NLRB Nominees: Loading the Dice in Favor of Labor Unions

How would you like to play a game where everytime you threw the dice you were unlikely to win because you had been given a pair of “loaded” dice? (click for the meaning of this idiom.) You probably would not want to play anymore. But what if you had no chance? What if it was the only game in town? And what if your previous wins with the non-loaded dice were going to be set aside because you were not playing under the new rules?

Well that is the scenario that is being set up with the new nominees for the National Labor Relations Board. The NLRB is made up of 5 members. Three of them generally are generally appointees of the party controlling the White House. So in this case that would be three Democratic nominees and two Republican nominees. Currently there are only two appointed members serving. One was a Bush nominee and one was a Clinton nominee. The Clinton nominee, Wilma Liebman was Obama’s  for the position of Chair of the NLRB. The Bush appointee is Peter Schaumber. The remaining two Democrat nominees are Mark Pearce and Craig Becker. Craig Becker in particular has become a lighting rod for controversy. A Republican nominees has yet to be named.

To help understand why this controversy exists let us compare the backgrounds of the current members and nominees.

  • Peter Schaumber: Prior to his appointment as a member of the Board, Mr. Schaumber practiced as a labor arbitrator serving on a number of industry panels and through national arbitration rosters. Mr. Schaumber began his legal career as an Assistant Corporation Counsel for the District of Columbia. Subsequently, he was appointed Assistant United States Attorney for the District of Columbia and served in that office’s Criminal and Civil Divisions. Upon leaving the United States Attorney’s Office, he became Senior Trial Attorney and Associate Director of a Law Department Division in the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. Upon leaving government service, Mr. Schaumber entered private law practice in Washington, D.C. and was director of his firm’s Litigation Department. His practice included a wide range of trial and appellate civil litigation
  • Wilma Liebman: Prior to joining the NLRB, Ms. Liebman served for two years as Deputy Director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS). She acted as the chief operations officer of this federal agency, overseeing arbitration, alternative dispute resolution, international affairs and labor-management cooperation grants programs. In addition, Ms. Liebman advised the FMCS Director on issues involving major labor disputes and participated in significant negotiations as needed.
    From 1994-1996, Ms. Liebman served as Special Assistant to the Director of FMCS. In this role, she was a key member of the Mediator Task Force on the Future of FMCS, an 18-member employee group charged with articulating a vision and recommendations to lead the Agency into the 21st century. Prior to joining FMCS in January 1994, Ms. Liebman was Labor Counsel for the Bricklayers and Allied Craftsmen from 1990 through 1993. She served as Legal Counsel to the International Brotherhood of Teamsters for nine years and as staff attorney with the NLRB from 1974 to 1980.
  • Mark Pearce: Pearce has been a labor lawyer for his entire career. He is one of the founding partners of the Buffalo, New York law firm of Creighton, Pearce, Johnsen & Giroux where he practices union side labor and employment law before state and federal courts and agencies including the N.Y.S. Public Employment Relations Board, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the U.S. Department of Labor, and the National Labor Relations Board. In 2008 was appointed by the NYS Governor to serve as a Board Member on the New York State Industrial Board of Appeals, an independent quasi-judicial agency responsible for review of certain rulings and compliance orders of the NYS Department of Labor in matters including wage and hour law.
  • Craig Becker: Becker currently serves as Associate General Counsel to both the Service Employees International Union and the American Federation of Labor & Congress of Industrial Organizations. He has published numerous articles on labor and employment law in scholarly journals, including the Harvard Law Review and Chicago Law Review, and has argued labor and employment cases in virtually every federal court of appeals and before the United States Supreme Court.

The emphases in each bio are mine. The one current Republican nominee was an arbitrator. Arbitrators are known for carefully guarding their reputations for being unbiased so they can decide cases without bias. Pearce has practiced UNION side law his entire career. Liebman, did work for the Federal Mediation and Concilliation Service, which is a plus, but was an attorney for TWO different unions. And Becker is CURRENTLY on the payroll of arguably the most powerful union in the country, the SEIU, as well as acting as council for the AFL-CIO. Becker is well known for writing many papers indicating that UNION will always win if he has anything to do with it. (Follow these links to Shopfloor and the National Right To Work committee to see business’ view of Becker.)
Republican Senators are adamently opposed to Becker’s appointment, and Senator John McCain in particular has moved to oppose his appointment. Political wrangling may end up seeing Becker’s nomination being used as a bargaining chip in the final determination of various labor friendly bills currently pending in Congress. The appointment of this board as it stands will potentially have as much an effect on the labor picture in the U.S. as the passage of any bill such as EFCA or RESPECT. The opportunity for this potential board to over turn 8 years of NLRB decisions will significantly alter the labor picture for companies of all shapes and sizes both union and non-union alike.
So stay tuned Bunky! The road may get rough.

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