Labor chief: Time to go nuclear

The head of the nation’s largest labor federation on Wednesday said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) needs to pull the trigger on the “nuclear option” to ensure votes on President Obama’s nominees.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and others in the labor movement are putting intense pressure on Senate Democrats to make a controversial change to the chamber’s rules, arguing Republican obstruction of nominees justifies an unprecedented move to limit the filibuster.

“Reid should pull the trigger,” Trumka said. “They have been totally obstructed. It has nothing to do about with the qualifications of people. They are being obstructed.”

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Senate Democrats have set a decisive meeting for Thursday about whether to use the nuclear option to ensure up-or-down votes on a slate of contested nominees. Reid has said he expects the caucus will decide on the path forward at that meeting.

Unions are making an all-out push to confirm Obama’s five nominees to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) before Congress breaks for the August recess. If the nominations are allowed to languish, it could render the board inoperable.

Business groups have called for a timeout on the NLRB nominees, and Senate Republicans have expressed strong opposition to confirming them.

Trumka said the AFL-CIO’s priority is a working labor board, which protects workers’ rights to unionize and resolves business and labor complaints.

“We want to get the NLRB confirmed. That's what we want to do. They can do it the easy way or the hard way,” Trumka said. “I hope they do it the easy way. If not, we want done it the hard way because we have to have a functioning NLRB.”

Republicans have warned Reid against using the “nuclear option,” which they say will poison partisan relations in the chamber. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Democrats are only considering the option as a payback to their allies in labor.

“I know Washington Democrats are getting a lot of pressure from big labor union bosses and other far-left elements of their base to do this,” McConnell (R-Ky.) said on Tuesday. “They raised a ton of money for Democrats, and now they want the special-interest treatment they believe is owed to them.”

Speaking at an event hosted by the Center for American Progress Action Fund, Trumka said he hopes Democrats will emerge from the Thursday meeting united behind ensuring that the president’s nominees receive a majority vote on the Senate floor.

“I hope what comes out is a unified caucus saying the choice is in your hands,” Trumka said. “Give these people an up-or-down vote or we'll make sure they'll get an up-or-down vote.”

Trumka said he has been personally meeting with senators to discuss the nuclear option, and has been emphasizing the importance of the NLRB and what he says is an abuse of the filibuster by Republicans.

“When you get that glazed look that says ‘Well, it's abused but I don't think I'm going to do anything’ then we have been trying to educate, cajole and say to people that this is an issue of fairness,” Trumka said.

“The president is entitled to have a functioning Cabinet. He is entitled to have a board. He is entitled to have somebody at the EPA, at the Department of Labor, at the Consumer Protection Agency. He is entitled to have something there so he should at least get an up-or-down vote.”

Time is ticking for the labor board.

NLRB Chairman Mark Pearce’s term is set to expire Aug. 27. Without Senate action, Pearce’s departure would leave the labor board with only two members — not enough to form a quorum to issue decisions and regulations.

Obama has offered a full slate of five nominees for the NLRB, including Pearce. Also part of the nominee package are NLRB members Sharon Block and Richard Griffin, whose recess appointments were ruled unconstitutional in federal court.

The Supreme Court has agreed to review the recess appointments case, but is not expected to make a decision until 2014.  

— This article has been corrected to reflect that Trumka spoke at an event held by the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

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