NLRB at full strength as Obama appointees are sworn into office

For the first time in a decade, there are five Senate-confirmed members on the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

Four new members were sworn into office on Monday. With Chairman Mark Pearce at the helm since 2011, the union watchdog now has a full slate of Senate-confirmed members for the first time since 2003.

The full complement of members caps a period of long-running dispute over the board’s legitimacy, including two federal court rulings that cast doubt on its ability to exercise any power at all.

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Having a fully-confirmed board is “critical," according to University of Richmond law professor Carl Tobias.

“I think there’s a commitment to a fresh start and I think that would be good," he told The Hill. "Certainly the two Democratic nominees said they would be open-minded and they hadn’t prejudged issues and take them as they come.”

Republicans in the Senate have expressed concern about the new Democrats, Kent Hirozawa and Nancy Schiffer.

Schiffer spent decades working for the AFL-CIO and the United Auto Workers, and Hirozawa was formerly the top lawyer for NLRB Chairman Pearce. Republicans have worried they will not be able to remain objective, despite their pledges to be impartial.

Hirozawa and Schiffer were confirmed by the Senate last month as part of a deal to avoid a change to filibuster rules that had been dubbed the "nuclear option."

Republicans at the time pledged not to block them or President Obama's other nominees if he withdrew the renomination of two disputed board members, Sharon Block and Richard Griffin, Jr. Two federal appeals courts have ruled they were unconstitutionally appointed by Obama during a period when the Senate was technically still in session.

There were two vacancies on the board at the time. Without Block and Griffin, the NLRB would have been unable to form a quorum and many of its actions might have been nullified.

The Supreme Court will hear a case on the issue during its upcoming term.

This month, Griffin was nominated to serve as the NLRB’s general counsel, a powerful spot with important investigative and prosecutorial powers.