Brown arriving in Senate a week early; Dems scramble 

With Republican Sen.-elect Scott Brown of Massachusetts headed to Washington to be sworn in Thursday -- a week earlier than expected -- Democrats were scrambling to push through union-friendly nominees for key posts in the Obama administration.

Brown asked Massachusetts election officials to certify his win immediately and now he is expected to be sworn in during an afternoon ceremony. He will become the chamber's 41st Republican, which will give the party enough votes to block controversial nominees like Craig Becker, President Obama's pick to fill one of three vacancies on the National Labor Relations Board -- someone who businesses fear will be able to implement pro-union changes that Democrats couldn't achieve through legislation.

Labor unions, which poured significant amounts of money and time into getting President Obama elected, had anticipated last year that Congress would quickly pass a bill allowing unions to organize a company's work force without a secret-ballot vote. But sufficient support for the bill never materialized in the Senate.

Republicans and pro-business groups fear Becker could push implementation of so called "card check" provisions in his role on the NLRB.

Becker, who is the former top lawyer for the Service Employees International Union and the AFL-CIO, wrote in a 1993 journal article that union rules should be re-drafted to favor labor and shrink the rights of employers.

"Mr. Becker has been a strong advocate of the Employee Free Choice Act and is likely to effect similar changes at the board level that cannot currently be achieved in Congress," said Denise Gold, associate general counsel for labor and employment law at the Association of General Contractors.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers also oppose Becker's nomination.

Becker told senators at a hearing on Tuesday that he would not use his position to alter labor laws in opposition to business groups and said his 1993 article was meant to be "provocative and to ask fundamental questions in order for scholars and others to re-evaluate."

A committee vote on Becker could happen Thursday, after which the full Senate can consider his nomination.

Brown aides won't say whether Brown would cast his first vote for or against Becker, but the looming vote on his nomination is one of the reasons Brown is anxious to quickly take his seat.

Republicans complained on Monday when Democrats put forward the nomination of Patricia Smith to become the Labor Department's next top lawyer. Smith cleared a key procedural hurdle in the Senate on Monday with exactly 60 Democratic votes.

Smith is a former commissioner of the New York State labor department, where she developed a pro-union program aimed at improving labor-law compliance.

"The concern is that she wouldn't be an impartial advocate in her position of solicitor and would put a heavy thumb on the scale in favor of the unions," said James Sherk a labor policy scholar at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank.

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