On Tuesday, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) held a hearing on the nomination of Craig Becker to be a member of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). During this hearing, Becker – Associate General Counsel to both the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the American Federation of Labor & Congress of Industrial Organizations – tried to distance himself from the controversial positions he has taken in his scholarly writings, and assure committee members that he would be impartial Board member.
In his opening statement, HELP Committee Chairman Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) acknowledged that much of the controversy surrounding Becker’s nomination stems from his academic writings that have taken a critical approach to existing labor law. As mentioned by Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) – standing in for ranking minority member Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) – Becker’s scholarly work advocated a new body of representation election rules to limit employer involvement, including the holding of so-called “captive audience” meetings. Becker told the Committee that these statements, as part of scholarly writings, were intended to be provocative, and that his stance on these issues as a member of the NLRB would be one of impartiality. In his statement, (pdf) Becker said: “I fully understand that, if confirmed, I will have a duty to implement the intent of Congress as expressed in the law, to consider impartially all views appropriately expressed to the Board. . .”
Isakson also sought assurances from Becker that he would respect current law, and would not try to make the dramatic changes included in the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) through the NLRB. To back up his concerns, Isakson brought up the recent proposed rule by the National Mediation Board (NMB) that seeks to change 75 years of representation election policy by basing the election outcome on the majority of those who actually vote instead of the long-held policy of basing the results on the majority of employees eligible to vote. Isakson said that before confirming two nominees to the current NMB, they assured him that they would take time to consider and investigate any potential change in policy. Instead, he claims, the NMB proposed the new election policy within two weeks of confirmation. During his testimony, Becker acknowledged that any changes to election certification rests with Congress, not with the NLRB.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) – the senator whose hold on Becker’s nomination forced the Senate to return his nomination to the White House for reconsideration – asked whether Becker would recuse himself if a mattering involving Becker’s current employer, the SEIU, came before the NLRB. In response, Becker said that he would do so for two years after his confirmation, an answer that McCain deemed “not good enough.” McCain also questioned Becker about his involvement in extending collective bargaining rights to homecare workers in Chicago. Becker explained that at one point he did counsel then-Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich and his staff regarding legislation on this topic.
The HELP Committee is scheduled to vote on Becker’s nomination at 10:00 on Thursday. Assuming Becker’s nomination is approved by this committee, it is expected that his proponents will try to send his nomination to the Senate floor for a final vote before Republican Scott Brown is sworn in on February 11 in an attempt to prevent a potential filibuster of the nomination.