Disputed appointee headed to labor board

One of the men at the center of a controversial presidential appointment is headed back to the labor board he was forced out of earlier this year.

On Monday, the Senate will vote on whether Richard Griffin should be the next general counsel for the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). His nomination is expected to be approved.


Supporters like Ross Eisenbrey, the vice president of the Economic Policy Institute, say that Griffin is “just a super qualified person” for the powerful post, but conservative critics have raised a row about his intentions for the union watchdog.

For a year and a half, Griffin filled one of five seats at the NLRB after he and two others were appointed during a short Senate recess in early 2012. He was forced to step down this summer as part of a Senate deal to confirm President Obama’s other nominees.

“That wasn’t his fault,” Eisenbrey said. “When the president calls on you to serve, it’s a tough thing to say no.”

Multiple courts have since voided the 2012 appointment, ruling that Obama can only make a recess appointment between Senate terms, not short breaks.

Critics say that once the courts weighed in, Griffin and his NLRB colleagues should have stopped what they were doing.

“It was the way that they were just so contemptuous of the court’s ruling,” said Fred Wszolek, a spokesman with the Workforce Fairness Institute. “If you’re a federal agency and the D.C. Court of Appeals says you’re doing it wrong, then you’re supposed to stop doing it.”

That Griffin was renominated, Wszolek said, shows that the administration is “just sort of hell bent on doing big labor’s bidding."

The Supreme Court is set to consider the case in its next term, in a decision that could define the limits of the president’s recess appointment powers.

Despite those concerns, Republicans have not signaled that they will block Griffin's path to confirmation.

In a statement before Griffin was confirmed by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on a largely party line vote, the top Republican on the panel expressed his resignation about Griffin’s future.

“I can count,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), “so I know that the Democratic majority will report Mr. Griffin’s name to the floor and that he will have an up or down vote and will be confirmed, but I’m going to vote no.”

As general counsel, Griffin would have broad power that rivals his authority as an NLRB member.  He would be charged with determining which companies to investigate and charge with violating labor rules.

“He can make decisions on which cases to bring and sort of which agenda to foster as a solo decision maker,” said John Meyers, a partner in the Atlanta office of the Barnes and Thornburg law firm who focuses on labor and employment law.

As an example of the office’s power, Lafe Solomon, the acting general counsel, was responsible for writing a 2011 complaint against Boeing for moving a plant from union-heavy Washington to South Carolina, infuriating conservatives.

The NLRB eventually dropped the complaint later that year.

Business groups are worried, Meyers said, that Griffin could change the path of the NLRB.

“That’s the fear, right? That he will turn the NLRB even more to the left and more as a pro-union organ than it already is,” he said.