Policy: Labor

Democrats, Big Labor win big in filibuster showdown

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Beltway Confidential,Sean Higgins,Labor unions,Labor,Analysis,Filibuster

Senate Republicans are aggressively trying to spin the results of Tuesday’s filibuster showdown as a win for them. Don’t believe the hype.

Democrats and their allies in Big Labor walked away with pretty much everything they wanted. Republicans got no meaningful concessions in return.

The fig leaf the Republicans did get was that Democrats agreed to drop two of their pro-labor National Labor Relations Board nominees. Instead they will be replaced with … two other pro-labor picks by President Obama.

Here’s how Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., put it to Politico: “The president’s going to send us two new names. That’s what we asked for. I don’t know how we caved.”

Well, let me explain: What Obama, Senate Democrats and Big Labor all want is a fully functioning NLRB. They agreed to drop Griffin and Block because they don’t care who sits on the board so long as it has a functioning Democratic majority — which is exactly what they will get under this deal.

Reportedly, Obama will pick AFL-CIO Associate General Counsel Nancy Schiffer and Kent Hirozawa, chief counsel to current NLRB chairman Mark Pearce, as the replacements.

Both were reportedly picked in consultation with the AFL-CIO. Both are now guaranteed Senate confirmation votes.

In addition to that, the showdown also resulted in Republicans announcing they didn’t have the votes to block Labor Secretary nominee Thomas Perez or Consumer Financial Protection Bureau director pick Richard Cordray. Big Labor wanted both of them too.

If there is a downside for Democrats and unions in this deal, it is well-hidden.

While Block and Griffin were both reliably pro-labor — Block had been a top staffer to Ted Kennedy; Griffin had been a lawyer for the International Union of Operating Engineers — the NLRB was trending leftwards well before they got involved. Neither, for example, were involved in the NLRB’s controversial complaint against Boeing.

The real issue involving Block and Griffin was that Obama’s attempt to put them on the NLRB had ironically resulted in it effectively being shut down. Democrats and Big Labor wanted the NLRB operating again, and sacrificing Block and Griffin was a small price to pay for that.

The NLRB’s problems date to January 2012. That was when Obama used recess appointments to install Block and Griffin.

Contrary to any liberal pundit’s claim, they were never filibustered. Obama appointed them just three weeks after he first nominated them. Senate never even had time to hold hearings. The President simply decided to ignore the balance of powers.

In January, an appeals court ruled their appointments unconstitutional, creating the NLRB’s current crisis. Without them, the five-member board lacks even the three members it needs for a quorum.

It also meant the NLRB has lacked a quorum since their appointments, potentially invalidating most of what it had done since then. The Supreme Court will weigh in on the case later this year.

The term of the remaining member, Chairman Pearce, runs out next month. That made it imperative from labor’s perspective that the NLRB be fixed soon.

Obama responded by re-nominating Pearce, Block and Griffin, along with two Republican picks (as per tradition), Harry Johnson and Philip Miscimarra.

That would give the NLRB a 3-2 Democratic majority.

Republicans blocked and stalled them. Big Business was in no hurry to see a pro-labor NLRB operating again.

Simply opposing the NLRB “just because” wasn’t enough, though. So Republicans clung to the argument that Block and Griffin’s nominations were tainted by their earlier recess appointments. It is not clear why this meant they could not be voted on now though.

So Democrats essentially said, “Ok, fine. We’ll drop them in favor of two other pro-labor picks.” And Republicans agreed to that. That was the deal.

Harry Reid called the GOP’s bluff and found out they were holding nothing.

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