Barack Obama and organized labor have made no secret about promoting each other’s interests. Indeed, his 2008 presidential victory would have been much more difficult in absence of union financial contributions and volunteer work. Thus, Obama’s recess appointment Saturday of Craig Becker to the National Labor Relations Board, effectively overriding a Senate Republican filibuster last month, served as a political IOU as well as an expression of the president’s will. Becker, currently a top union lawyer, has argued that workers should not have any right to opt out of union representation. Moreover, he’s counseled a large local union founded as a subsidiary of the corrupt and soon-to-be-extinct Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN). Becker was one of 15 White House Easter recess appointments that included a less controversial NLRB nominee, Mark Pearce, who, like Becker, is a Democrat.
The five-member NLRB, established 75 years ago by the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), though informally, has a 3-to-2 Democrat-Republican (or vice versa) mix. And with three vacancies, Obama knows he has a rare opportunity to remake labor law through union-friendly tiebreaker rulings. The two current members are Peter Schaumber (Republican) and Wilma Liebman (Democrat) — see photo. The three nominees, Craig Becker, Mark Pearce and Brian Hayes, already have been approved by the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. Hayes, a staffer for Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., apparently will have to go through a standard full-floor Senate vote.
Becker, who holds undergraduate and law degrees from Yale, is an unusual case. Currently associate general counsel to both the AFL-CIO and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), he’s represented unions many times at the U.S. Appeals Court and Supreme Court levels. He also believes in giving unions rights that go well beyond NLRA statutes. As National Legal and Policy Center has noted more than once, Becker argued in a 1993 labor law journal article that employers ought to have no legally enforceable “cognizable” interest in the outcome of union organizing drives and elections. Moreover, in the same piece, he stated that unions should have a right to represent workers even without majority support. “Just as U.S. citizens cannot opt out against having a congressman,” he wrote, “workers should not be able to choose against having a union as their monopoly-bargaining agent.” An indicator of his radicalism is his advisory role to SEIU Local 880, a huge ACORN-affiliated Chicago-based home care workers union recently merged into SEIU Healthcare Illinois and Indiana.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., for one, last fall was disturbed over the nominee’s background. Indeed, he took the dramatic step of placing a hold on the nomination, which already had been approved by a 15-8 committee vote. Re-nominated this year, Becker again passed through the committee by a 13-10 margin. The full Senate voted 52-33 to invoke cloture – that is, to block a filibuster – eight votes short of the 60 votes necessary. Even two Democrats, Ben Nelson (Nebraska) and Blanche Lincoln (Arkansas), voted with the GOP in opposition. But Obama still had the option of naming Becker to the NLRB in a provisional recess appointment, good for one year (formally, until January 2012, the midway point of the next Congress). Yesterday he exercised it. NLRB board members are appointed to five-year terms. That’s a lot of time for Becker to interpret labor law to the satisfaction of unions.