Late yesterday, Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) announced that he would not vote for cloture on the nomination of former AFL-CIO and SEIU attorney Craig Becker to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), effectively joining a Republican filibuster. Republicans have been using Becker’s nomination as a proxy battle over the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) — which would level the playing field for workers who want to form a union. And Nelson bought into that frame in his statement against Becker:
Mr. Becker’s previous statements strongly indicate that he would take an aggressive personal agenda to the NLRB, and that he would pursue a personal agenda there, rather than that of the Administration. This is of great concern, considering that the Board’s main responsibility is to resolve labor disputes with an even and impartial hand. In addition, the nominee’s statements fly in the face of Nebraska’s Right to Work laws, which have been credited in part with our excellent business climate that has attracted employers and many good jobs to Nebraska.
For one thing, as Michael Whitney pointed out, “Nelson claims that Becker would bring ‘an aggressive personal agenda to the NLRB,’ rather than that of the Obama Administration. How does that make any sense, when it’s the Obama administration that nominated him twice?”
Nelson also lists three pieces of evidence as justification for opposing Becker. All of them point to Becker’s academic work asserting that elections for union representation should look more like, well, elections, free from employer interference and without allowing workers to opt-out of representation that the majority has voted for. These are common sense positions that evidence a belief that employees should be able to form unions when they want to, not only when employers deign to allow them.
Now, maybe Nelson doesn’t like these stances, but they don’t seem to justify sustaining a GOP filibuster. As the Huffington Post’s Sam Stein pointed out, Nelson had no problem voting to invoke cloture on Bush administration nominees like UN Ambassador John Bolton and EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson.
Bush’s last nominee to the NLRB — Peter Schauber — was confirmed uncontroversially, along with a boatload of nominees for various positions. But Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) placed a hold on Obama’s NLRB nominees last year, and also called for a hearing on Becker’s nomination, which was the first on an NLRB nominee since 1994 (and even that hearing was for an NLRB chairman).
Confirming Becker (and the other NLRB nominees) is important because for two years now, the NLRB has been crippled. Only two of the board’s five seats are filled, which not only leaves many disputes deadlocked at a 1-1 vote, but also calls into question the validity of any cases on which the two members have agreed. As the New York Times reported, “a pending Supreme Court case could ultimately vacate 80 of the [Board's] decisions,” because the two members do not technically constitute a quorum.
Last week, NLRB chair Wilma Liebman released a statement saying “I am disappointed that we still do not have a fully constituted Board despite the naming of three nominees last summer…I look forward to a time in the near future when the Board is back at full capacity resolving issues vital to American workers and their employers.” By joining a filibuster, Nelson is taking a step toward ensuring that that won’t happen.
A vote to invoke cloture on Becker’s nomination failed 52-33 today.