WASHINGTON (PAI) – President Obama filled out his slate of nominees to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) by nominating boss-side lawyers Phillip Miscimarra of Chicago and Harry Johnson III of Los Angeles to the two seats reserved for the minority Republicans on the five-member panel, and nominating board chairman Mark Gaston Pearce, a Democrat, for a new term.
But even as Obama added those three names on April 9 to his prior nominees – current NLRB “recess appointees” Democrats Sharon Block and Richard Griffin – right-wing House Republicans schemed to hamstring the board and bring it to a dead halt.
The GOP scheduled debate and votes on a bill (HR1120) the week of April 8-12 to ban the board from deciding anything until it has a required and legal three-member quorum. HR1220 would also invalidate hundreds of NLRB rulings handed down since Obama was forced to recess appoint Block and Griffin in January 2012.
Left unsaid: Obama had to appoint them, during a Senate recess, because GOP filibusters killed his regular nominations for NLRB seats. But a federal appeals court ruling in January 2013, by three GOP-named judges, called the recess appointees illegal. HR1120 backs the court. The NLRB appealed the ruling to the Supreme Court.
Having a full NLRB is important to workers, union and non-union. The board enforces labor law, weak as it is, and that in turn sets standards for worker-boss relations nationwide, since firms are supposed to follow the law – but often don’t.
“By enforcing workplace protections, upholding the rights of workers and providing a stable workplace environment for businesses, the NLRB plays a vital role in our efforts to grow the economy and strengthen the middle class,” Obama explained in a statement. “With these nominations there will be five nominees to the NLRB, both Republicans and Democrats, awaiting Senate confirmation. I urge the Senate to confirm them swiftly so that this bipartisan board can continue its important work.”
So even though Obama nominated two Republicans to join Griffin, a former union general counsel, Block and Pearce on the board, union leaders also urged the Senate to act quickly, even if Johnson and Miscimarra are anti-worker.
The Communications Workers urged Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., to use all possible methods to override any GOP filibusters against NLRB nominees. Confirming all five “would restore the NLRB to full status and will ensure that a functioning NLRB can enforce workers’ rights on the job,” the union said. “It’s where workers turn when they are fired and their free speech is threatened.”
CWA President Larry Cohen urged senators to “move quickly to counter a cynical move by House Republicans” – HR1120 – “to stop the NLRB from making any decisions…The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and many of its corporate members would prefer the NLRB not function at all.
“As a result of Republican obstructionism in the Senate, 85 million workers have lost a critical path to workplace justice as a growing number of corporations are refusing to abide by board decisions,” Cohen added. At least 60 firms, citing the court ruling, have challenged NLRB’s power to do anything.
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka called Obama’s nominations “an important step toward restoring stability to labor-management relations, which has been in disarray” since the court ruling.
Obama’s nominations “include individuals who challenged recent actions by the NLRB,” Trumka said, referring to Johnson and Miscimarra. The two “have views on labor relations we do not agree with. But working people need and deserve a functioning NLRB, and confirmation of a full package will provide that stability. When the NLRB is not at full strength and cannot enforce its orders, America’s economy falls out of balance, as it is today with record inequality and a shrinking middle class.”
Photo: Unions argue that a functioning NLRB is critical to protecting the right of workers to organize on the job. Wisconsin AFL-CIO Flickr