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TSPR Commentaries

There Will Be Labor Law on Labor Day


Many more Americans work for a living than are criminals or their victims, but the consideration of a new FBI director last week got much more attention than the federal agency that sets standards for 80 million workers. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) traces its history to 80 years ago this month, when the National Labor Board was established. It was dissolved the next year after the Supreme Court declared it illegal, but it became the predecessor to the NLRB founded in 1935.

For years, it’s been kept from operating properly by Republicans – until July 30, when in a deal crafted by New York Democrat Charles Schumer and Arizona Republican John McCain, the Senate confirmed all five members of the board, which had been reduced to just one regular member, chair Mark Gaston Pearce, whose term would’ve expired August 27, and two temporary “recess appointees” Obama named in January 2012, Sharon Block and Richard Griffin.

It’s the first time the NLRB has had a full membership of Senate-confirmed people since 2003, but it got far less notice than the Senate’s confirmation of James Comey as head of the FBI a day earlier.

Beth Allen, with the Communications Workers of America (CWA). said, “More than 80 million workers finally have the five-person, fully-functioning, Senate-confirmed National Labor Relations Board they deserve. We will have labor law on Labor Day.”

Obama made recess appointments because filibusters blocked his regular nominees in a GOP effort to shut down the board, thereby depriving millions of workers from job-related justice. Obama also nominated two management-side lawyers for two vacant minority-party NLRB seats, but Republicans planned to filibuster at least two, if not all five, of Obama’s nominees. That would have brought the board itself to a stop since it wouldn’t have enough members to conduct business. Labor lobbied Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to confirm all five and to eliminate the filibusters by changing Senate rules, but Reid compromised. The GOP’s filibuster threat was defused July 16, when Republicans dropped it, OK’d proceeding with Pearce and the Republican lawyers (Philip Miscimarra and Harry Johnson), and invited Obama to nominate substitutes for Griffin and Block.

Obama nominated two more people to replace them, Nancy Schiffer and Kent Hirozawa.

AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka, who earlier complained that obstructionism by extremist Republicans “delayed the confirmation of a full Board and caused unnecessary anxiety and pain for working families,” said, “A confirmed NLRB will provide millions of workers with real protection of their rights to organize and bargain with their employers.

“Our Founding Fathers granted the Senate the power to advise and consent, not to obstruct and extort,” Trumka continued. “It is downright shameful that some Republicans were willing to take the Senate to the brink of paralysis by playing politics with workers’ rights.”

As stated by Kathleen Von Eitzen – a Panera Bread baker lobbying in Washington last week – ‘I don’t care if you’re Republican or Democrat, I care that you work together and govern this country. That’s what you were sent to Washington to do.”

Indeed, there was a time when the NLRB was not another flashpoint for ideology-based “do-nothing” Congresses. The following comments were made in an earlier White House: “A free labor movement is essential to the preservation and expansion of free enterprise. The National Labor Relations Board is to be commended for its fairness in enforcing the statute over these past 50 years. I had firsthand experience with the Board during my tenure as president of the Screen Actors Guild many years ago, and I can attest to its outstanding record.

“In conducting union representation elections and processing Unfair Labor Practice charges, the NLRB has helped build a peaceful industrial relations system that is a model for the free world. The processes of the Board, as necessary today as they were 50 years ago, provide a forum and an orderly legal framework for resolving labor and management disputes.”

Those words were uttered on November 12, 1985, by President Ronald Reagan.

Radical Right Republicans who say they revere Reagan might remember that when finally scheduling the confirmation hearing of another recess appointee, the NLRB’s top enforcement and executive, Acting General Counsel Lafe Solomon.  

Bill Knight’s newspaper columns are archived at

The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of Tri States Public Radio or Western Illinois University.