June 10, 2013
“For the first time in (its) history there is a possibility of no board.” Those words were spoken last week by Acting General Counsel Lafe Solomon, the top prosecutor and investigator at the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).
President Obama has nominated five well-qualified candidates to the NLRB and Senate Republicans are threatening a filibuster to prevent any of the candidates from being confirmed.
To put it plainly, a sizeable group of Senate Republicans are actively attempting to shut down the NLRB.
How did we get here?
Over 75 years ago, Congress enacted the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), guaranteeing American workers the right to form and join a union so that they may bargain for a better life. The law provides essential protections for both union and non-union workers. It gives workers the right to stick together and speak up for fair wages, good benefits, and safe working conditions. These rights ensure that people who do the real work in this country see the benefits when our economy grows.
The NLRB is the guardian of these rights. Workers themselves cannot enforce the NLRA – the NLRB is the only place workers can go if they have been treated unfairly and denied basic protections that the law provides.
Over the past decade, the Board has secured reinstatement for 22,544 employees who were unfairly fired and recovered more than $1 billion on behalf of workers whose rights were violated. They’ve also helped numerous businesses resolve disputes efficiently.
In that same decade, the Board has never once had a full slate of five Senate-confirmed members.
In 2011, when the NLRB needed new Board members to satisfy its quorum requirements (three of five spots must be filled), numerous Senate Republicans announced their intention to block any nomination to the NLRB, effectively causing the NLRB to cease functioning. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina summed up the intent of this obstruction saying, “The NLRB as inoperable could be considered progress.”
President Obama had no choice but to make recess appointments to the NLRB in January 2012. These recess appointments ensured that the NLRB would continue functioning, but have spent the year under a shadow of legal scrutiny.
This summer, the NLRB will once again face the very real threat of losing its quorum. NLRB member and Chairman Mark Gaston Pearce’s term will expire in August – crippling the board’s ability to decide hundreds of cases that come before it each year.
It’s time for the uncertainty surrounding the NLRB to end. Filibustering to prevent the NLRB from having a full quorum and being able to function has real consequences for real people.
The NLRB is simply doing its job. It’s time for the Senate to rise above petty politics and do its job of having an up or down vote on President Obama’s NLRB nominees.