Union Leaders Pushing Senators Hard To Curb Filibusters Now

WASHINGTON—Fed up and frustrated with blocked legislation and particularly with trashed nominees for the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), union leaders are pushing senators hard to curb the chamber’s abused filibusters, now.
 
And they’re getting a positive reception and open support, but no specific commitment for when that could occur, from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.
 
The big cause of the push is past and threatened GOP filibustering – talkathons that take 60 votes to halt – against Obama administration nominees to the NLRB. The board rules on labor-management relations for most U.S. private sector workers. 
 
If the 5-person NLRB has fewer than three members, it can’t act, and workers, union and non-union, suffer as a result, union leaders say. They want workers and their allies to call and e-mail senators to demand action now.
 
The board right now has three members.  The one regular is chairman Mark Gaston Pearce, whose term expires on August 27.  Members Sharon Black and Richard Griffin, former general counsel for the Operating Engineers, are Obama-named “recess appointments,” filling NLRB seats GOP filibusters left vacant. Two federal appeals court rulings challenge the legality of their “recess” posts, and 919 decisions they voted on.
 
All this – and more – has led Communications Workers President Larry Cohen, Steelworkers President Leo Gerard and AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka to launch a specific charge against the filibusters, now.
 
Cohen, point man in the push, included filibuster reform in his union’s year-long Democracy Crusade, which has signed up 50 other groups.  But now he’s elevated  filibuster reform to immediacy, union Communications Director Candice Johnson says.
 
“And Rich has raised this directly with the Senate leadership and the Democratic caucus,” AFL-CIO Legislative Director Bill Samuel told Press Associates Union News Service.  “Our first priority is the five (NLRB) nominees, but the discussion of the rules is the result of the possibility of the filibuster against them.”
 
“We’re on a double track here,” Samuel adds.  “The nominees are the first track, to get 60 votes for them,” overcoming a filibuster.  “Changing the rules is the second.”
 
The NLRB could come to a screeching halt unless the Senate votes on Pearce for a new term, and votes on Obama’s nominations of Democrats Griffin and Block and two management-side labor lawyers for the two minority-party seats on the board.
 
 If the anti-NLRB filibuster occurs, “Reid will make that decision” on changing the Senate rules to halt the talkathons against all presidential nominations “if and when the time comes,” Samuel adds.  Cohen wants Reid to decide now.  So does Gerard. 
 
“Larry is pushing this effort to have the Senate majority make this happen,” Johnson says of her boss, Cohen.  She called it an extremely high priority for him.
“We have this ‘GiveMe5’ campaign,” officiallywww.giveus5nlrb.org.  “We want all five members of the board to be approved by the Senate, and if the Republicans are going to obstruct this, it’s up to the Democrats get this done.   We’re very focused on this because if we don’t have these five members of the NLRB, we’re not going to get anywhere,” she says.
 
The Republicans “manipulate Senate recesses to unprecedented levels,” to stop presidential nominations to the NLRB and other posts, Gerard explains on USW’s blog.
 
“They’ve delayed and appealed decisions.  Government disgusts Republicans, so obstructing it makes sense to them. They’re equally repulsed by unions.  Reid can hobble this Right-Wing campaign against working people by deploying the nuclear option.  He’s got nothing to lose and workers have everything to gain.”
 
Senate Democrats filibustered some of GOP President George W. Bush’s judicial nominees, Gerard admits.  “But it was nowhere near the level the GOP is doing it now,” he continues. During the Bush administration, the GOP threatened to change the rules to prevent filibustering of nominees.  That’s the ‘nuclear option.’  If Republicans went nuclear, Democrats said they’d scuttle Bush’s entire legislative agenda.  So Republicans didn’t.
 
“Now, however, Democrats have nothing to lose if they ‘go nuclear.’  There’s no threat in Republicans saying they’ll stymie Obama’s legislative agenda.  They already do that.  They say ‘no’ to everything,” Gerard said.  (The Employee Free Choice Act was among the GOP ‘no’ victims.)  “Reid stepped back from the nuclear option earlier this year.  Now, however, is the time to use the nuke.  All American workers need that.”
 
CWA’s Cohen also worries the filibusters could halt Obama’s nomination of top Justice Department official Thomas Perez to be the new Labor Secretary.  Trumka, on June 4, added three Obama nominees to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia to the list.  That court rules on the bulk of labor-management cases.  Trumka said the Senate should “move expeditiously” to approve Georgetown University law professor Nina Pillard, U.S. District Judge Robert Wilkins, and Patricia Millett, an attorney with the high-powered lobbying firm of Akin, Gump.  Both women are former Justice Department officials.  None of the three has labor movement ties.
-PAI