Jan 31, 2013
On Jan. 25, three members of the federal appeals court for the District of Columbia Circuit invalidated President Obama’s three recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board made in January 2012. We’re just beginning to realize the consequences of that action, and the potential harm to millions of workers. How did this happen? The blame falls on the broken Senate rules that allow Senators to block nominations to agencies like the NLRB and judicial appointments.
The D.C. circuit court is missing a few judges, thanks to the broken Senate rules and the determination of a few Republican Senators to block nearly every judicial nomination made by President Obama. The decision itself disregards 190 years of precedent as to how a president may fill vacant jobs.
President Obama made the three recess appointments – two Democratic members and one Republican – to keep the NLRB functioning. From January 2008 to March 2010, the NLRB was operating with just two members. Why: because new members could not be confirmed under the broken Senate rules that allow obstruction at every turn. The Board issued about 600 decisions on cases where they could agree; other cases were set aside. In June 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the two-member Board did not have the authority to decide cases.
Some Republican Senators continue to see this as an opportunity to keep the NLRB from ever acting on workplace disputes, and the broken Senate rules makes this possible.
The NLRB is the only path that workers have to any degree of workplace justice. Last week’s decision again blocks workers from the justice they are due. The latest example: the 23 Cablevision/Optimum workers who were illegally locked out and fired just yesterday. The only way to fix this, the only path to justice for workers, is to get those NLRB members confirmed by the U.S. Senate. But too many Senate Republicans will block that, because they want to make the Board completely powerless and ineffective.
Workers who have been vindicated by the Board, following years of struggle against employers with deep pockets and expensive legal teams, are at best in limbo and at worst, likely to lose everything they rightfully deserve. Because obstruction is the rule in the U.S. Senate, justice is delayed and wrongly denied for millions of Americans. That’s not what democracy looks like.