President Obama’s three nominees to serve on the National Labor Relations Board remain in limbo as controversy embroils one of them: Craig Becker, associate general counsel to the Service Employees International Union and the AFL-CIO.

Becker has strong support from unions but is opposed by business groups.
Photo: Senate Help Committee
Becker has strong support from unions but is opposed by business groups.

Business groups strongly oppose Becker’s nomination, contending his academic writings on topics such as the Employee Free Choice Act, which is organized labor’s top priority and would make it easier for unions to organize, demonstrate a strong pro-union bias.

Organizations like the Associated Builders and Contractors and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce fear that, as a board member, he would make decisions they feel would undermine companies’ rights. “Becker’s views fall well outside the mainstream with respect to employer and employee relations,” says Geoff Burr, ABC vice president for government affairs.

But Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) said at a Feb. 4 hearing, “There is no question about Mr. Becker’s qualifications or his fitness to hold this office. ... Mr. Becker [has] made perfectly clear that he understands and respects the distinction between his past role as an intellectual advocate and the role he would play on the board as an impartial adjudicator.”

Although the committee approved Becker’s nomination by a bipartisan vote on Feb. 4, an attempt to invoke cloture on Feb. 11 failed. Some observers say that prospects for his confirmation have dimmed but that he should not be counted out yet. Obama says he will consider making recess appointments for some nominees. Meanwhile, the NLRB has been operating with only two members: Chairwoman Wilma Liebman, a Democrat, and member Peter Schaumber, a Republican. Obama’s other nominees for the board, Democrat Mark Pearce, a union-side attorney, and Republican Brian Hayes, former labor policy director for Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), are not controversial and expected to be confirmed.

The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in coming weeks in a case examining whether decisions made by a two-member board can stand. Liebman and Schaumber have shied away from controversial cases over the past two years as the other seats lay vacant but have continued to make decisions.

Michael Eastman, the U.S. Chamber’s executive director for labor policy, says the Senate could address the lack of an NLRB quorum by confirming Pearce and Hayes. “That would increase the number of people on the board and resolve any questions about the legitimacy” of their decisions, he says.