Within hours of President Joe Biden’s inauguration in January, his administration did something unusual: It told the general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board, a former management-side attorney scheduled to serve until fall, that he could either resign that day or get fired. When the Donald Trump appointee, Peter Robb, refused to step down, Biden removed and replaced him, first with a stand-in and then with Jennifer Abruzzo, a former union attorney and agency veteran, who’s now in her fifth month holding one of the government’s most pivotal workplace positions.
Abruzzo, 58, enforces the 1935 National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), which establishes private sector workers’ organizing and protest rights. That law doesn’t let workers file private lawsuits to enforce those rights, and it restricts states from doing it themselves. Instead, it vests the responsibility with the NLRB, whose general counsel can unilaterally decide which sorts of cases get prosecuted and thus which ones the agency’s five members even have the chance to consider.
Abruzzo has an ambitious agenda. In a memo issued a few weeks after her July confirmation, she signaled interest in challenging a slew of precedents on issues including “permanent replacement” of striking workers and censorship of organizing via workplace email systems. Her office is prosecuting Alphabet Inc.’s Google for firing workers who organized against the company’s work with U.S. immigration authorities and Amazon.com Inc.’s Whole Foods Market for banning Black Lives Matter masks. (Both companies have denied wrongdoing.)
Bloomberg Businessweek spoke with Abruzzo on Dec. 7. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
The National Labor Relations Act protects employees’ right to engage in collective action—“concerted activity”—about working conditions. How broadly do you understand who and what that includes?
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