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Douglas Christensen, Littler Mendelson P.C.
Douglas Christensen, Littler Mendelson P.C.

The POWER 30: Douglas Christensen

About a year ago, Minneapolis lawyer Douglas Christensen said that President Joe Biden’s administration would be the most pro-union administration in American history.

Christensen, a management-side lawyer at Littler-Mendelson still thinks that, although some of the legislation that employers are concerned about has not yet passed. He still thinks the coming years are the most significant for his clients since the New Deal.

The Protecting the Right to Organize Act of 2021, known as the PRO Act, would have made significant changes to the National Labor Relations Act but did not pass the Senate. Some pieces of it made their way to the Build Back Better Act, which also has not passed.

Still, Biden has been more openly supportive of unions, which presidents historically have not done, Christensen said.

The White House Task Force on Worker Organizing and Empowerment in February set out 70 recommendations to encourage union membership in the U.S., including making it easier for many federal employees to join unions and eliminating barriers for union organizers to talk with workers on federal property. It would also step up enforcement of federal contractors to make sure that federal money doesn’t go to anti-union activities.

Meanwhile, the National Labor Relations Board has been a beehive of activity, as its membership changes when the administration’s party changes. The Democrats are in control of the NLRB and the new general counsel, Jennifer Abruzzo, is a Democrat. Her office has issued a number of memoranda which Christensen calls “pro-labor, pro-union and pro-employee.” He expects more action at the NLRB this year reversing law established during the administration of Donald Trump.

The constant oscillation in the law is frustrating to employers who don’t have certainty about their legal future, Christensen said. The other challenge is that employers may be completely consistent with the law, only to have it change retroactively as applied to pending cases, he said.

Unemployment is low and it’s a challenging time for employers to find and keep employees. A lot of employees now realize they have more control over their circumstances, Christensen said. “There’s a lot of job hopping.” Job resignations are higher than they were before the pandemic, but that doesn’t mean people are unemployed. People are finding different and better jobs, he said.

In the meantime, employers are advised to remain proactive and calm, and wait and see what happens, Christensen said. “Make sure the employees are getting what they need from you.”