NLRB Nominees Caught In Political Fight

WASHINGTON—At least two of Democratic President Barack Obama’s five nominees for National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) seats were caught in a partisan war at the Senate Labor Committee’s May 16 hearing on their nominations.
And though the panel tentatively scheduled a vote on all five nominations for May 22, the GOP threatens to filibuster the two, former Operating Engineers general counsel Richard Griffin and former top Labor Department official Sharon Block.
The other three nominees are incumbent board Chairman Mark Gaston Pearce, a Democrat like Griffin and Block, and GOP nominees Harry Johnson and Phillip Miscimarra, both management-side labor lawyers.  The GOP offered no objections to the Republicans. Griffin and Block are another matter.
Both Griffin and Block are “recess appointees” to the NLRB.  Obama named them on Jan. 4, 2012, after Senate GOP filibusters blocked his regular NLRB nominees.
They’ve handled hundreds of cases ever since, but a Jan. 2013 ruling by a GOP-named panel of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for D.C. said the recess appointments were illegal because the Senate wasn’t in recess – and so are decisions they voted on.
On May 16, a 3-judge panel of the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia, in an unrelated labor case, agreed with the D.C. judges.  But other courts have disagreed, saying the recess appointments are legal, and the whole mess is headed for the U.S. Supreme Court.  A hearing there will be in October, at the earliest.
The political fight over the NLRB is vital to workers and the economy, Democratic senators said May 16.  “This is a hearing not just about the NLRB, but about the vision of our country, whether laws should be enforced for employees and employers alike,” said Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.  “I’ve heard senators say this is about unions.  It isn’t.  It’s about protecting all our workers.”
But the committee’s top Republican, Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., touched off the fireworks by saying the real issue concerning Griffin and Block was that Obama – and the two  – are defying the Constitution’s “advice and consent” power for the Senate.
That’s because, he said, Obama named the two during a recess that wasn’t a recess and as a result, they’re illegally on the board.  He threatened a filibuster of the two, but implied he would quickly help move any replacement nominees to final votes.
Committee Democrats responded sharply.  Chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, in his prepared remarks, said: “Plainly, there are many Republican elected officials – not all, but a sizeable group – who are actively trying to shut the NLRB down.”
“I am proud to be” in “a country that encourages collective bargaining,” Harkin added.  “If my colleagues don’t share this view, then they should be honest about their intentions and simply try to repeal the National Labor Relations Act.”  But in reading his remarks, Harkin omitted party references.  Sen. Bernie Sanders, Ind.-Vt., didn’t.
“I intend to support these five qualified candidates, and I will,” he declared.  “But what the real debate is about is Republican obstructionism.  Filibusters need to be exceptions.  Now they’re used in any situation.  Senate Republicans have been intent on ‘obstruct, delay and derail’ as part of a coordinated political strategy” against Obama administration nominees and legislation, he said.  “You happen to be in the way right now. Don’t take it personally,” Sanders told all five.
Sanders agreed Alexander and the GOP have the right to filibuster Griffin and Block, or anyone else, but declared there must be an up-or-down vote at the end – and not procedural tricks to prevent one.  That prompted Alexander to retort, “The president has misused the appointment power.”