The nomination of Craig Becker for membership on the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) may well be history. Earlier today, Senate Democrats, by a 52-33 vote, failed to muster the necessary 60 votes to block a filibuster mounted by GOP opponents. The procedural vote appears to end a months-long battle over whether Becker, a strongly partisan union advocate who serves as associate general counsel to the Service Employees International Union and the AFL-CIO, should serve on the five-member federal labor adjudication body. Two Democratic senators, Ben Nelson (Nebraska — see photo) and Blanche Lincoln (Arkansas), each hailing from a Right to Work state, crossed party lines to vote with the sizable Republican minority. President Obama still has the option of naming Becker to the board in a recess appointment, good for one full calendar year beyond the current one.
Union Corruption Update two days ago reported that the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions last Thursday had approved the nomination by a 13-10 margin. This was the second go-around for Becker, approved last fall by 15-8, only to have his nomination placed on hold by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. The Senate returned the nomination to the White House. Obama re-nominated Becker and the Senate Labor Committee, headed by Tom Harkin, D-Iowa., held a hearing on February 2. But the questions about Becker’s ability to serve on the NLRB in an impartial manner lingered, if not escalated. In the end, he could not generate sufficient support to overcome a filibuster.
There were some good reasons for those questions. Becker had made clear in writing his view that the National Labor Relations Act of 1935, the primary basis for labor law in this country, should serve as a blueprint for absolute union dominance of the labor market. A 1993 article he wrote for the Minnesota Law Review, “Democracy in the Workplace: Union Representation and Federal Labor Law,” for example, revealed a view that went well beyond even mainstream liberal interpretations of NLRA statutes. He wrote:
(I)t could be argued that industrial democracy should be made more like political democracy by altering the nature of the choice presented to workers in union elections. Such a reform would mandate employee representation, and the question posed on the ballot would simply be which representative.
Understand what the author has said here: Workers should have no right to opt out of union membership. Their only permissible avenue of dissent, as he sees it, should be one of choosing one union over another as a collective bargaining agent. If nothing else, Becker merits points for candor. Pending legislation to mandate employer recognition of successful union “card checks” cloaks its motives under the guise of “employee choice.” Becker, by contrast, made his disdain for choice overt. In a subsequent 1998 article in New Labor Forum, he reiterated this view: “At first blush it might seem fair to give workers the choice to remain unrepresented. But, in providing workers this ‘non-representation’ option, U.S. labor law grants employers a powerful incentive.” Clearly, Craig Becker doesn’t like employers very much.
Becker has a sterling resume, what with undergraduate and law degrees from Yale, professorships at UCLA, Chicago and Georgetown, and legal representation of union clients at the highest courts. But at the same time his views are unsuitable for the National Labor Relations Board, which at least nominally is dedicated toward impartiality in all labor disputes. The Senate was right to block the nomination. President Obama still has the authority to hire Becker temporarily via recess appointment. But given his own falling approval ratings, he might not want to go that route. Floor passage of the two other committee-approved candidates for vacant NLRB slots, Mark Pearce and Brian Hayes, at least, appears all but certain.