In a move sure to draw fire from Republican lawmakers and segments of the business community, President Obama on Saturday issued recess appointments to place controversial candidates on the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”) and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”). Presidents have constitutional authority to fill vacancies without the advice and consent of the Senate when Congress is in recess, as it is now.
Becker Appointed To NLRB
The President filled two of the three vacant seats on the NLRB with Democratic nominees Craig Becker and Mark Pearce. The President cited the need to promote “the basic functioning of government” as the reason for issuing the appointments. However, he chose not to appoint Republican Brian Hayes, whose uncontroversial nomination has been pending along with those of Becker and Pearce, to fill the remaining vacancy. As a result, the NLRB is still not fully constituted.
By statute the NLRB is to have five members. Traditionally, three of the members come from the sitting president’s political party and the other two are from the other party. However, the Board has been functioning for more than two years with only two members–its Chairperson Wilma Liebman (Democrat) and member Peter Schaumber (Republican). The two have decided more than 500 cases. The authority of the NLRB to decide cases with only two members was the subject of an argument before the U.S. Supreme Court just last week. All parties to the case agreed that the Board had the statutory authority to act if it had three or more sitting members.
Before leaving Washington for a two-week, post-healthcare debate recess, 41 Senators, all Republicans, wrote the President requesting that he not issue a recess appointment to Mr. Becker. Twenty business groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, echoed the sentiments of the Senate Republicans.
Becker’s nomination has been hotly contested since it was announced last fall, as a result of what some call his “extreme” views about the union selection process. Because of that controversy, just before the Christmas 2009 recess, Senator McCain exercised his Senatorial privilege to put Becker’s nomination on hold, although Republicans and Democrats indicated that the nominations of both Pearce and Hayes would be approved without significant debate. However, the President did not seek a vote on Pearce or Hayes at that time.
Mr. Becker will leave his post as counsel for the Service Employees International Union (“SEIU”) to take his seat on the NLRB; he will remain a Board member until his recess appointment runs out at the end of 2011. With a 3-to-1 pro-labor majority and with no particular timetable for action on Mr. Hayes’ nomination, the NLRB is poised to reverse numerous decisions made by the Bush appointed Board on a number of controversial issues.
As we have written in this column on several occasions, Mr. Becker’s views are of grave concern to many in the business community. For example, Mr. Becker opposes participation by employers in the process by which employees decide whether to choose union representation. Becker does not believe that employers should be allowed to express an opinion, provide any relevant information to their employees, or otherwise participate in the process in any way.
It is difficult to tell whether Becker’s appointment signals the President’s intent to defer action on the so-called Employee Free Choice Act (“EFCA”). Some will speculate that the appointment indicates a compromise between the President and Andy Stern, who runs the SEIU and has visited the White House more than anyone else in the last year. Stern is a staunch supporter of both EFCA and his employee, Mr. Becker. The President and Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis have repeated their support for passage of EFCA. However, the proposed law, which would eliminate the right of employees to vote on the question of union representation, has been mired in controversy since the President took office. Like health care reform legislation, it may require the President to muster all forces at his command to get it passed.
Becker has made clear his view that the NLRB can engage in both rule making and rule changing, which could accomplish much of what EFCA is designed to do without Congressional action. By failing to appoint Hayes, the NLRB now has a decidedly pro-labor majority which could enact sufficient changes to the union selection process to allow the President to avoid the firestorm which would accompany the debate over EFCA.
Feldblum Appointed To EEOC
The President also announced that he would use recess appointments to fill slots on the EEOC with controversial Georgetown University law professor Chai Feldblum, Jacqueline A. Berrien, Victoria A. Lipnic, and David Lopez.
The appointment of Feldblum drew immediate criticism from conservative Republicans. Feldblum, who will be the first openly gay member of the EEOC, is best known for her support of the rights movement for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (“LGBT”) persons. She helped craft the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (“ENDA”), which would prohibit discrimination against employees on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity by civilian non-religious employers with 15 or more employees.
The EEOC nominees were approved by a Senate committee in early December, but their confirmation vote was put on indefinite hold by Senate Republicans who viewed Feldblum and other Obama nominees as too extreme. Supporters of the President’s move to exercise the recess appointment option cite the EEOC’s backlog of discrimination claims and the current absence of a quorum needed to effectively address claims. In a statement issued with the recess appointments, President Obama said, “The United States Senate has the responsibility to approve or disapprove of my nominees. But if, in the interest of scoring political points, Republicans in the Senate refuse to exercise that responsibility, I must act in the interest of the American people and exercise my authority to fill these positions on an interim basis.”
Recess appointments last until the end of the next session of Congress. The White House announced, however, that the nominees will remain in the Senate for confirmation by regular procedures.