Kent Yoshiho Hirozawa and Nancy Jean Schiffer, President Obama’s new nominees to the National Labor Relations Board, were only picked a week ago. Tuesday they passed what is likely to be their only Senate hearing with little trouble.
The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee is set to vote on their nominations tomorrow. The full Senate is likely to vote on their nominations and those of three others — current chairman Mark Pearce and Republicans Harry Johnson and Philip Miscimarra — next week. (The minority party gets to pick two of the NLRB’s five members.)
The rapid pace was the result of a deal Senate Republicans struck last week during the filibuster showdown.
“Today’s nominees will help restore the board to full strength. They both come from diverse backgrounds and are deeply steeped in labor and employment law,” Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, the committee chairman said.
He added that he looked forward to “expeditiously moving them through the committee.”
Should all five nominees get confirmed, that would give the NLRB a 3-2 Democratic majority, something Democrats and labor have wanted ever since January when a court ruled two of Obama’s recess appointees to the board unconstitutional.
That left the NLRB without a valid quorum. Big Labor pushed Democrats hard to get the nominees thriugh.
Hirozawa is currently Pearce’s chief counsel at the board. He used his testimony to note that, if confirmed, he would be the first Asian-American to ever serve on the board. He also touted his private sector background, noting that for 20 years he co-owned a business.
Schiffer, who is currently a top lawyer at the AFL-CIO, briefly cried during her opening remarks as she recounted her decision to enter labor law. She never expected that she would get a chance to serve on the board, she said.
Both nominees promised to be neutral arbiters of the law and to abide by the National Labor Relations Act in their decisions.
“I will approach every decision with an open mind and give every position serious consideration; and in every decision I will be guided by the mission of the agency and the impact of a decision on all affected,” Schiffer said.
During questioning by Harkin, Schiffer said the NLRB lacked the authority to impose card checks rules to labor organizing elections. Only Congress can do that, she said.
Republicans expressed skepticism but did not press the nominees hard.
“The nominee’s job is to be judges, not advocates,” Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., the committee’s ranking Republican, said. He said the two nominees deserved up or down votes by the full Senate.
Harkin closed out the hearing by reading from the National Labor Relations Act itself. He noted the first section of the law says: “It is hereby declared to be the policy of the United States … [to be] encouraging the practice of collective bargaining.”
“Mark that word, ‘encouraging.’ ” Harkin said. “That’s in the act.”