President Obama has sparked a wave of controversy by using recess appointments to fill three slots on the National Labor Relations Board.

Labor union officials praised Obama's Jan. 4 announcement naming two Democrats and one Republican to the NLRB. But leading congressional Republicans and business organizations are outraged. 

When the three appointees were sworn in as board members on Jan. 9, it brought the panel up to its full, five-member complement and allowed the NLRB to make major decisions, something it was unable to do at the end of December when it dropped to just two members.

A 2010 Supreme Court decision said the NLRB must have at least three active members in order to issue important rulings. When Democratic board member Craig Becker's term expired at the end of 2011, the panel's had just two members: Chairman Mark Gaston Pearce, a Democrat, and Brian Hayes, a Republican.

The White House said the appointments were within the president's authority to nominate officials during a congressional recess. But Republicans and business organizations hotly disagreed, noting the Senate was in session, though it was pro forma, when the nominations were announced. “I think it’s outrageous,” says Geoff Burr, Associated Builders and Contractors vice president of federal affairs.

But Richard Trumka, AFL-CIO president, welcomed the appointments. He said, “We commend the president for exercising his constitutional authority to ensure that crucially important agencies [protecting] workers … are not shut down by Republican obstructionism.”

The two new Democratic board members are Sharon Block, former Labor Dept. deputy assistant secretary for congressional affairs, and Richard Griffin, who had been general counsel of the International Union of Operating Engineers.

The new Republican NLRB member is Terence Flynn, who was chief counsel to NLRB member Hayes and, before that, chief counsel to former NLRB member Peter Schaumber.