Trader Joe’s Appears To Be Aligning Itself With A Right-Wing Theory (2024)

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Trader Joe’s Appears To Be Aligning Itself With A Right-Wing Theory (1)

Trader Joe’s is facing a litany of union-busting charges before the National Labor Relations Board. The agency’s prosecutors have accused the company of illegally retaliating against workers, firing a union supporter and spreading false information in an effort to chill an organizing campaign.

But in a hearing last Tuesday, the grocer’s attorney briefly summarized a sweeping defense it intends to mount against the charges: The labor board itself, which was created during the New Deal and has refereed private-sector collective bargaining for nearly 90 years, is “unconstitutional.”

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The argument would appear to fit inside a broader conservative effort to dismantle the regulatory state, which has taken aim at agencies tasked with enforcing laws to protect workers, consumers and the environment.

The exchange, a transcript of which HuffPost obtained through a public records request, came at the start of a trial to determine whether Trader Joe’s violated workers’ rights. Trader Joe’s’ attorney, Christopher Murphy of the law firm Morgan Lewis, informed the judge, Charles Muhl, that there was “one final thing” the grocery chain wanted to add to its defense before proceedings began.

“The National Labor Relations Act as interpreted and/or applied in this matter, including but not limited to the structure and organization of the National Labor Relations Board and the agency’s administrative law judges, is unconstitutional,” Murphy said.

Murphy added that the company was making the “affirmative defense” now so that it could argue it in full later. The company’s defense was first reported by Bloomberg.

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The judge said he would allow it into the record, but left it at that.

“I’m certainly not going to be ruling on my own constitutionality anytime soon,” he deadpanned. “So you’ll have to take that up with the board and the federal courts.”

“I see something really insidious here. Is Trader Joe’s onboard with what their law firm is doing?”

- Seth Goldstein, attorney for Trader Joe's United

Trader Joe’s does not appear to have expanded on the defense yet during trial, and there are no briefs yet laying out its logic. But the company may be using an argument similar to one recently made in federal court by SpaceX, Elon Musk’s rocket company, which NLRB prosecutors have also accused of labor law violations.

SpaceX claims that the NLRB violates the constitutional separation of powers as well as the right to due process, calling the board “the very definition of tyranny,” as Politico recently reported.

Trader Joe’s Appears To Be Aligning Itself With A Right-Wing Theory (2)

John Greim via Getty Images

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Like Trader Joe’s, SpaceX is represented by Morgan Lewis. The firm is known for its management-side work helping employers battle unions. Some of its highest-profile attorneys came out of the NLRB and served as conservative board members.

A Trader Joe’s spokesperson did not immediately respond Friday when asked for comment.

Seth Goldstein, an attorney for Trader Joe’s United, the union that’s accused the grocer of illegal retaliation, told HuffPost he finds it disturbing that the idea of dismantling the NLRB has been “mainstreamed.” He said the argument would align Trader Joe’s with right-wing ideologues.

“I see something really insidious here,” said Goldstein, who’s with the firm Julien, Mirer, Singla and Goldstein. “Is Trader Joe’s onboard with what their law firm is doing?”

The NLRB is an independent federal agency that was created to protect workers’ rights and foster labor peace. It has both a prosecutorial office, which brings cases against employers and unions, and a 5-member board, which interprets the laws governing bargaining in the private sector. The agency’s administrative law judges issue rulings that can be appealed to the 5-member board for review.

The agency’s constitutionality was upheld by the Supreme Court in 1937, two years after it was created. However, these days, the court’s conservative supermajority has been chipping away at the regulatory state. (SpaceX’s claims track with some of the arguments made in a case involving the Securities and Exchange Commission that’s currently before the Supreme Court, SEC v. Jarkesy.)

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Both employers and unions have plenty of gripes about the NLRB and board processes. But a determination that the NLRB itself is unconstitutional could throw labor relations into turmoil. Goldstein said the argument signals to Trader Joe’s workers that the company believes “our members don’t have the right to organize at all.”

“This is really dangerous,” Goldstein said. “Are we really going back to 1920?”

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As an expert in labor relations and legal matters related to workers' rights, I have a comprehensive understanding of the complex issues involved in the article about Trader Joe's facing union-busting charges before the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). My expertise extends to the legal framework surrounding collective bargaining, labor laws, and the constitutional aspects of the NLRB.

The article outlines Trader Joe's defense strategy, where the company's attorney argues that the NLRB itself is "unconstitutional." This argument aligns with a broader conservative effort to challenge regulatory bodies, aiming to dismantle the regulatory state. Similar claims have been made by other companies, such as SpaceX, represented by the same law firm, Morgan Lewis.

The NLRB, established during the New Deal, serves as an independent federal agency responsible for protecting workers' rights and promoting labor peace. It plays a crucial role in adjudicating disputes between employers and unions, with administrative law judges issuing rulings that can be appealed to the 5-member board.

The defense strategy suggests that Trader Joe's challenges not just specific allegations but the very constitutionality of the NLRB. This move could be seen as part of a larger trend where companies attempt to undermine regulatory bodies tasked with enforcing laws that safeguard workers, consumers, and the environment.

The article points out that the Supreme Court upheld the NLRB's constitutionality in 1937, but the current conservative supermajority in the court has been chipping away at the regulatory state. The argument made by Trader Joe's attorney echoes SpaceX's claim that the NLRB violates the constitutional separation of powers and due process, referring to it as "the very definition of tyranny."

The potential implications of deeming the NLRB unconstitutional extend beyond the specific case, as it could throw labor relations into turmoil. Both employers and unions have grievances with the NLRB, but declaring it unconstitutional challenges the fundamental basis of the agency and could have far-reaching consequences for workers' rights and the collective bargaining process.

The article also highlights concerns raised by Seth Goldstein, an attorney for Trader Joe's United, the union accusing the grocer of illegal retaliation. Goldstein finds the argument disturbing and suggests that it signals Trader Joe's belief that its employees don't have the right to organize at all, emphasizing the potential danger in such a stance.

In summary, Trader Joe's decision to challenge the constitutionality of the NLRB represents a significant legal strategy that goes beyond addressing specific allegations, impacting the broader landscape of labor relations and regulatory oversight. The outcome of this case could have implications for how companies engage with regulatory bodies and navigate labor disputes in the future.

Trader Joe’s Appears To Be Aligning Itself With A Right-Wing Theory (2024)
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