Senate Democrats on Tuesday rallied to the defense of a former National Labor Relations Board member whose previous appointment to the agency was deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.
Following a contentious confirmation hearing, the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee is expected later this month to send Sharon Block’s nomination to the full Senate over strong objections from the panel’s GOP members. Majority Democrats on the panel have the numbers needed to prevail in an upcoming executive session vote.
Block's confirmation is all but assured after that, given Senate rule changes allowing most presidential appointments to advance with support from a simple majority.
Committee Republicans nonetheless voiced fierce opposition Tuesday, focusing their attacks on Block’s decision to remain on the board while her 2012 appointment was being challenged.
“She occupied that position for 18 months and participated in hundreds of decisions,” said Sen. Lamar AlexanderLamar AlexanderAuthorities link ex-Tennessee governor to killing of Jimmy Hoffa associate The Republicans' deep dive into nativism Senate GOP faces retirement brain drain MORE (R-Tenn.), who noted the unanimous Supreme Court ruling invalidating her appointment “wasn’t even a close call.”
“That raises serious questions about the judgment of those who participated in that unconstitutional action, like Ms. Block,” added Alexander, the committee’s top Republican.
Preliminary decisions found that President Obama exceeded his recess appointment power by appointing her and others to the NLRB while the Senate was in a pro forma session. Block defended her choice to remain on the labor board in the face of those decisions.
Under GOP grilling, Block said she was merely operating under a system in place to resolve constitutional disputes that arise at the NLRB. She stressed that she had taken an oath of office.
“I made a commitment to serve, and I took that commitment very seriously,” Block testified.
Democrats on the panel rushed to Block’s defense, contending that she was unfairly targeted by Republicans and business groups angry at the president for circumventing Congress to impose his will on the influential NLRB.
HELP Committee Chairman Tom HarkinThomas (Tom) Richard HarkinFCC needs to help services for the deaf catch up to videoconferencing tech Biden celebrates anniversary of Americans with Disabilities Act Ex-Rep. Abby Finkenauer running for Senate in Iowa MORE (D-Iowa) said Block acted appropriately in remaining on the board as the case known as Noel Canning v. NLRB wound its way through the courts. Had she stepped down, the board charged with resolving labor disputes and drafting regulations related to workforce issues would have lacked a functioning quorum, Harkin noted.
“During that period, I watched as she courageously fulfilled the duties she had sworn to carry out as a member of the board, even in the face of constant political interference and even personal attacks,” he said. “Those criticisms were unfair then, and they’re unfair now.”
If confirmed by the full Senate, Block would replace outgoing member Nancy Schiffer to become the third Democrat on the five-member board. The Democratic majority would be pivotal in the resolution of major of cases before the board and decisions about proposed regulations.
The board is considering regulations that would allow for speedier union elections, whether to allow college athletes to organize as employees, and whether corporations such as McDonalds should have joint employer status with their franchises for the purposes of labor disputes.
Also pending are scores of decisions that the board must revisit following the Supreme Court’s finding in late June that it included members whose appointments violated the Constitution.
On Tuesday, Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchCongress, stop holding 'Dreamers' hostage Drug prices are declining amid inflation fears The national action imperative to achieve 30 by 30 MORE (R-Utah) asked Block whether she would recuse herself from those cases.
Block countered that she would weigh requests that she recuse herself on a case-by-case basis, stopping short of agreeing to a blanket recusal.
Beyond questions over her original appointment, Republicans voiced concerns about Block’s political ideology, suggesting she would serve the interests of labor unions if confirmed. That assertion is among increasingly loud GOP attacks on the board and its members, accused by Republicans of engaging in an activist, pro-union agenda under the Obama administration.
Alexander said Block “has demonstrated a willingness to tilt the playing field toward organized labor, showing little interest in the rights of employers or individual employees who want to exercise their right to not join a union.”
Block maintained that the labor board has risen above partisanship, noting that most decisions handed down in her initial tenure were unanimous.
“I remain dedicated to moving these cases as fairly and efficiently as possible,” she said.