House votes to freeze labor relations board

The House voted Friday to freeze the work of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), a reaction to a federal court's finding that two of the NLRB's current three board members were unconstitutionally appointed by President Obama in 2012.

Members narrowly passed the Republican bill, H.R. 1120, in a mostly partisan 219-209 vote. Every Democrat voted against it, and they were joined by 10 Republicans.

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Last year, Republicans sharply criticized President Obama's decision to recess appoint three people to the NLRB, at a time when the Senate was not in recess. The board is an independent agency that enforces worker rights and can help mediate employer-employee disputes.

Earlier this year, a federal appeals court agreed with the GOP criticism and said, in the context of one case, that the appointments were unconstitutional. The Obama administration has indicated it would appeal that decision.

In the meantime, the GOP-favored legislation would freeze the work of the NLRB board as it is currently constituted and block the enforcement of the decisions the board has made since Obama's appointments have been in place. Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.) said the court ruling calls into question all of the board's decisions, and that its work should therefore be frozen.

"The work of the board is tainted," Kline said. "Every decision it issues is ripe for appeal on the basis that the board itself is not legitimate.

"In fact, employers and unions are now citing the recent court ruling as a reason why board decisions should be overturned," he added. "As it currently exists, no one — employer, worker or union — can rely upon a board decision today."

Democrats have said the bill is just part of a GOP attack against the NLRB, and said Republicans have no interest in a functioning board.

"This is really part two of a strategy by the Republican majority in the House, and the Republican minority in the other body, to paralyze the rights of Americans to organize and bargain collectively," Rep. Robert Andrews (D-N.J.) said.

Democrats also said Congress should wait for the Supreme Court to make a final decision on whether Obama's appointments were unconstitutional.

"When have we ever enshrined an intermediate court decision into statute? It makes absolutely no sense," Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) said during Thursday debate.

Under the Preventing Greater Uncertainty in Labor-Management Relations Act, the work of the NLRB board would be shut down, although other NLRB functions and regional offices would continue to work. In addition, all of the board's rulings since early 2012 could not be enforced, until at least one of two conditions is met. One is a Supreme Court ruling that says Sharon Block and Richard Griffin were constitutionally appointed, and the other is the Senate appointment of enough new board members to give the NLRB a valid quorum.

The sine die adjournment of Congress at the end of this year would also lift the freeze.

Today, the NLRB has only three board members, which means there is no quorum available unless both Block and Griffin are available. The third member is NLRB Chairman Mark Pearce.

— This story was updated at 1:45 p.m.