision. If the general counsel’s office decides the complaint is valid, it is that office that must bring the case against the offending party before the board’s administrative law judges. “The key to this job from the substance perspective is that the general counsel is in effect the district attorney for labor law in the private sector,” says Rosenfeld. “This is the best job in labor law. You touch on everything. You are the prosecutor. And, although this may not be the best part, you are sort of the de facto CEO of the agency.” A longtime labor attorney, Rosenfeld, 57, comes from the management side of the divide. He started his career at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, moving to Washington, D.C., immediately after graduation from Villanova University Law School. After a few years as a lawyer and lobbyist for the Chamber, he moved to the D.C. office of Hansell & Post. In 1986, Rosenfeld started working at the Department of Labor. There, his career had a more unusual trajectory. He first served as special assistant to the solicitor under Reagan’s Department of Labor, then held that post under the elder George Bush before becoming associate deputy secretary of labor. He continued on at the Labor Department for several years during President Bill Clinton’s leadership. It was not until March 1997 that he left to become the senior labor counsel for the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions under Sen. Jim Jeffords of Vermont. Rosenfeld’s nomination ran into no opposition in the Senate, and he was approved in a day. It’s clear he is respected by colleagues in the Senate. The management side of D.C.’s labor lawyers describe a tough, blunt, but self-deprecating man. And although Rosenfeld is a Republican appointee, his colleagues say they expect him to be just as open to the labor side. “Arthur is someone who is very balanced and fair,” says Harold Coxson Jr., a partner at the D.C. office of Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, a management side firm. “He looks at an issue, not with ideological or political blinders on, but he wants to do the right thing for parties without regard to their side.” So far, organized labor has been very quiet about Rosenfeld. Labor did not oppose his nomination, and attorneys at the AFL-CIO also refused to comment about Rosenfeld at all. His position as general counsel will be a difficult one. His office decides which cases are pursued and which cases are dropped, guaranteeing at least one unhappy party with every decision it makes. “I think his goal is going to have to be to navigate the various interested parties, which is easier to do at Congress than it is to do when you are a policy-maker,” says Mark de Bernardo, a partner at employer-side firm Littler Mendelson who once worked with Rosenfeld. “I think it will be a challenge to have good relations with all the parties. He will have to learn to say no. He is likeable and well-liked, but that is no longer the goal of the job. Now he is going to have to make tough decisions.” Rosenfeld is being very cautious in these early days. Although management lawyers in town are clearly expecting a change of tune at the NLRB, Rosenfeld has been very quiet in the first few months in the job. “I’m not going to be making any policy pronouncements early on because I don’t want to be turning around and kicking myself six months down the road for saying something,” says Rosenfeld.

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