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In a letter to key senators, the Society for Human Resource Management and 22 other organizations ask legislators to reject the nomination of Craig Becker for a seat on the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).
Becker was nominated by President Barack Obama to the five-member board in 2009 and again in early 2010, after the Senate rejected the nomination. He has been criticized by some business and employer organizations because of writings that suggest that he would take an active role in increasing the power of labor unions on the NLRB, possibly bypassing the legislative process. Becker serves as counsel to two organized labor groups—the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the AFL-CIO—and has taught and practiced labor law for more than two decades. He helped draft the proposed Employee Free Choice Act, which would give workers the choice of how they would want to vote for union representation—by a card-check process or a secret-ballot election.
Becker was scheduled to appear before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee on Feb. 2, 2010, and a vote on his nomination was scheduled on Feb. 4. In a letter to the chairman and ranking Republican member of the committee, SHRM and the other groups say that Becker’s potential activism on the NLRB “would disrupt years of established precedent and the delicate balance in current labor law.”
The NLRB has been operating with two members, a Democrat and a Republican, since January 2008. Becker and fellow Democrat Mark Pearce, along with Republican Brian Hayes, were chosen by the president in April 2009 to fill the three vacancies. By law, at least three members of the board are required to make rulings on labor disputes and possible violations of the National Labor Relations Act of 1935. However, a case pending before the U.S. Supreme Court in early 2010 seeks to determine whether two-member NLRB decisions are valid.
The NLRB, created by the 1935 law, is a quasi-judicial body charged with preventing and addressing unfair labor practices by unions and employers and with determining whether groups of employees desire to be represented by unions.
In the fall of 2009, the Senate HELP Committee approved Becker’s nomination without a public hearing. However, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who called Becker “one of the most controversial nominees” that he had ever seen, is believed to have placed a “hold” on Becker’s nomination, which prevented a final Senate vote on it before the end of the 2009 congressional term. The nominations of Pearce and Hayes were held up in the process, though they reportedly do not need to be approved again by the HELP Committee.
According to the National Association of Manufacturers, one of the groups signing the new letter, Becker suggested in a 1993 law review article that employees should be compelled to join unions and that employers should not be allowed to restrain union elections.
In the letter to Sens. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and Michael Enzi, R-Wyo., SHRM and the other groups do not express an opinion about the nominations of Pearce and Hayes. But their letter states that Becker’s “unorthodox views have been demonstrated through his previous written commentary” on the National Labor Relations Act.
“Many of his beliefs would disrupt years of established precedent and the delicate balance in current labor law. We have significant concerns with the Board’s ability to radically interpret existing labor law should Mr. Becker be confirmed,” the letter states.
“As we have expressed before,” the letter continues, “the public still deserves an opportunity through a formal confirmation hearing to hear from Mr. Becker directly as to whether he still believes the positions espoused in his writings or whether his views on these issues have changed over time. It is troubling that despite our concerns the administration has made it clear that they do not intend to nominate a more appropriate individual to serve on the Board.”
In early 2010, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said that the president stood by Becker, Pearce and Hayes, and Gibbs expressed frustration with the lack of progress moving the nominations forward.
“We have seen a pacing in dealing with nominations both for the executive branch and for judicial nominations that I think by almost any estimation would be deemed slow,” Gibbs said during a White House media briefing. “We have seen over the course of many months I think a very intentional slowdown of the work that the Senate does, which I don’t think serves anybody in any political party well.”
Steve Bates is manager of online editorial content for SHRM. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
President Intends to Re-nominate Becker to NLRB; HR News, Jan. 12, 2010
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