A Senate panel advanced the nominations of two Democrats to the U.S. labor board as lawmakers proceed on a deal that would fill all five seats for the first time since President Barack Obama took office.
The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee voted 13-9 to approve National Labor Relations Board nominees Nancy Schiffer, a former AFL-CIO associate general counsel, and Kent Hirozawa, chief lawyer for the board’s Democratic chairman.
Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, the top Republican on the panel, said he voted against both because he sees them as having a “pro-union advocacy past.” Their pledges during a confirmation hearing this week to be unbiased as board members didn’t change his view, he said.
“My concerns haven’t been lessened,” Alexander said.
Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa, the panel’s Democratic chairman, said both nominees are qualified, and he said the board will have a full complement of members soon.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says he wants to schedule confirmation votes as early as this week for the Democrats along with Republicans Phil Miscimarra and Harry Johnson, lawyers who represent management in labor disputes, and Chairman Mark Pearce, who were approved by the panel in May.
Alexander, who has asked to put the votes off until next week, said Republicans won’t seek to block confirmation with a filibuster, allowing both nominees to be approved with a simple majority of 51 votes. Democrats control 54 seats, including the two independents who caucus with the party.
The nominees approved today have close ties to labor.
From 2000 to 2012, Schiffer was general counsel for the AFL-CIO, the federation led by Richard Trumka that represents 57 labor unions with 12 million members. Schiffer also worked for the United Auto Workers Union, and worked as a field attorney for the NLRB’s Detroit regional office.
Hirozawa worked at the labor board from 1984 to 1986 as an attorney in the region that includes New York City. Hirozawa then was a partner in the New York law firm Gladstein, Reif and Meginniss LLP, which “is organized around the principal that workers and their organizations deserve top-quality legal representation just as much as corporations,” according to its website. He returned to the board in 2010 a counsel to Pearce.
Both were nominated last week, after Obama agreed to drop two nominees -- Sharon Block and Richard Griffin -- who he appointed in 2012 while Congress was taking a break. Senate Republicans said the chamber wasn’t in a recess at the time, and the matter has been the subject of a legal battle that the Supreme Court will consider in its next term.
The swap helped end a stalemate and allowed confirmation of other stalled nominees, including Labor secretary and head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.