Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Senate rejects controversial NLRB nominee

The nomination of union attorney Craig Becker to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has been rejected by the full US Senate, which last week returned the nomination to President Obama for reconsideration after failing to act on it before the close of the legislative session. By unanimous consent agreement on December 24, the Senate waived a standing rule that provides that all nominations upon which no actions are taken before the Senate adjourns are essentially rejected. Therefore, all pending nominations remain in status quo notwithstanding adjournment. However, Becker was among seven Obama nominees who were deemed “exceptions” to this agreement.

Becker, a former law school professor and attorney for both the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and AFL-CIO, was formally nominated by the President in July, but his nomination has met with fierce resistance by the business community and Republican lawmakers. The US Chamber of Commerce, in a July 24 letter, urged the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee to hold a hearing on the nominee, citing concerns over Becker’s “out of the mainstream” views on the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), as well as concerns that his SEIU ties would "lead him to advance `card check’ organizing through administrative action by the NLRB, regardless of what Congress does" with the Employee Free Choice Act. Other employer groups and industry associations have opposed Becker’s nomination as well.

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Senate HELP Committee chairman, downplayed these concerns. "[W]hile Mr. Becker has been a dedicated union lawyer for many years--and he has achieved an impressive record of success in that field--I am confident that he will approach his new position objectively and without bias," Harkin said at an October executive committee session on pending nominees. "Most labor lawyers devote their careers either to representing unions and workers or to representing management. We have confirmed Board members with both union-side and management-side backgrounds in the past without cause for concern. Like these past members, I am sure that Mr. Becker will approach the job with an impartial and open mind."

The HELP Committee confirmed Becker's nomination in October by a 15-8 vote, as Sen. Michael Enzi (R-Wyo), ranking committee member, agreed to move a package of three Board nominees forward despite "serious concerns with Mr. Becker’s writings--particularly the potential for radical changes in labor law he has advocated, and argued can be implemented, without Congressional authorization." (Becker was nominated alongside Democrat Mark Pearce, previously an attorney for the Board, and Republican nominee Brian Hayes, labor policy director for the minority on the Senate HELP Committee.)

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz), however, put a hold on the nomination after it made its way out of committee. “I have concerns regarding Mr. Becker's written views, which indicate that he would prevent employers from having a role in union representation elections in their workplaces by doing away with requiring fair, secret ballot union elections when requested by an employer and I would like the opportunity to question Mr. Becker about these positions in person and in public,” McCain wrote, in a letter to Enzi. McCain’s hold on the nominee remains.

"There is no question that Mr. Becker has been thoroughly vetted for this position," said Harkin, noting the nominee had answered 282 written questions from Republicans.

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