Obama makes pro-labor recess appointments

President Obama is bypassing Republican obstructionists in the Senate this week and naming 15 people to administration positions, which the GOP has blocked for an average of 214 days.

Two of those appointments are Craig Becker and Mark Pearce to the National Labor Relations Board. Republicans had blocked the NLRB nominations on grounds they would result in the board pushing a radical pro-union agenda.

The president issued a statement about his appointments:

“The United States Senate has the responsibility to approve or disapprove of my nominees. But, if in the interest of scoring political points, Republicans in the Senate refuse to exercise that responsibility, I must act in the interest of the American people and exercise my authority to fill those positions on an interim basis.”

Most of the appointments Obama is making this week were approved by Senate committees months ago, but still are awaiting full Senate approval.

Becker and Pearce, two well-known labor lawyers, were nominated by the president in July and received Senate Judiciary approval, but Senate Republicans blocked final approval.

The announcement of the recess appointments followed a week in which the White House received thousands of calls from union members asking the president to overcome the GOP obstruction with the appointments of Becker and Pearce.

“America’s working men and women have been waiting for National Labor Relations Board appointments for too long,” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka declared at a news conference during the week.

The NLRB, which is supposed to enforce national labor law and rule, for example, on the eligibility of workers to unionize, has had a majority of its seats vacant for more than two years, slowing its work and raising questions about the legality of its rulings.

The board is important to workers because it is responsible for certifying union elections and addressing unfair labor practices.

Republicans fear that with a new Democratic majority the board could decide cases or make new rules that would make it easier for workers to exercise their right to organize. The GOP reserved its most intense fire for Becker, who has served in a legal capacity for both AFL-CIO and Change-to-Win unions. They specifically claimed he would use his position to make labor laws more “union-friendly.”

Obama had been on record as warning of recess appointments if the Senate didn’t act. His move capped a week in which his political standing was boosted by the passage of health care reform, a student loan overhaul and a nuclear arms treaty with Russia.

The recess appointments mean the 15 people could serve in their jobs through the end of 2011, when the next Senate finishes its term.

Most observers scoffed at Republican complaints that the appointments would make it more difficult to get bipartisan support for future legislation. “A probability of zero can’t get smaller,” wrote Mark Kleiman of Reality-Based Community.

In any case, both Republican and Democratic presidents have made recess appointments, which bypass the Senate’s authority to confirm nominees, when they could not overcome delays. President Bush made more than 170 such appointments and President Clinton made 140.

Bush had made 15 recess appointments by this point in his presidency even though he faced nothing like the level of obstruction faced by Obama. At this point in 2002 Bush had only 5 nominees pending on the floor. By contrast, Obama has 77 nominations now pending.

Also among the Obama appointments are four positions on the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and posts at the departments of Homeland Security and Treasury.

Photo: California nurses rally for Employee Free Choice (screen shot from video).


John Wojcik
John Wojcik

John Wojcik started as labor editor of the People's World in May, 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There he served as a shop steward, as a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee, and as an activist in the union's campaign to win public support for Wal-Mart workers. In the 1970s and '80s he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper's predecessor, and active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York. Along with being labor editor, Wojcik is a co-editor of peoplesworld.org.