House Republicans said Tuesday they will press for more answers after an inspector general’s report charged that the top lawyer for the National Labor Relations Board had an apparent financial conflict of interest in a case involving Wal-Mart.
Rep. John Kline, Minnesota Republican and House Education and Workforce committee chairman, has asked the Justice Department to investigate Lafe Solomon, the NLRB's acting general counsel, for ethical and criminal misconduct, after claims that the labor board’s top lawyer advised his staff to work with Wal-Mart to dismiss a violation regarding its social media policies for employees.
At the time, Mr. Solomon owned about $18,000 worth of stock in the company.
"The general counsel's office is responsible for the investigation and prosecution of unfair labor practice cases and must do so based on the facts and without bias or the appearance of impropriety," Mr. Kline, whose committee has jurisdiction over the NLRB, wrote in a letter to Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. sent late Monday. "To ensure confidence among the unions, employers and employees for effectiveness of this office, I respectfully request you investigate this matter fully."
Mr. Solomon, who was appointed by the Obama administration but never confirmed by the Senate, has denied the claims. His lawyer, William Taylor III, told the inspector general: "We believe that your report reaches the wrong conclusion."
NLRB Inspector General David Berry issued a report late last week that accused Mr. Solomon of acting improperly. The report said Mr. Solomon knew "that the case involving Wal-Mart’s social media policy would have a direct and predictable effect on [his] financial interest."
The NLRB, and particularly Mr. Solomon, have been the chief targets of House Republicans and business groups for what they say is a strong pro-union bias. Mr. Solomon enraged business groups last year when he ruled that a major new Boeing plant in South Carolina should be shut down for suspected labor violations.
The NLRB's crackdown on social media policies sparked the controversy. On May 30, Mr. Solomon released his third round of reviews, which stated that six of the seven companies he looked at had social media policies that were "overly broad" and not specific enough.
Wal-Mart was one of these companies. Mr. Solomon advised his staff to settle the matter with Wal-Mart without it being made public, because he was "concerned there would be a negative reaction," the report said.
John Irving, a former Republican NLRB general counsel told The Washington Times that there’s nothing unusual about Mr. Solomon’s attempt to give Wal-Mart an opportunity to quietly address a potential problem. Mr. Irving, who was appointed by President Ford and served from 1975 to 1979, said that regardless of Mr. Solomon’s financial stake in the company, Wal-Mart would have been given an opportunity to settle the dispute. In fact, he said that in more than 90 percent of the cases where the NLRB sees a problem the matter is resolved out of court.
"The general counsel was doing everybody a favor, I would say, by indicating the problem he had with this particular policy and giving Wal-Mart a chance to clean it up," Mr. Irving said.
Mr. Solomon argues that he acted with "utmost good faith." He said he tried to be open and transparent by declaring his financial stake in Wal-Mart. He had hoped to get a waiver that would allow him to participate in the case, but once that effort failed, he sold his stock in the company.
Furthermore, he had only received the stock three months prior to the case as an inheritance after his mother died.
"There is no suggestion that Mr. Solomon acted with any intent to violate his ethical obligations, and there is no suggestion that he put his or Wal-Mart’s interests ahead of his duties as a government official," his lawyer said.
The IG report agreed that Mr. Solomon was not trying to "enrich himself," but claimed Mr. Solomon’s request for a waiver was "misleading" and accused his NLRB colleagues of failing to prevent him from breaking the rules.
"That everything failed to stop Mr. Solomon is evidence of a complete failure of the NLRB’s standards of conduct program," according to the report.
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