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Brouhaha over Becker’s NLRB nomination

While nominees to the National Labor Relations Board have historically faced a low key and drama-free road to confirmation, recently it seems nothing involving the NLRB is without controversy. And the nomination of Craig Becker, President Barack Obama’s pick to fill one the three vacancies on the Board, is no exception.

As you know, the normally five-member board has operated with only two members for more than two years. And the validity of opinions the Board has issued since January 2008 are now in question, and the Supreme Court is set to decide if the rulings were made by a properly constituted quorum.

President Bush’s nominees to fill the vacancies stalled in the Democratic-controlled Senate. And now Becker’s nomination is facing strong opposition by Republicans and business groups who say the former attorney for the Service Employees International Union and AFL-CIO would usher in anti-business policies.

As Becker appeared at a hearing held on his nomination yesterday – the first time in 17 years that a hearing has been called to vet a NLRB nominee – The U.S. Chamber of Commerce blasted Senate Democrats, accusing them of trying to jam Becker’s nomination through before the Senate’s newest Republican, Sen.-elect Scott Brown, is seated.

“For the first time since 1993, the Chamber is taking the unusual step of opposing a nominee to the NLRB,” said a statement from Randel K. Johnson, the Chamber’s vice president for Labor, Immigration, and Employee Benefits. “It would be an egregious mistake and would set a dangerous precedent for the Senate to push this nomination through during a lame-duck period. The NLRB has the ability to unduly increase union power and leverage it without intervention by Congress. Confirming Becker will tilt the balance in labor law dramatically in favor of union special interests.”

Sen. Tom Harkin, the Democratic chairman of the Senate committee vetting Becker’s nomination, said Democrats have given GOP members what they want.

“We are here, today, to take the rather unusual step of holding a hearing on a nominee for the National Labor Relations Board,” Harkin said at the hearing.  “It has not been the standard practice of this Committee to hold hearings on NLRB nominations…However, my colleagues on the other side of the aisle have requested a hearing.  And while I am reluctant to further prolong the consideration of an obviously well-qualified nominee, I was willing to accommodate that request because I think the work of the NLRB is tremendously important and deserves this Committee’s attention.”

But Republicans including Sen. John McCain grilled Becker over issues such as card check elections and how Becker would handle cases involving the unions he worked for in the past.

Becker said he would rule fairly and recuse himself when necessary. “I will abide, Sen. McCain, with the terms of that pledge scrupulously, and as I indicated, if any other matters come up outside of the scope of that pledge where any party might think that I might not be impartial, I will consider the matter…. and if necessary recuse myself from those cases,” he said.

“That’s not good enough,” McCain replied.

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