Labor lawyer Craig Becker’s nomination by President Barack Obama to the National Labor Relations Board nomination was stopped dead in its tracks last year by a decisive bipartisan vote in the Senate against confirmation. Chief among the reasons senators opposed Becker were his views on using government agencies to advance union organizing and expanding the political and legal power of the major national union organizations for which he previously served as counsel, the AFL-CIO and the SEIU.
An outspoken supporter of card check — the union-backed proposal to abolish secret ballots in workplace representation elections — Becker had helped litigate a case that effectively would have done just that. So Obama gave Becker a recess appointment to the NLRB, which soon began adopting policies designed to circumvent the use of secret ballots, with or without congressional passage of card check. For the record, the 111th Congress was never able to approve a card-check bill, and it is now considered a legislative dead-letter with the Republican takeover of the House of Representatives.
Becker’s recess appointment expires Dec. 31, so Obama has again nominated Becker to a full term on the NLRB. The Becker renomination immediately drew calls for its withdrawal by Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., and Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. In a letter to Obama, Enzi and Hatch noted that since joining the NLRB, Becker has led the Board to reopen and reverse settled decisions, made discrete cases a launching point for broad changes to current labor law, and used an 18-year-old petition to initiate a rulemaking proposal that likely exceeds the Boards statutory authority.
Last year, Rep. Darrell Issa, the then-ranking member on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, asked the NLRB inspector general to investigate whether Becker had violated his ethics pledge to recuse himself from any matter involving former employers or clients. Becker has recused himself from one case, but has participated in at least 17 NLRB rulings and decisions involving locals of his former employer, the SEIU. Becker ruled against those affiliates in only one case. However, the NLRB’s inspector general bought Becker’s argument that he can rule on cases involving local SEIU chapters because they are allegedly distinct entities from the national union — never mind that the SEIU’s constitution says the national union has “jurisdiction over its affiliated bodies and all Local Unions.”
Becker’s renomination is futile, as Republicans have even more senators in the 112th Congress than they did in the previous Congress that rejected the Obama nominee. But putting Becker up again gives Obama’s Big Labor allies a useful propaganda tool to help stir up the rank and file in preparation for the 2012 campaign.
The SEIU alone spent $129 million in the last two elections, virtually all of which went to electing Obama and his fellow Democrats. Now that Issa is chairman of the oversight panel and has subpoena power, Becker’s conflicts of interest deserve a serious congressional examination.