Obama Labor Nominees Approved by Senate Committee

A Senate committee approved five nominees to the U.S. labor board, including two Democrats ensnared in a legal and political dispute over their appointment a year ago without confirmation.

The vote by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee sets up a fight over confirmation of the three Democrats and two Republicans to the National Labor Relations Board. The board, with three sitting members, will lose its quorum and be unable to function unless at least one nominee is confirmed before Chairman Mark Gaston Pearce’s term expires Aug. 27.

The nominees include Democrats Sharon Block and Richard Griffin, whose appointments by President Barack Obama in 2012 were deemed invalid in a Jan. 25 ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington. The administration has appealed the decision to the Supreme Court. Block and Griffin today won support from all Democrats and one Republican on the committee.

“I don’t doubt that these two nominations are qualified nominees,” Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, the ranking Republican on the committee, said today. “The problem is the president appointed them as so-called recess appointments during a time the Senate wasn’t in recess.”

Griffin, Block

Griffin and Block won committee approval in 13-9 votes, with Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska joining the Democratic majority. Pearce was opposed by four Republicans. Phil Miscimarra and Harry Johnson, Republican lawyers who represent management in labor disputes, won unanimous approval.

The nominations advance to the full Senate, where a date for a confirmation vote hasn’t been set.

Alexander is among Republicans in the Senate and House who have urged Block and Griffin to resign until the legal issues of their appointments are resolved. Senator Tom Harkin, the Iowa Democrat who heads the committee, said the appointments should be considered valid until the Supreme Court rules.

The appeals court “is just one voice in this debate,” Harkin said. “It does not and should not decide the question. It’s long past time for the board to have a full slate of members.”

Obama appointed Block and Griffin in 2012 after Senate Republicans blocked confirmation hearings. At the time, House and Senate Republicans refused to declare a recess. The Senate held pro-forma sessions every few days, often lasting less than 2 minutes, to avoid a break during which Obama could make recess appointments. Obama said the Senate was in recess when he named the two Democrats.

Rulings Appealed

The board has ruled on 919 cases since the disputed appointments, including 215 after the court decision, according to Alexander. Almost 300 rulings have been appealed as the board operates under a cloud of “severe confusion,” he said.

Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO labor federation, said turmoil at the board is causing hardship for workers who believe they have been fired without cause. He called on the Senate to confirm all five nominees.

“The NLRB is under unprecedented attack by extremist congressional Republicans and corporate lobbyists who want to weaken its power to protect workers,” Trumka said in a May 15 editorial. “Responsibility for providing needed stability and the functioning NLRB that working people need and deserve is now up to the Senate.”

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