U.S. labor board says Trump-era member had conflict in Exxon case

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Signage is seen at an Exxon gas station in Brooklyn, New York City, U.S., November 23, 2021. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly/File Photo

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  • Republican board member Emanuel had investments in Exxon
  • Board said nixing ruling preserves agency's integrity

(Reuters) - A U.S. labor board has tossed out one of its Trump-era decisions that handed ExxonMobil Corp a win in a bargaining dispute with a union, saying a former Republican board member had financial conflicts and should not have participated in the case.

The National Labor Relations Board in a 2-1 decision on Friday said William Emanuel, whose four-year term ended last year, owned more than $50,000 in shares of a mutual fund that invested in Exxon and should have recused himself from the 2020 case.

The board is currently reviewing whether it should overturn rulings in two other cases involving CVS and Marathon Petroleum because of Emanuel's alleged financial conflicts.

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Emanuel, who is now senior counsel at Constangy Brooks Smith & Prophete, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Independent Laboratory Employees Union, which represents more than 150 employees at an Exxon research facility in New Jersey, claims the company failed to bargain in good faith in 2018 and 2019 over a new contract and farmed out union jobs to subcontractors.

The board in 2020, when it had a Republican majority, ruled in favor of Exxon. But the current Democratic majority said on Friday that allowing the ruling to stand would undermine public confidence in the agency. It vacated the decision and said it would reconsider the case.

NLRB Member John Ring, a Republican who served alongside Emanuel, said in dissent that there was no evidence that Emanuel's involvement caused prejudice to the union.

Exxon and the union did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Emanuel's alleged conflicts of interest have come into play in at least two other high-profile NLRB cases.

In 2018, the board vacated a major ruling involving employers' liability in cases involving contract or franchise workers because the decision affected a separate case involving Emanuel's former law firm, Littler Mendelson. Emanuel had said agency officials cleared him to participate in the case.

In 2020, the board rejected worker organizing group Fight for $15's claim that Emanuel should not have participated in a case accusing McDonald's of retaliating against franchise workers because Littler had previously represented some of the franchisees.

Concerns about Emanuel's involvement in the cases spurred the NLRB to undertake a review of its ethics policies. In a 2019 report the board said its existing procedures for identifying potential conflicts of interest were adequate but also announced new steps it would take to make the process more transparent.

The case is Exxon Mobil Research & Engineering, National Labor Relations Board, No. 22-CA-218903.

For Exxon: Amanda Fray of Jackson Lewis

For the union: Annemarie Greenan of Bratti Greenan

Read more:

NLRB says Trump appointee's conflicts warrant review of rulings

Fight for $15 says ethics conflict warrants fresh look at NLRB McDonald's case

NLRB's Emanuel violated ethics pledge in joint employer case - inspector general

NLRB in report says ethics safeguards are strong, unveils new protocols

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Dan Wiessner (@danwiessner) reports on labor and employment and immigration law, including litigation and policy making. He can be reached at daniel.wiessner@thomsonreuters.com.