Washington, DC - Today, President Obama made three recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB)—Democrats Sharon Block and Richard Griffin, as well as Republican Terry Flynn. Without the apppointments, the federal agency, which mediate labor disputes and oversees union elections, wouldn't have had a quorum to issue valid rulings. (He also made a much more high-profile appointment of Richard Corday to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) in order to make that regulator functional as well.)
The recess appointments come after the NLRB was rendered inoperable due to the expiration of Craig Becker's term on January 3. That lowered the number of people sitting on the board to two, below the quorum threshold. As I reported, Obama nominated Block and Griffin for the positions last month. (The Senate didn't confirm the nominees, which were made only a few days before Congress recessed for the holidays.) With the recess appointments, the board will be able to make key decisions that affect American workers.
President Obama's rapid fix to the NLRB"s problem stands in stark contrast to the beginning of his term in January 2009, when the board was also inoperable. Obama waited 14 months to make recess appointments to fill those slots.
The speed in making the appointments may be a move by the White House to gain the support of the AFL-CIO, which has yet to endorse Obama, unlike other major unions like AFSCME, NEA, UFCW and SEIU. It’s unclear as well if the AFL-CIO's delay in endorsing Obama, or AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka’s recent call for greater political independence for organized labor played any role in pressuring the White House to quickly make the recess appointments to both the CFPB and NLRB.
Trumka was quick to praise the appointments:
We commend the President for exercising his constitutional authority to ensure that crucially important agencies protecting workers and consumers are not shut down by Republican obstructionism. Working families and consumers should not pay the price for political ploys that have repeatedly undercut the enforcement of rules against Wall Street abuses and the rights of working people.
The move may give the AFL-CIO necessary cover to endorse President Obama, and offer active support on the ground during the election season.
But the labor federation, and other unions that have yet to endorse Obama, may be looking to see if the president can pass several other tests this year that have to do with workers and their rights.
State legislators in Indiana are planning to bring right-to-work legislation to a vote in the Indiana legislature possibly as early as this week. It’s unclear if President Obama is going to make any public statement about the legislation, which organized labor strongly opposes, in this key battleground state.
Congressional Republicans are also floating the idea of paying for a payroll tax cut holiday by continuing a freeze on the pay of federal employees.
“Federal employees are working with severely limited resources,” National Treasury Employees Union President Colleen Kelley wrote in a letter to Congress today. “They have faced government shutdowns four times this year, yet they have worked diligently to deliver services to the public. To ask them to bear such a disproportionate additional burden is unfair and unacceptable.”
Late last month, when House Republicans floated the idea of a federal pay freeze as part of a temporary deal to extend the payroll tax cuts, Democratic Senators strongly objected. However, the White House did not object publicly to the freeze being in the deal.
Republicans may push the federal pay freeze again as part of a long-term payroll tax cut deal when the temporary deal expires at the end of February. Given Obama’s willingness to implement a two-year pay freeze on public employees in 2010 and his lack of objection to including a continuation, it’s unclear if Obama will oppose Republican efforts.
While today's recess appointments will allow the nation’s top labor law body to operate, there are more big labor fights on the near horizon—and organized labor may choose to demand more support from the President before gearing up for the campaign season.