Labor unions and working Americans scored a big victory this week when President Barack Obama used recess appointments to fill three vacancies on the National Labor Review Board. The NLRB is the independent governmental agency that conducts elections for labor union representation and addresses unfair labor situations. The three vacancies filled by Obama enable the board to resume issuing decisions on labor-related issues. The positions had been vacant since the Bush administration, as Republicans threatened to filibuster Obama's nominees. In the meantime, the Supreme Court ruled that decisions by the remaining two members were invalid due to lack of a quorum.
Well, not anymore! In addition to his recess appointment of Richard Cordray to lead the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Obama has filled the three NLRB vacancies. To give more context on this situation, BOR invited René Lara & Ed Sills from the Texas AFL-CIO to explain the significance of these appointments.
Obama's Recess Appointments Send Some Bullies a Message
By René Lara & Ed Sills, Texas AFL-CIO
President Obama's aggressive decision this week to make recess appointments after Republicans signaled they would confirm no one, no matter how qualified, to important posts, follows through on his warning in 2008 that his opponents should not bring a knife to a gunfight.
The president's recess-appointment of Richard Cordray to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and three labor law experts to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to re-establish a quorum at that agency acknowledged that the White House had no option but to take on forces that seek to stifle the act of governing.
Seen in full context, the election of Obama in 2008 was followed by a level of partisan behavior by Republicans that is unprecedented in our lifetimes. We would readily concede that no minority party gives any president a free ride, but it has been a very long time since a minority party behaved with the utter lack of nuance we have witnessed in the last three years.
The Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, baldly declared that the major goal for his party, rather than accomplish any intrinsic good for Americans, was to defeat Obama in 2012. And Republicans have validated McConnell's view time and again. Even after the 2008 election had provided the clearest mandate a Democratic president had received since the days of President Johnson, Republican senators systematically used the filibuster to stop legislation and appointments that had clear majority support. The shut-down strategy paid off, at least temporarily, in the 2010 elections, when the economy swooned in the aftermath of the Bush-era recession and Republicans were able to elevate normal minority party gains to historic proportions.
Democrats are no innocents in the partisan wars. But the GOP emphasis on “voter ID” laws and partisan attacks on labor unions are in large part about partisanship. “Voter ID” laws, enacted with virtually no Democratic support, have become a national GOP strategy aimed at doing what poll taxes and literacy tests used to accomplish for white majorities – knocking away percentages of the opposition vote.
The raw partisanship at work in the nation's capital permeates assaults on the NLRB. Attempts to enact union-bashing legislation in New Hampshire, Indiana and other venues seek to tamp down the opposition vote from union quarters. Obama's appointments to the NLRB send a strong signal to Republicans and their business constituency. After all, this is the government agency that is supposed to protect workers who want to form a union to negotiate a contract with their employer. For years that agency has been rendered toothless by laws that allow employers to scare employees into voting against forming a union.
The dismay displayed by Republicans this week over Obama's recess appointments may have more to do with his decision to take on bullies than with the substance of the appointment. But if Obama has to punch a bully, he chose a good place to hit him. The office of the presidency is not without power even against the most recalcitrant Congress or the “trusts” that Teddy Roosevelt busted a century ago.
Obama's patience has finally worn thin, and that's a good thing.
Lara is the Director of Legislation/Politics at the Texas AFL-CIO. Sills is Communications Director at the Texas AFL-CIO.