The news in the last week on White House appointees has mostly revolved around the blanket holds that Sen. Richard Shelby placed in order to get attention to his home-state pet projects, holds that Shelby mostly withdrew yesterday. One of the holds involved Craig Becker, the nominee for the National Labor Relations Board, opposed by Republicans for his strong ties to the unions and the suspicion that Becker might try to push the limits on behalf of Big Labor. Late yesterday, that opposition became bipartisan as embattled Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska pledged to help filibuster Becker, effectively ending any hopes of confirmation.
Nelson’s statement, in its entirety, notes that the NLRB is intended to be an impartial judge of labor disputes and lists the statements Becker has made that calls his ability to perform those duties evenhandedly:
Today, Nebraska’s Senator Ben Nelson announced that he will oppose a cloture motion to proceed to a vote and will vote no on the nomination of Craig Becker to be a board member of the National Labor Relations Board. The five-member board serves as a quasi-judicial body in deciding cases under the National Labor Relations Act.
“Mr. Becker’s previous statements strongly indicate that he would take an aggressive personal agenda to the NLRB, and that he would pursue a personal agenda there, rather than that of the Administration,” said Senator Nelson. “This is of great concern, considering that the Board’s main responsibility is to resolve labor disputes with an even and impartial hand. In addition, the nominee’s statements fly in the face of Nebraska’s Right to Work laws, which have been credited in part with our excellent business climate that has attracted employers and many good jobs to Nebraska. Considering these matters, I will oppose the upcoming cloture motion and the nomination.”
Among some of the previous statements by the nominee that raise concerns for the senator:
• In a 1993 Minnesota Law Review article Becker wrote: “On account of the asymmetry between representation elections in the workplace and the polity, Part IV [of the article] concludes that employers should have no legally sanctioned role in union elections.”
• In the same article Becker asserted that employees should be compelled to join labor unions: “…it could be argued that industrial democracy should be made more like political democracy by altering the nature of the choice presented to workers in union elections. Such a reform would mandate employee representation, and the question posed on the ballot would simply be which representative.”
• Becker has expressed his intent to limit the ability of employees to reject union representation: “At first blush it might seem fair to give workers the choice to remain unrepresented. But, in providing workers this ‘non-representation’ option, U.S. labor law grants employers a powerful incentive.” [New Labor Forum Fall/Winter 1998.]
Mandatory unionization? That’s even more radical than Card Check, although it does have the virtue of honesty. The labor movement wants Card Check as a means of mandatory unionization while cloaking it in choice; Becker simply reveals the motive more clearly. Anyone who thinks that allowing workers a choice in whether or not they want unions to represent them only seems fair “at first blush” has no business at the NRLB, or anywhere near government authority in labor matters in general.
With Nelson joining the GOP filibuster on Becker, the nomination is all but dead. The White House had intended on sounding out Scott Brown to see if the newest Senator from Massachusetts would want an opportunity to demonstrate some independence, but Nelson makes that a moot point. Democrats would have to flip two Republicans now, which would be unlikely while one or more Democrats flip the other way.
The more interesting question is why Nelson flipped, and flipped so late. After all, Becker’s nomination has been around a while. The Obama administration announced it almost a year ago, and Becker’s nomination cleared the Senate HELP Committee in October, with two Republican votes in support (Murkowski and Enzi). John McCain put a hold on Becker immediately to slow down the process. Four months later, Nelson flips. Why?
Nelson represents a Right to Work state, as his statement above notes, and mandatory unionization won’t sit well with Nebraskans. But it’s more than that. The Cornhusker Kickback he got in trade for his cloture vote angered his constituents, most of whom detest the ObamaCare bill. Nelson has been called a sellout and worse, and he desperately needs to show some independence from Obama if he wants to stand any chance of getting re-elected in 2012. Unfortunately, this won’t be high profile enough to undo the damage, although it does come at a good time for the GOP regarding the stop of radical unionization.