Labor Pains: Because Being in a Union can be Painful

Philadelphia NLRB Regional Director Suspended After Conflict-of-Interest Allegations

see no speak no hear noThe National Labor Relations Board—the supposed “referee” interpreting and applying labor law—is hardly impartial, given its tradition of overturning precedent in order to pay favors to labor union bosses. But usually, appointees at least pretend to impartiality, resigning their positions with the SEIU, AFL-CIO, or the International Union of Operating Engineers (a local of which was named in a civil RICO suit) before taking on their new government roles.

The Philadelphia Regional Director of the NLRB, Dennis Walsh (a former member of the NLRB), was even more brazen—he held the chairmanship of a labor-funded advocacy group, the Peggy Browning Fund (PBF), even after his appointment as Regional Director in 2013. In 2015 union fiscal years, labor unions that file LM-2s with the Department of Labor contributed $217,700 to PBF. A business agent of one of those unions, Steamfitters Local 638, received an award personally presented by Walsh from the PBF, to give an idea of how close the unions and PBF are.

Walsh’s affiliation with PBF drew the attention of Philadelphia labor lawyer Wally Zimolong, who sent a letter protesting Walsh’s double-jobbing to members of Pennsylvania’s Congressional delegation. Since Walsh hobnobbed with and may have solicited donations to the Fund from assorted Philadelphia area union bosses—locals of the Service Employees International Union, United Steelworkers, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, and the United Association (of Plumbers and Pipefitters) were sponsors of one PBF event in March 2014—Walsh could not reasonably be expected to be impartial when those unions were being investigated or were requesting investigations by the Philadelphia Region. Zimolong alleged that Walsh did not even inform the NLRB’s ethics officers of his relationship with the Fund and the unions that work with it.

That would be suspicious in itself, but the NLRB ultimately disciplined Walsh, who has been dropped from the Peggy Browning Fund board. (Walsh’s replacement as board chair is the national general counsel of the United Steelworkers.) The Philadelphia Business Journal reports that from December 13 through mid-January, Walsh served a 30-day unpaid suspension.

While confidentiality rules prohibit the NLRB from confirming why he was punished, Walsh’s more-than-apparent conflict of interest created by his Peggy Browning Fund chairmanship surely didn’t help. But if he was disciplined for partiality, Walsh’s real sin wasn’t union partisanship—it was being too obvious about it and getting caught. After all, he’s now back on the job, “investigating” the unions that once sent their bosses to get awards from him, and other NLRB members and directors are just as union-partial as Walsh is.

Categories: Center for Union FactsNLRB