Senate Dems to Move Fast on Reining in Filibusters

            WASHINGTON—Senate Democrats, fed up to here with Republican obstructionism, will move fast to rein in GOP filibusters, the talkathons that kill Obama administration nominees, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka predicted on July 10.  On July 11, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., agreed, scheduling votes on nominations – and to change Senate filibuster rules – for the following week.
            And once Reid schedules the votes, starting on July 16, Obama’s five National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) nominees could top the list, followed by the rules change and then Obama’s nomination of top Justice Department official Thomas Perez to be Secretary of Labor.
            Discussing the confrontation over filibusters, Trumka said the senators’ “job is to advise and consent, not defy and extort,” as Republicans who talk Obama’s nominees to death do via the filibusters.  The Constitution does not allow “a minority” of one house of Congress to hold the other two branches of government hostage, Trumka declared.
            Trumka predicted the quick action during a July 10 session at the Center for American Progress, where he shared the podium with Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., and Pandera Bakery worker Kathleen VonEitzen of Battle Creek, Mich.
            But even with Reid’s promise to break filibusters, and to change the rules now to do so, the GOP could still use procedural tricks to delay or deny the NLRB nominee votes. That means unionists and allies must keep pressure on the Senate, aides said.
            Merkley is a leading proponent of filibuster reform, but he declined to predict a quick change.  “It’s not for me to say.  You should ask the majority leader,” Reid, Merkley told Press Associates Union News Service after the three spoke at the center.
            VonEitzen is one of a majority of Pandera bakers who want to unionize with the Bakery, Confectionery and Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers (BCTGM). She’s also one of the 85 million U.S. workers, union and non-union, hurt by the filibusters that threaten the NLRB and its power to enforce labor law, weak as the law is.
            Without a final ruling from the board, VonEitzen and her colleagues can’t seek to start bargaining with Pandera management.  BCTGM won the union representation vote at Pandera more than a year ago, 11-7.
            “Gridlock benefits big business,” Trumka said.  “It doesn’t benefit workers, union

or non-union.  Our labor law is too weak and too slow, but it’s the only labor law we have” and the NLRB is the avenue to enforce ti. The 5-member board now has three members, two of them temporary Obama “recess appointees.”

             Though it’s been hampered by filibusters and other GOP obstructionism, the
NLRB has still managed to collect $46 million in net back pay for illegally fired workers
in recent years, Trumka said.  And that’s after deducting the pay those workers earn in other jobs while awaiting justice at the labor board and the courts, he added.   “That’s not much of a deterrent,” he commented.
            Filibusters have prevented Obama from naming permanent members of the board, except for chairman Mark Gaston Pearce.  That obstructionism hampers the board’s ability to enforce the law for all workers, union and non-union, Trumka said.
            The talkathons force Reid to marshal 60 votes to end them.  Filibusters and threats also prevent Obama from filling key jobs elsewhere, including the Labor Secre-tary’s position, and carrying out policies he was elected to implement, Trumka said.
            That’s led to labor’s campaign, joined by more than 50 other organizations, to force Reid and the Democrats to change the Senate rules now to curb, if not kill, filibusters against executive branch nominees.  “This is about a bigger issue of preventing agencies that protect the rights of workers and consumers from even being able to function,” Trumka said.  And filibuster reform is now a big cause among rank-and-file constituents, who have been e-mailing and calling senators.
            Trumka personally met with Democratic senators, explaining the filibuster abuse.  But “when they get that glazed look in their eye, you know you have to educate them” about Senate rules, he says.  Added Merkley: “The concern among senior senators” about a rules change now “is lessening, because the amount of obstruction is growing.”
         He also linked the rules inside the Senate to the people waiting for justice outside, such as VonEitzen.
            “What’s been happening over the last four decades is that workers’ wages have been flat or declining” while “housing is going up, health care is going up, everything is going up,” and “it’s all crushing the middle class,” the senator explained.
            “In this past recession, 80% of the jobs that were lost were living wage jobs and only 40% of those created are living wage jobs.  For workers to be able to share in the vast wealth of this nation, they have to be able to come together” and bargain with employers, just as VonEitzen and her colleagues want to do, he added.  “The NLRB is a key piece of that picture, but it should not be the end of the story” for workers, Merkley added.  “There are many more battles to come to restore an America that works for working families.”