Let’s recount how the GOP has attempted to undermine the current NLRB. First, Republicans Senators refused to allow an up-or-down vote on NLRB nominee Craig Becker, while House Republicans held countless hearings attacking the Board, introduced dozens of bills targeting its authority, and joined in lawsuits filed by anti-union organizations to block the Board’s proposed new rules. Those “radical rules” – both currently held up in the courts -- would eliminate unnecessary and unjustified delay in union certification elections and require that employers post notices informing workers of their rights under federal law.
The GOP Congress has also attempted to bury the Board under a mountain of document requests, and vilified Acting General Counsel Lafe Solomon for correctly issuing a complaint against Boeing. Most recently, Republican lawmakers have attacked NLRB member Richard Griffin and chairman Mark Pearce. After the D.C Circuit Court ruled unconstitutional the president’s 2012 recess appointments, Pearce dared to say that the Board would continue to enforce the law until the Supreme Court ruled on the appointments. Republicans’ real reason for attacking Griffin and Pearce has nothing to do their qualifications or actions, and everything to do with their desire to render the Board inoperable. As Senator Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) explained shortly before the president made his recess appointments, when it comes the Board, “inoperable is progress.” It was this Republican obstructionism that forced the President to make recess appointments in the first place.
This anti-NLRB hysteria among Republican lawmakers has nothing to do with “hyper-partisanship” at the Board. The actions of the current Board are moderate when compared with those of the Reagan and Bush II NLRBs, and the election and notice-posting rules, while worthy gestures, are hardly game-changing proposals. Republican rage also has nothing to do with the legitimacy of the president’s recess appointments. Even as they call on the Board to shut up shop, Republicans have noticeably been silent when it comes to defending the warped logic of the DC Circuit.
On Tuesday, the president sent three further Board nominees, one Democrat and two Republicans, to the Senate for confirmation. He re-nominated Mark Pearce and nominated management lawyers Harry Johnson and Philip Miscimarra. In February, Obama re-nominated recess appointees Sharon Block and Richard Griffin. In order to remove any doubts over the legality of the Board’s actions, the Senate must now do its job and ensure quick confirmation of the five nominees.
The GOP has no reason to block a Senate vote on the president’s nominees other than its desire to undermine the Board and destroy workers’ rights. Any effort to derail the nominations would simply provide further evidence of the party’s contempt for the fundamental rights of American workers.
The nominations process will also show where the business community stands. The Chamber of Commerce and other employer groups have also attempted to undermine the Board’s efforts to improve labor law enforcement. Will they now urge quick confirmation? Or will they join with the extremists and allow the Board’s membership to decline to zero? So far only about 125 employers have challenged Board enforcement orders in federal courts by citing the DC Circuit decision, but that number could skyrocket if there is no quick confirmation of the nominees.
If Senate Republicans refuse to allow an up-or-down vote, Democrats must do whatever is necessary to win confirmation and ensure that the Board has a legal quorum. If Republican obstructionism wins out, the Board will have no confirmed members come August, and for the first time in the NLRB’s seventy-eight year history, the president would be unable to remedy this through recess appointments. Contrary to Republican doublespeak about “union bosses” and “Big Labor,” if this happens, the real losers will be American workers.
Logan is professor and director of Labor and Employment Studies at San Francisco State University