NLRB chairwoman departs; political fights loom for labor panel

The departing chairwoman of the National Labor Relations Board won praise from the nation’s biggest labor group Saturday as she leaves a panel that’s facing key vacancies and an uncertain future.

NLRB Chairwoman Wilma B. Liebman left the board after her term ended at midnight Saturday. She has served on the body for nearly 14 years, after an initial appointment under President Clinton.

The White House has designated NLRB member Mark Gaston Pearce to replace Liebman as chairman.

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In addition to Liebman’s tenure ending, NLRB member Craig Becker’s term expires at the end of the year. Without new people to fill those seats, the five-member board will be down to just two — not enough to have the legal authority to issue decisions, due to a 2010 Supreme Court ruling.

The NLRB, an independent agency, has become a target for conservatives and business groups attacking what they see as pro-union overreach by the Obama administration, and GOP senators have threatened to block future nominations to the labor board.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka praised Liebman on her final day, saying she has displayed an “unwavering commitment” to enforcing labor laws.

“She worked hard during a time of widespread political divisiveness to ensure that our labor laws work for today’s working families,” Trumka said. “For good reason, she is the third-longest-serving member in the NLRB’s history, having been nominated to serve by presidents of both political parties.”

But an anti-union group called the Workplace Fairness Institute wasn’t so kind.

“With Chairman Liebman’s term ending tonight at midnight, board members and their staffs are undoubtedly busy today finalizing decisions for issuance that will continue to undermine worker rights, hurt small businesses, augment the power of union bosses and cost our nation jobs,” said Fred Wszolek, a spokesman for the group.

The NLRB on Thursday issued final rules that require employers to post notices informing workers of their right to unionize under the National Labor Relations Act.

“The notice ... states that employees have the right to act together to improve wages and working conditions, to form, join and assist a union, to bargain collectively with their employer, and to refrain from any of these activities,” according to an NLRB summary.

The rules drew quick attacks from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which called them “part of the NLRB’s continuing pattern of tipping the scales in favor of unions.”