National Labor Relations Board suspends pro-union official for conflict of interest

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is a relic of the New Deal, set up to regulate both sides of labor-management disputes in the private sector.  With private-sector unionism on it deathbed, the NLRB’s once important function (it shone brightest in World War II, keeping production going by avoiding strikes) no longer serves a vital role.

And it is also very reluctant to admit when its officials get caught outright promoting unions.  Bill McMorris reports for the Free Beacon:

The National Labor Relations Board suspended a top-ranking Philadelphia official after receiving complaints that he helped raise money from unions for his pro-union charity.

Dennis Walsh, the regional director for the agency’s fourth district, was suspended without pay for 30 days in December after an inspector general investigation revealed that he had misled ethics officers about his tenure as chairman of the Peggy Browning Fund.

The nonprofit, named after a former NLRB board member, has close ties to some of the major unions that appeared before Walsh’s office, which handles unfair labor practice cases and local elections. The agency inspector general found that nearly 60 percent of Region 4’s casework “involved at least one prohibited source who made a contribution to the Peggy Browning Fund.”

The fund supports union organizing, not meals for the hungry, surgery for the indigent, or other worthy causes.  And the NLRB had to be dragged to acting by its inspector general, having denied there was a problem:

The investigation began after Philadelphia-based construction attorney Wally Zimolong questioned Walsh’s objectivity. Zimolong raised the issue at the local level, but was dismissed by agency representatives. He then contacted the inspector general’s office and eventually members of Pennsylvania’s congressional delegation.

“The PBF is a union activist organization funded solely with donations from organized labor,” Zimolong said in a June letter to lawmakers. “His potential solicitation of donations from labor organizations having business before the NLRB Region 4 is at best an implicit conflict of interest that shakes the public trust and at worst a violation of federal laws.”

The suspension and complaints have led to appeals from businesses who appeared before the regional NLRB. Walsh’s office approved a disputed union election in October 2015, less than two months before his suspension.

Attorneys for assisted living facility Devon Manor requested in March that the agency review an election organized by the National Union of Hospital and Health Care Employees Local 1199C. Walsh’s conflict of interest was a focal point of the appeal.

“The Regional Director further raised a question regarding the impartiality of the government in these proceedings by failing to recuse himself,” the request said. “The fact that [the union] has arguably donated money to the Peggy Browning Fund and Petitioner and Petitioner’s counsel have ties to and/or participate in the organization required such a result, at a minimum.”

NLRB General Counsel Richard Griffin’s office declined Devon Manor’s request to have Walsh testify at a hearing. Another NLRB regional director dismissed the company’s complaint, saying Walsh’s ties to the non-profit “did not create the appearance of impropriety, and did not warrant his recusal.”

The inspector general rebutted that conclusion.

“We find that the subject engaged in a course of action that created the perception that his official actions could be influenced in exchange for support of the Peggy Browning Fund,” the report said.

Devon Manor’s attorneys at Constangy, Brooks, & Smith argued in an appeal that the agency recognized the conflict of interest when it forced Walsh to resign from the non-profit in August 2015.

“The Decision creates a dangerous new precedent, in that it effectively ignores the glaring appearance of impropriety that was created by RD Walsh simultaneously occupying the incompatible roles of public servant and political activist,” the appeal said.

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