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Working In These Times

Thursday, Dec 15, 2011, 4:34 pm

Obama Nominates Two to NLRB. Will GOP Block Them and Grind Agency to Halt?

BY Mike Elk

Yesterday, President Barack Obama nominated two people to serve as members of the National Labor Relations Board: Sharon Block and Richard Griffin. Without at least one of the two nominations to the independent federal agency being confirmed, the board will lack the quorum that is required to issue decisions. Current Board Member Craig Becker’s term expires at the end of December.

The two nominees nominated to serve on the board appear to have an extensive background in labor law and the NLRB. Sharon Block is the current deputy assistant secretary for congressional affairs at the U.S. Department of Labor. She served as counsel to a committee chaired by Senator Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) for 3 years and prior to that, served for 13 years as an attorney with the National Labor Relations Board. Richard Griffin is currently general counsel for the International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE), where he has worked as a lawyer for nearly 30 years and served for two years, from 1981 to 1983, as a counsel to NLRB board members. Both choices received quick praise from organized labor.

“Dick Griffin and Sharon Block are outstanding choices for the NLRB. Both have long and deep labor law experience and understanding of workers’ issues..., “ said AFL CIO President Richard Trumka. “We congratulate them on their nominations and urge the Senate to confirm them swiftly.”

Given the state of the U.S. Senate, of course, that's unlikely any time soon.

The nomination of Craig Becker in 2009 was blocked for 11 months at the beginning of the Obama administration, due to objections in part from two Democratic Senators – Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) and former Senator Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.). Obama was forced to nominate Becker through a recess appointment.

This time it appears Obama will once again be forced to nominate the NLRB choices through recess appointments as Republicans in Congress have vigorously attacked the NLRB over the past year. Despite the IAM and Boeing settling its NLRB case earlier this month, House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa announced yesterday that he will continue his investigation into NLRB’s action in the Boeing case. 

Also, the United States Senate recently blocked nomination votes on both the Ambassador to El Salvador and the Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau over objections about the politics of both nominees. (Of course, objection to the CFPB nominee also had to do with ideological opposition to the very existence of bureau, a dynamic not dissimilar to that between some GOP senators and the NLRB.)

It also looks unlikely that President Obama will be able to appoint the two nominees through recess appointments, as House Republicans have vowed not to go out of session in order to prevent the Senate from issuing recess appointments. That could mean an NLRB without the power to issue rulings.

Mike Elk is an In These Times Staff Writer and a regular contributor to the labor blog Working In These Times. He can be reached at mike@inthesetimes.com.

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