The Senate’s vote to confirm Richard Griffin as the National Labor Relations Board’s general counsel this week brought the board its first full slate of appointees in a decade. Democrats and labor advocates, worn down by years of political skirmishes over the NLRB, hailed Tuesday’s vote as the end of a difficult chapter in the board’s 78-year history.
“It is my hope that we can provide this important agency with some much-needed certainty, mark a new positive chapter for the NLRB and finally put an end to the delay and obstruction that has recently become all too familiar,” said Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.
But any hope that the NLRB will suddenly be free from political tussles is probably misplaced.
Yes, the agency now has all five duly confirmed board members — the product of a summer deal between Senate Republicans and Democrats — and it now has a confirmed general counsel to run its day-to-day business. But the end of the confirmation saga is not likely to end arguments over the perceived politicization of a board that stands at the troubled border between labor and management in the business world — and it certainly will not halt long-standing efforts to overhaul the NLRB.
Those debates, after all, have been around for decades. It will take more than a deal on nominees to resolve the future of the labor board.
As the Griffin nomination approached its crucial cloture vote, Republicans in the Senate were already warning they would keep up the pressure on the NLRB.
Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., the ranking member of the HELP Committee, said Monday that although he intended to vote for cloture, he would vote against Griffin’s confirmation “because I’m concerned about the direction of the NLRB.” Alexander said it appeared to him that the board was behaving “as an advocate more than an umpire.”
As a former union lawyer, Griffin risks turning the board into even more of an advocate for labor, Republicans say. Alexander said he and other senators are working on legislation to change the agency’s role and make it more impartial. He said he hoped to introduce it sometime this fall.
“The board has become far too politicized. This didn’t start with the Obama administration but it’s gotten worse with this administration and it’s moved more and more toward the side of union advocacy,” he said. “Swinging back and forth on important labor policy issues does the American working man and woman no good in this time of underemployment and unemployment.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.