A Las Vegas hotel owned by President-elect Donald Trump is locked in a battle with the federal agency charged with enforcing the nation’s labor laws.
The problem: As President, Trump will soon appoint three of its five members.
The issue before the National Labor Relations Board is whether the Trump International Hotel must negotiate with Unite Here, a coalition of the Culinary Workers union and Bartenders union. The employees, in a 238 to 209 vote last year, said they want to be represented by the group.
Despite that, Trump’s hotel management has refused to recognize the union, charging that employees were intimidated into voting Yes. The labor board heard the hotel’s complaints and rejected them in a Nov. 3 ruling.
All three members of the labor board — two Democrats and one Republican — ruled the hotel must recognize the union and negotiate with the union. Trump’s attorneys have filed a federal lawsuit challenging the ruling.
The conflict is an example of the kinds of conflicts that could emerge when Trump’s business interests cross paths with the federal government.
Trump has said he will turn over day-to-day management of the Trump Organization to his children. But ethics experts have sharply questioned whether such an arrangement will be enough to wall off the president from conflicts.
According to the Trump Organization’s website, the hotel unit is run by Trump’s sons Eric and Donald Jr. and daughter Ivanka.
The NLRB is charged with interpreting and enforcing the nation’s labor laws, overseeing union elections and ruling on complaints from either workers or management.
It is considered an independent agency, meaning the president can’t fire its members. But he does appoint them, subject to Senate confirmation.
Presidents have historically appointed both Republicans and Democrats to the board in an act of bipartisanship. Of the three current members, Obama has named two Democrats and one Republican.
As president, Trump has the potential to put his signature on the NLRB in a big way.
He will get to fill two vacancies right away. And he will get to fill a third spot in December 2017, when the term of Republican Philip Miscimarra ends. The terms of the two current Democratic members expire in 2018 and 2019.
That means Trump may end up being able to fill all five spots on the board.
On top of that, Trump will be able to appoint a new NLRB general counsel in October 2017. The general counsel, a key player in the agency, brings cases to the board for consideration.
The NLRB has been at the center of controversy throughout the Obama administration.
Republicans say it has done the bidding of organized labor, imposing unfair rules and legal interpretations that make it harder for employers to manage their workforces. Democrats say the NLRB is necessary to protect the rights of workers.
With the Republicans controlling the White House and the Senate for the first time in a decade, they are eager to have a more pro-business outlook on the board.
The unions in the Trump hotel case are worried about what Trump might do to interfere in this case, said Bethany Khan, spokesman for the Culinary Workers union.
“The question for us is: Will Donald Trump as president of the United States of America use the power he has to interfere — given that he has a financial interest in the outcome of these matters,” she said. She said it’s not clear federal ethic rules allow Trump’s NLRB appointees to rule on cases involving his business.
“The Culinary Union may challenge [those ruling] if this situation arises,” she said.
Beyond concern about a potential conflict of interest in this case, the union is also worried about a more conservative NLRB.
“The new majority can be expected to be less generous in protection of workers’ rights than the current NLRB,” she said.
Neither Trump Hotel nor the presidential transition team responded to a request for comment on the potential conflict or interest in this case.