NLRB Chairman Dotson Retiring, to Join Law Firm

Donald L. Dotson, one of the most controversial chairmen in the 51-year history of the National Labor Relations Board, will join the Washington office of a Chicago law firm when his term expires next week.

Keck, Mahir & Cate, a firm that represents several large corporations in employment and labor law matters, announced Monday that Dotson will join it as a partner when his term expires Dec. 16.

Dotson, 49, had been a labor lawyer for Western Electric, Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel and Westinghouse before joining the Reagan Administration in 1981 as an assistant labor secretary.


During his four-year tenure as NLRB chairman, the agency reversed several pro-labor policies adopted under previous administrations, prompting AFL-CIO President Lane Kirkland to suggest that unions should “return to the law of the jungle” rather than take their cases before the board.

Among them were rulings allowing managers to question workers about union activities, restricting the ability of unions to discipline members who work during strikes and allowing employers to unilaterally shift work from union to non-union plants in order to pay lower wages.

Dotson said his aim as the agency’s chairman was to “return the board to middle ground” from what he said were pro-union decisions under the Carter Administration and “reduce government interference in the collective bargaining process.”

Unions so opposed Dotson that Jackie Presser, president of the 1.6-million-member Teamsters union, suggested in 1984 that his union’s endorsement of President Reagan’s reelection that year was contingent upon Reagan firing Dotson.

The Teamsters, the only major union to endorse Reagan’s election in 1980, ultimately endorsed the President even though Reagan said he had no intention of firing Dotson.

And Presser said later that he regretted publicly linking his union’s presidential endorsement to Dotson’s ouster, stating: “I’ve done the opposite of what I wanted.”

However, since 1985, Dotson has found himself in the dissenting minority in dozens of decisions by the five-member board, all of them also Reagan appointees.

For example, the board is considering regulations that would make it easier for unions to organize health-care workers, one of the fastest-growing segments of the labor force.

The proposed regulations would reverse a decision by Dotson that gave hospitals and other health-care institutions wide latitude in determining the appropriate “bargaining unit” as a way of defeating unions in representation elections.

Administration and congressional officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said Dotson originally had wanted reappointment to another five-year term. However, with Democrats regaining control of the Senate in the 1986 elections, Dotson’s ability to win Senate confirmation as a board member was considered unlikely, they said.

White House personnel director Robert Tuttle said last week that Dotson had told the Administration last July and more recently that he wanted to return to private practice.

Reagan has not named a replacement for Dotson. But Administration sources said the President is expected to designate either James M. Stephens or Wilford W. Johansen as the new chairman.

Both, as board members since 1985, have sided with the majority in several rulings in which Dotson dissented. The President’s designation of the agency’s chairman does not require Senate confirmation.

Before joining the board, Stephens was an aide to Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), the former chairman and current ranking minority member on the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee. Johansen is a career NLRB attorney.

The two leading candidates for the vacant board seat, according to Administration sources, are Assistant Labor Secretary Salvatore Martoche and John E. Higgins Jr., a career NLRB attorney and now its chief deputy counsel. Both are Republicans.

The President’s choice for a vacant board seat does require Senate confirmation.