The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, January 20, 2012

Obama sticks his neck out for labor; re-stocks NLRB

By The Building Tradesman

WASHINGTON – President Obama has received his share of criticism from organized labor for not standing up to suport…organized labor.

But on Jan. 4, Obama opened himself up to charges of union cronyism by appointing three members to the National Labor Relations Board, sidestepping established Congressional rules – and a likely Republican filibuster.

Obama’s move reeked of an election year payoff to organized labor – whose leaders were happy to win one for once. The president’s support of labor issues has been regarded by unions as lukewarm. “We commend the president for exercising his constitutional authority to ensure that crucially important agencies protecting workers and consumers are not shut down by Republican obstructionism,” said AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka. “Working families and consumers should not pay the price for political ploys that have repeatedly undercut the enforcement of rules against Wall Street abuses and the rights of working people.”

The president used recess appointments to install Sharon Block, Richard Griffin (Operating Engineers General Counsel) and Terence Flynn as NLRB members. Block and Griffin are Democrats, while Flynn is a Republican. The appointments bring the NLRB to its full strength of five, with three Democrats and two Republicans. The board has only had three members through most of Obama’s presidency. Three was still a quorum, so business could get done, but Senate Republicans refused to seat two other members. With one of the Democrats at the end of his term on Dec. 31, the NLRB would have only had two members, and Republicans indicated they were in no mood to install a third.

As a result, Obama made the recess appointments – as he is allowed to do while Congress is in recess – without Congressional approval. But, Congress was technically not in recess, holding “pro forma” sessions during the holiday break with only a handful of members in attendance to keep the body open, in order to specifically prevent the appointments that Obama made. It’s a major precedent-breaker, and the courts will certainly be brought in to make a ruling on Presidential vs. Congressional powers.

“Gimmicks do not override the President’s constitutional authority to make appointments to keep the government running,” White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer said in a blog post.

The NLRB appointments came the same day the president made a splash for another recess appointment, for Richard Cordray, the new director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Republicans were angry with that move, but Obama doubled down by making the NLRB appointments in the same manner.

“The American people deserve to have qualified public servants fighting for them every day – whether it is to enforce new consumer protections or uphold the rights of working Americans,” Obama said in a statement. “We can’t wait to act to strengthen the economy and restore security for our middle class and those trying to get in it, and that’s why I am proud to appoint these fine individuals to get to work for the American people.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) protested that the president is stripping the Senate of its oversight power to approve or disapprove of appointments. “What the President did today sets a terrible precedent that could allow any future President to completely cut the Senate out of the confirmation process, appointing his nominees immediately after sending their names up to Congress,” he said in a statement.

Dave Johnson of said Republicans have been “obstructing the NLRB from operating by refusing to confirm nominees – any nominees, regardless of qualification. Just as with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, they don't object to the nominees, they object to the mission of the NLRB under the law.”

And the mission of the NLRB, by law, is “to protect the rights of employees and employers, to encourage collective bargaining, and to curtail certain private sector labor and management practices, which can harm the general welfare of workers, businesses and the U.S. economy.”

According to Politico, Mitt Romney’s campaign for president has launched a new ad in South Carolina that highlights the fight between Boeing and the National Labor Relations Board.

As we reported, last month the two majority Democrats on the NLRB infuriated Big Business and their conservative friends by pushing through new rules that will make it more difficult for company owners to stall union organizing drives. The NLRB also made a pro-labor complaint last year against Boeing for moving operations to South Carolina in retaliation against union workers in Washington state.

Romney’s ad said: The National Labor Relations Board, “now stacked with union stooges selected by the president, says to a free enterprise like Boeing, ‘You can’t build a factory in South Carolina because South Carolina is a right-to-work state.’ That is simply un-American. It is political payback of the worst kind. It is wrong for America and it is something that will stop under my administration.”