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Working In These Times

Thursday, Oct 22, 2009, 7:13 am

McCain Slaps Hold on Crucial Pro-Labor NLRB Nominee

BY Lindsay Beyerstein

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Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).   (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

The associate general counsel of SEIU and the AFL-CIO is inching his way toward a seat on the National Labor Relations Board. The Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions (HELP) committee voted to confirm Craig Becker yesterday.

Whereupon, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz) slapped a hold on Becker's nomination. A hold is an informal request to the Senate Majority Leader not to let the full senate vote on something.

In this case, McCain wants to score political points by stalling a pro-labor nominee. As a legal scholar, Becker helped lay the intellectual foundation for the Employee Free Choice Act.

In one law review article, he suggested that much of the work of EFCA could be done through the existing regulatory structure. The NLRB administers the National Labor Relations Act, the primary legislation that governs labor/management relations.

Conservatives fear that if Becker is confirmed, he will use his regulatory powers to make union organizing easier. Indeed, if he is confirmed, the pro-labor faction on the NLRB will enjoy a solid majority for the next four years.

As a labor lawyer, Becker fought (unsuccessfully) for wage and hour protections for home care aides.

McCain complained that HELP hadn't held a public hearing on Becker. HELP Chair Tom Harkin pointed out that the committee hadn't held a public hearing on a rank-and-file NLRB member since 1980.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has the power to simply ignore McCain's hold and bring Becker's nomination to the floor. In which case, McCain would either have to back down or filibuster.

Despite a filibuster-proof majority, Reid has only forced votes on two Obama nominees even as key positions remain vacant.

A cloture vote on Becker—which would overcome a filibuster—could come as early as October 27.

Lindsay Beyerstein is an award-winning investigative journalist and In These Times staff writer who writes the blog Duly Noted. Her stories have appeared in Newsweek, Salon, Slate, The Nation, Ms. Magazine, and other publications. Her photographs have been published in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times' City Room. She also blogs at The Hillman Blog (, a publication of the Sidney Hillman Foundation, a non-profit that honors journalism in the public interest.

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