Just when organized labor had entered the seventh and final stage of the grief cycle—after having witnessed the death of the EFCA (Employee Free Choice Act), they’d already passed through shock, denial, anger, bargaining, guilt and depression—they get dealt another crushing blow, this one in the form of Craig Becker, Obama’s nominee to the NLRB, being denied confirmation by a hostile congress.
The Becker rejection could hurt even more than the EFCA (“card check”). Why? Because Becker’s chances were infinitely better than those of the EFCA, which, beneficial as it would have been, remained broken down in the driveway. In truth, the ambitious legislation never really got any momentum behind it. By contrast, the Becker nomination appeared to be running on all eight cylinders.
True, the Republicans had played games by stalling the vote for five months, but the Democrats had the 60 senators necessary to avoid the procedural roadblock of a filibuster and, once over that disgraceful parliamentary hurdle, had more than enough votes to carry the nomination. At least they did until Massachusetts elected Scott Brown, a Republican.
Then, to make matters worse, Senator Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) announced that he would join the Republican filibuster, killing Becker’s chances. Say what you will about Martha Coakley, Brown’s Democratic opponent, she wouldn’t have joined the Republican filibuster. And without the filibuster, Becker gets confirmed.
So what made Craig Becker so unappealing to the Republicans? He was unapologetically pro-labor, an old-fashioned labor advocate. He was a champion of America’s working class, of its struggling middle-class, and of its impoverished bottom-class.
In other words, Becker was all the things you would expect in an NLRB member, all the things the position called for going back to 1935, when the New Deal agency was invented, and all the things that had been missing in the NLRB under eight years of the Bush administration. And, of course, it was precisely these qualities that the Republican party and U.S. Chamber of Commerce objected to.
Despite the Republicans’ attempt to demonize him, Becker, a lawyer for the SEIU (Service Employees International Union), is a recognized labor expert. Becker earned both his law school and undergraduate degrees from Yale University, and has either practiced or taught law for the past 27 years.
On Tuesday I asked the IBT (International Brotherhood of Teamsters) what their thoughts were on the Becker rejection. The Teamsters were instrumental in lobbying for passage of the EFCA, and were very much in favor of Becker filling one of the vacancies on the Labor Board.
James P. Hoffa, General President, IBT, replied: “The President ought to be able to appoint who he wants to sit on the NLRB. Politics should not stand in the way of a well qualified appointee. Craig Becker has impeccable credentials and has devoted his professional career to the field of labor law….Blocking his confirmation is, in reality, just a cynical strategy on the part of people who don’t believe in the statute to prevent it from being enforced.”
How cynical? The Republican minority is using stalling tactics and bogus parliamentary techniques to deny the Democratic majority the goals they were entitled to pursue by virtue of having been elected. The Republicans may have lost the election fair and square, but they are determined to thwart the administration at every turn, which includes not allowing Obama nominees to be voted upon. If you don’t have the votes to get elected, and don’t have the votes to defeat a measure, you embark upon the only strategy left to you: governing via paralysis.
Incredibly, three of the NLRB’s five seats still remain vacant. Becker was supposed to fill one of them. The only thing these three vacancies continue to do is postpone indefinitely hundreds of important labor cases—cases that deserve to be heard. Which is perfectly fine with the Republican minority because that is precisely how they intend to govern.
DAVID MACARAY, a Los Angeles playwright and author (“It’s Never Been Easy: Essays on Modern Labor”), was a former labor rep. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org