Policy: Labor

Senate GOP got taken to cleaners on NLRB deal

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Republican lawmakers have tried to spin July 16's Senate filibuster showdown as a win for them. After all, didn't they get the Democrats to drop two National Labor Relations Board nominees to which they objected?

Well, it's looking a lot more like the GOP got played, big-time. Not only will the Senate deal give Big Labor the functioning Democrat-majority NLRB it wanted all along, but one of those dropped nominees, Richard Griffin, may get another powerful board position as general counsel.

In effect, Griffin — who sits on the board; his nomination was actually a re-nomination — would go from being one of the NLRB's five voting members to being the guy who runs its legal shop.

In some ways, the general counsel is even more powerful than the board members, notes Patrick Semmens, spokesman for the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, which is often involved in NLRB cases.

"When it comes to unfair labor practices, the general counsel decides what gets prosecuted (and potentially decided by the board) and what doesn't. He can effectively nullify entire sections of the law by refusing to issue complaints," Semmens told the Washington Examiner.

For example, the driving force behind the NLRB's controversial complaint against Boeing was the not board but the current general counsel, Lafe Solomon.

It was his office that alleged that opening a new plant in South Carolina — a right-to-work state — was itself proof of retaliation against Boeing's union, even though no union employees were laid off.

The case was eventually dropped when Boeing settled with the union — well before the matter reached the five-member board itself.

The Huffington Post, citing anonymous sources, reported Griffin's potential appointment as general counsel on July 17. No official announcement has been made.

The NLRB referred the Examiner's query to the White House, which did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

It would make sense, though, as a consolation prize to Griffin and a jab at Republicans for opposing him in the first place.

Here's the kicker: Although the general counsel post technically requires Senate approval, the White House can appoint an acting counsel. Solomon has been serving without confirmation since 2010. Griffin could bypass the Senate all over again.

The full Senate is set to vote on President Obama's five NLRB nominees this week. The GOP has vowed not to block them. Presumably, the White House is not announcing Griffin's appointment to avoid upsetting those votes.

Griffin was a former top lawyer for the International Union of Operating Engineers. Obama first nominated him, along with two others, to the NLRB in December 2011.

Just three weeks later, Obama installed them through recess appointments. Contrary to some reports, Griffin was never filibustered. The Senate never had time to hold hearings on his nomination.

Three separate courts have since found such appointments unconstitutional. That left the NLRB without a valid quorum, essentially freezing it.

Obama then re-nominated Griffin and the two remaining board members along with two new picks. Senate Republicans balked at allowing the recess appointees to stay.

Big Labor then began pushing Democrats hard to get all five confirmed — by scrapping the filibuster, if necessary.

Communications Workers of America President Larry Cohen warned in May that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., would gets "lots" of blame if the Senate didn't act.

Griffin's old union, IUOE, made $1 million in campaign contributions to lawmakers in June alone, according to lobbying reports.

Even after the filibuster deal was announced — which merely dropped Griffin and fellow NLRB member Sharon Block for two other Obama nominees made in consultation with the AFL-CIO — CWA's Cohen still wasn't happy.

He told the Hill that dumping Griffin and Block was "a disgrace" and Democrats "will have to answer to people" for it.

The next day, the Huffington Post reported Griffin was up for NLRB general counsel.

Funny how these things work out.

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