Although the sad news has been known to many of us for a while, Bloomberg Law officially announced the retirements of four very senior Department of Labor Solicitors (attorneys) who will, between them, leave the agency with probably well over 100 years of valuable experience. The four are Jeff Nesvet, the department’s top counselor for employment and training; Ann Rosenthal, who heads occupational safety and health; Michael Felsen, New England regional solicitor; and Robert Shapiro, who technically retired several months ago as the top counselor for ethics and administrative law.
I never worked with Nesvet, but had the pleasure for many years of working with Ann, Mike and Bob. A few short words for each.
I worked with Ann for many years, both stints as OSHA, when she was Deputy and head OSHA counsel. I will undoubtedly have more to say at her retirement party, but she has always been a fierce and intelligent advocate for workers. And far from being all brakes and no engine that some have associated with DOL solicitors, Ann has always been anxious to figure out the best legal methods of ensuring that OSHA can use all the legal tools at its disposal in new ways and old to ensure that workers actually have the right to a safe workplace. Plus she’s a fun, interesting woman who runs marathons.
Aside from ensuring that labor law was strictly enforced (which is what we all want in this law and order country, right?), Mike was always out front pushing OSHA to reach more corporate-wide settlements with large employers to leverage OSHA’s tiny resources nationwide. I was always impressed by his total dedication and good humor.
And Bob was our ethics guy. You remember ethics, right? Not only are ethics incredibly important to maintain the public trust (you remember trust, right?), but they’re complicated — who you’re allowed to meet with, what events you’re allowed to go to, what gifts you’re allowed to accept, who you’re allowed to eat with, and who pays. (And who you’re allowed to rent apartments from, although that never came up when we were there.) And we were not only warned about actions that were illegal, but also those that had the appearance of unsavory activity. Bob and his crew did numerous trainings and also give us their business cards with strict instructions to call any time, day or night, if we were confused. And I took advantage of that more than a few times on the road and wondering whether I was allowed to attend an event, or eat the food without paying.
There are several current high-level government appointees I can think of who would be in much less doo doo if they had listened to people like Bob Shapiro.
They will be gravely missed. More than the current occupants of the front offices of DOL can imagine.