On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in a case that shouldn’t even have to exist.
The question in New Process Steel v. National Labor Relations Board is
whether decisions by the NLRB-the body created under the National Labor
Relations Act to protect workplace democracy-are valid when the board
has only two of the five members provided for in the act.
An AFL-CIO amicus brief in the case demonstrates that under current
circumstances two members constitute a valid quorum on the NLRB, as
several lower courts have ruled. And the cases decided by the two
members-one Democrat, one Republican-have been noncontroversial and
closely follow precedent.
But it’s an outrage that a decision-making body so important to the
basic rights of working people is crippled by vacancies.
Because the appointment of board members has been deeply politicized
and repeatedly blocked, the NLRB has had just two members for more than
In July, President Obama nominated three attorneys to fill the board,
including highly qualified and well-respected union-side lawyers Craig
Becker and Mark Pearce. But in what has become a very stale routine,
Senate Republicans (in this case joined by Democrats Ben Nelson and
Blanche Lincoln) ignored the working people they represent and blocked
the appointment process.
America’s working women and men have been waiting for National Labor
Relations Board appointments for too long already. It’s time for
President Obama to use recess appointments during the congressional
spring break to seat Becker and Pearce.
No fans of honoring workers’ rights, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and
other Big Business interests have been trying to paint Becker and Pearce
as biased or radical because they’ve served as union lawyers-without
acknowledging that President George W. Bush’s first NLRB appointee was
on the staff of the Chamber when he got his nod. They’re falsely
claiming that using recess appointments to seat them would be something
new and sneaky.
Those arguments have about as much credence as Republican talking
points about “death panels” in the health care debate.
Becker and Pearce have received widespread support in the Senate and
from management-side attorneys.
And recess appointments? Please. Bush made seven recess appointments to
The bottom line is this: It’s past time for President Obama’s
nominees to join the NLRB.
But instead we’re knocking our heads against the same Republican
ideologues and corporate interests that persistently oppose any balance
between corporations and workers and as a result erode America’s
middle class. Again and again they fight even the most basic worker
protections like the minimum wage, overtime pay and health and safety
They’re the same crew that’s been trying to deny working people
affordable health care coverage that won’t disappear if they change
jobs, lose a job or get sick.
These are the people-on Capitol Hill and on K Street-who allowed Wall
Street to run amok with our money and now want to protect the big
bankers who tanked our economy, killed jobs, took $700 billion in
taxpayer handouts, choked off credit and hired an army of lawyers to
fight financial reform.
The same ones who claim America can afford an unemployment rate of
almost 10 percent but can’t afford to create jobs.
The hard-working people who make this country run deserve better.
Let’s get Becker and Pearce seated.
Richard Trumka is President of the AFL-CIO.