Labor board nominee heats up battle over union-organizing rules

Business interest groups are rallying against an Obama administration labor board nominee they fear will implement new rules making it easier for unions to organize.
 
Labor lawyer Craig Becker was re-nominated to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) last week. His nomination last year was approved by a Senate panel but never received a confirmation vote by the full chamber.
 

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Becker, an associate general counsel to both the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the AFL-CIO, is being treated by business trade groups as someone who could institute parts of the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) through executive action if confirmed, a bill favored by unions but opposed by the business community.
 
Business associations played an active role in helping stall his nomination in the fall and are revving up again to oppose his nomination.
 
Business groups’ concern about Becker is that a pro-union labor board with him in place could rule that existing labor law allows employees to form a union by signing authorization cards, rather than through a secret ballot. That interpretation would allow the Obama administration to put in place the most contentious provision in the card-check legislation.

“Any senator who opposes card-check ought to oppose this nominee,” said Glenn Spencer, executive director of the Workforce Freedom Initiative at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
 
The Chamber has begun to activate its states’ grassroots network to oppose the nominee. In addition, Chamber members are expected to lobby their senators to oppose Becker on their next fly-in visits to the nation’s capital.
 
Other trade groups will likely follow suit.
 
“Yes, we will absolutely oppose the Becker nomination,” said Jade West, senior vice president of government relations for the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors (NAW). “The NLRB, under the leadership of Becker, could implement the Employee Free Choice Act by fiat.”
 
The National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) also sent a letter to members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee opposing the nomination.
 
The Chamber, NAW and NAM were part of a 23-business coalition that wrote to senators last October to oppose Becker’s nomination.
 
Union lawyers have dismissed the business groups’ concerns in the past, saying such a board ruling would come under heavy legal challenge and only legislation changing labor law would allow the card-check process to take place.
 
By July last year, President Barack Obama had nominated Becker, Mark Pearce and Brian Hayes to fill out the three empty spots for the five-member NLRB, which oversees union elections and adjudicates complaints of unfair labor practices. Senate tradition usually has a package of nominees voted on together, but opposition to Becker stalled the process.
 
The HELP Committee approved Becker’s nomination last fall, despite the pressure from business groups. But Becker never received a Senate floor vote after Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) placed a hold on his nomination.
 
A spokeswoman for McCain said the senator could not place a hold on Becker’s nomination until he is approved again by the committee but stated the Arizona Republican has not changed his mind about the nominee.
 
“Sen. McCain’s opposition to Mr. Becker remains the same,” said Brooke Buchanan, McCain’s spokeswoman.
 
The Senate panel is holding an executive session this Wednesday to consider pending nominations, which was why business groups began gearing up their campaign against Becker. But a spokeswoman for HELP Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) said Becker’s nomination will not be considered this week.
 
“Chairman Harkin is fully supportive of his nomination and hopes to move him forward as soon as possible,” said Bergen Kenny, press secretary for Harkin.
 
Along with Harkin, the AFL-CIO and the SEIU are supporting Becker’s nomination.
 
In October, Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), the HELP panel’s ranking member, agreed to move the nomination forward along with two other NLRB nominees and did not request a hearing for Becker at that time. A spokesman for Enzi declined to comment further on Becker’s nomination.