Labor Authority's General Counsel Post Could Finally Be Filled with a New Nominee
The position, which is required for unfair labor practice complaints to advance to the Federal Labor Relations Authority for adjudication, has lacked a Senate-confirmed appointee since 2017.
President Biden announced last week that he plans to nominate union attorney Suzanne Summerlin to serve as general counsel of the Federal Labor Relations Authority. If confirmed, it would mark the first time that the job has been held by a permanent, Senate-confirmed appointee in six years.
The FLRA has lacked a permanent general counsel since former President Trump took office in January 2017, although an acting appointee filled the role from January until November of that year. Federal employee unions openly speculated that the position remained purposefully vacant for the remainder of Trump’s term so that unions’ unfair labor practice complaints could not advance to the full FLRA for adjudication, although labor groups eventually found a workaround by alleging unfair labor practices as part of arbitrated grievances.
President Biden appointed Charlotte Dye to serve as acting general counsel of the agency in March 2021, ending a nearly four-year period where the job was completely vacant, and nominated Kurt Rumsfeld to hold the position permanently in August 2021. But his confirmation, and that of then-FLRA Chairman Ernest DuBester, were derailed by Senate Republicans over allegations of impropriety made by former Trump policy advisor James Sherk. Both men vehemently denied Sherk’s “defamatory” accusations last year.
Summerlin currently works as deputy general counsel and deputy executive director for the Federal Education Association, a union that represents teachers on U.S. military bases both domestically and internationally. Prior to joining FEA, she was associate general counsel at the National Federation of Federal Employees.
During her time at NFFE, she was part of a legal team put together by several federal employee unions to fight a trio of Trump-era executive orders aimed at making it easier to fire federal workers, reducing unions' influence at federal agencies and severely restricting union employees’ access to official time. Although the unions initially were able to block the edicts in U.S. District Court, thanks to a decision by now-Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, an appeals court reversed the decision on jurisdictional grounds. When Biden took office, he quickly rescinded Trump’s workforce executive orders.
NFFE National President Randy Erwin offered effusive praise of Summerlin’s nomination.
“Suzanne will be an excellent member of the FLRA as general counsel,” he said. “She has ample experience with federal labor law and understands how the civil service should operate in order to best service the American people. For over four years, the FLRA has handed down anti-worker decisions in a concerted effort to disempower federal employees. Suzanne will bring back fairness and justice to a critical governing board.”
But labor groups still await another key nomination by the White House: the FLRA’s third member seat. After Republicans blocked his confirmation last year, DuBester declined renomination to the body, leaving the authority evenly split between Chairwoman Susan Tsui Grundmann and Republican member Colleen Duffy Kiko.