Bill Knight column for Mon., Tues. or Wed., Aug. 5, 6 or 7
The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) traces its history to 80 years ago this month, when the National Labor Board was established. It was dissolved the next year after the Supreme Court declared it illegal, but it became the predecessor to the NLRB founded in 1935.
For years, it’s been kept from operating properly by Republicans – until July 30, when in a deal crafted by New York Democrat Charles Schumer and Arizona Republican John McCain, the Senate confirmed all five members of the board, which had been reduced to just one regular member, chair Mark Gaston Pearce, whose term would’ve expired August 27, and two temporary “recess appointees” Obama named in January 2012, Sharon Block and Richard Griffin.
It’s the first time the NLRB has had a full membership of Senate-confirmed people since 2003, but it got less media attention than the Senate’s confirmation of James Comey as head of the FBI a day earlier.
“More than 80 million workers finally have the five-person, fully-functioning, Senate-confirmed National Labor Relations Board they deserve,” said Beth Allen, with the Communications Workers of America (CWA). “We will have labor law on Labor Day.”
Obama made recess appointments because filibusters blocked his regular nominees in a GOP effort to shut down the board, thereby depriving millions of workers from job-related justice.
Obama also nominated two management-side lawyers for two vacant minority-party NLRB seats, but Republicans initially planned to filibuster some, if not all, of Obama’s nominees. That would have brought the board itself to a stop since it wouldn’t have enough members to conduct business. Labor lobbied Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to confirm all five and to eliminate the filibusters by changing Senate rules, but Reid compromised with Republicans. The GOP’s filibuster threat was defused July 16, when Republicans dropped it, OK’d proceeding with Pearce and the Republican lawyers (Philip Miscimarra and Harry Johnson), and invited Obama to nominate substitutes for Griffin and Block, who, as CWA president Larry Cohen’s said, were “thrown under the bus.”
Obama nominated two more people to replace them, Nancy Schiffer and Kent Hirozawa.
“A confirmed NLRB will provide millions of workers with real protection of their rights to organize and bargain with their employers,” said AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka, who’d said the obstructionism by extremist Republicans “delayed the confirmation of a full Board and caused unnecessary anxiety and pain for working families.
“Our Founding Fathers granted the Senate the power to advise and consent, not to obstruct and extort,” he continued. “It is downright shameful that some Republicans were willing to take the Senate to the brink of paralysis by playing politics with workers’ rights.”
The bipartisan compromise also paved the way for Senate approval of Labor Secretary Thomas Perez, Environmental Protection Agency chief Gina McCarthy, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Todd Jones and more than 100 executive nominations pending in Senate committees.
“We thank President Obama for his leadership in ensuring our country will have qualified public servants to run the Labor Department, the NLRB and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau,” Trumka said. “These crucial agencies defend workers, businesses, families and consumers. As Kathleen Von Eitzen, a Panera Bread baker who traveled to Washington last week, said, ‘I don’t care if you’re Republican or Democrat. I care that you work together and govern this country, that’s what you were sent to Washington to do.”
There was a time when the NLRB was not another flashpoint for ideology-based “do-nothing” Congresses.
The following comments were made in an earlier White House: “A free labor movement is essential to the preservation and expansion of free enterprise. The National Labor Relations Board is to be commended for its fairness in enforcing the statute over these past 50 years. I had firsthand experience with the Board during my tenure as president of the Screen Actors Guild many years ago, and I can attest to its outstanding record.
“In conducting union representation elections and processing Unfair Labor Practice charges, the NLRB has helped build a peaceful industrial relations system that is a model for the free world. The processes of the Board, as necessary today as they were 50 years ago, provide a forum and an orderly legal framework for resolving labor and management disputes.”
Those words were uttered on November 12, 1985, by President Ronald Reagan.
Radical Right Republicans who say they revere Reagan might remember that when finally scheduling the confirmation hearing of another recess appointee, the NLRB’s top enforcement and executive, Acting General Counsel Lafe Solomon.
[PICTURED: Editorial cartoon by Konopacki]