Morgan, Lewis & Bockius partner John Ring in Washington, nominated to the National Labor Relations Board, identified on Tuesday dozens of cases and corporate clients that would present potential conflicts after his would-be confirmation to the agency.
Ring’s disclosures to the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee include both a list of companies Morgan Lewis represents in matters at the board, and corporate clients for whom Ring provided legal services to since January 2016. Ring also responded to questions exploring his views on labor law.
The disclosures offer greater insight into Ring’s practice at Morgan Lewis, and they shed light on the scope of would-be recusals if he is confirmed to a vacancy on the NLRB. The agency has come under increasing scrutiny in recent weeks as a President Donald Trump-appointed member, William Emanuel, ran into ethics criticism for his vote in a closely watched case about joint-employer liability.
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Ring said during his confirmation hearing last week, “I do not want to be in the position member Emanuel finds himself in and I don’t want to put a cloud over the NLRB.”
Ring reaffirmed that commitment in response to written questions from senators.
“As I expressed during my confirmation hearing, I view the avoidance of conflicts of interest as one of the primary responsibilities of a board member,” Ring wrote. “If confirmed, I will comply with all my ethical obligations and recusal requirements, and I will seek the guidance of the NLRB’s designated ethics officer if recusal questions arise with regard to any particular matter.”
The Senate committee was set to consider Ring’s nomination Wednesday. Here’s a snapshot of some of the information Ring relayed to the Senate in his new disclosures.
Here are cases Ring promised to sit out.
Ring reported 15 cases in which Morgan Lewis represents a party pending before the labor board. Those cases involve Amazon.com Inc., JPMorgan Chase & Co., Pfizer Inc., Quicken Loans, Samsung and Microsoft Corp. There are 12 cases in which the firm represents a party on appeal from the board, including those against American Express Co., Kmart Corp. and GameStop Corp. He also listed 120 cases—where Morgan Lewis represents a party where no formal proceedings have been instituted before the board.
Ring identified dozens of his clients for whom he provided legal services since January 2016. He said in the disclosure that many of the clients were not required to be reported on an earlier financial disclosure on file at the U.S. Office of Government Ethics. In this Senate disclosure, Ring said he’d provided services to, among other clients, Amazon, Booz Allen Hamilton Inc., Google, Marriott International Inc., Northrop Grumman Corp., Russell Stover Candies, Unilever, Xerox Corp., Diageo and Pratt & Whitney. Ring included subentities “out of an abundance of transparency to ensure that all corporate entities are disclosed for recusal purposes.”
What Ring said about the ethics flap over Emanuel’s joint-employer vote.
Ring responded to questions about the string of decisions last year—reversing President Barack Obama-era precedent—the Republican-led labor board made in the final days of Philip Miscimarra’s service on the agency. Miscimarra has since returned to Morgan Lewis.
Those votes included a reversal of the board’s holding in Browning-Ferris Industries, a decision that had expanded the scope of joint-employment liability for two companies that work together.
Ring had a standard answer to questions about the board’s votes from December in Browning-Ferris and four other cases: “I have not prejudged any of the issues addressed by the board in these five decisions and, if confirmed and any of these issues come before me, my decisions will be made with an open mind and based on the facts and circumstances of the particular case.”
Ring dismissed any notion that those votes were “activist.” He told the Senate committee: “The precedent overturned by the Miscimarra board was largely not of a settled or long-standing board precedent.”
In another response, Ring said he favors “more rather than less public input” before the board adopts a new standard.
“I will commit to ensuring the board follows its procedures in a manner that gives all stakeholders confidence in its decision-making process, and will consider input from the public and parties when appropriate with an open mind and based on the fact and circumstances of the particular case,” Ring wrote.
Was the Obama-appointed board “activist’, and will it now swing the other way?
Senators asked Ring if employers have intensified efforts to oppose union organizing in recent decades. He responded: “Employers have a legally protected right to express their position with regard to the organizing activities of their employees, subject to certain limitations imposed by NLRB case precedent. Although some of the methods and means by which employers express their opposition may have changed, I do not believe as a general statement that employers have intensified their efforts to oppose union organizing.”
Ring was asked whether he agrees with an assessment—by some business advocates—that the Obama-era board was “activist” in its rulings. Ring said: “I believe the NLRB during the Obama presidency has been described as ‘activist’ because of the significant number of settled and long-standing board precedent that it overturned. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce issued a report estimating more than 4,500 years of precedent was reversed in the eight years of the NLRB under President Obama. Although the sheer number of overturned precedent may warrant the ‘activist’ descriptor, I have not prejudged any of the issues addressed by the board during the previous administration. If confirmed, my decisions will be based on the facts and circumstances of the particular case that comes before the board.”
In a blog post in 2015 on the Morgan Lewis site, Ring and partner Joseph Ragaglia called the board “activist.”
Ring’s new client disclosure is posted here:
And his response to committee questions is here: