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14_Latest News - February 2010

14_February 19, 2010
Unions Push White House to Appoint Becker by Melanie Trottman and Kris Maher


Leaders of some big unions are pushing the White House to appoint former union lawyer Craig Becker to the National Labor Relations Board despite the failure of his nomination in the Senate, as they try to salvage what they can of their legislative and regulatory agenda ahead of the 2010 elections.

"I think he should be appointed. I think a majority should rule here, and I hope the president takes it under strong consideration," said Service Employees International Union President Andy Stern in an interview Wednesday.

United Steelworkers President Leo Gerard also wanted a so-called recess appointment—which bypasses the requirement for Senate confirmation—for Mr. Becker, and warned Democrats Thursday that failure to move on labor priorities could cost them in the 2010 elections. "If we don't get meaningful progress, it will be hard to get people out for the election," Mr. Gerard said. "Lots of people who worked real hard in '08 don't have a job right now."

Mr. Becker, who worked for the SEIU and the AFL-CIO, won 52 votes in a Senate vote Tuesday, but that was short of the 60 needed to overcome a Republican-led filibuster. Two Democrats, Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Sen. Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, voted no. The vote further dimmed the chances that the Senate would move on a top labor priority, the Employee Free Choice Act, which would make it easier for unions to organize workers.

The White House hasn't said whether it would try to seat Mr. Becker by appointing him while Congress was in recess. But the administration is trying to reassure labor allies. "We will work with our allies and with Congress to help restore balance to the federal government on behalf of working people," the White House said Wednesday.

In the aftermath of the defeat, union officials said they would press harder on the Labor Department and the NLRB to enforce existing rules protecting workers' rights.

"We will be pushing for stepped-up enforcement at the labor board and the labor department, such as cracking down on wage and hour abuses, health and safety violations, and efforts to thwart union organizing," said Bill Samuel, legislative director for labor federation AFL-CIO, which represents 57 unions. "We hope the president will use the bully pulpit to criticize employers that are violating the basic rights of workers."

Union leaders said they would look for other ways to get some of the results they had hoped for from the Employee Free Choice Act. "We need to find ways in our country for American workers to get a raise," said the SEIU's Mr. Stern. "If the Employee Free Choice Act as it is written is not going to be the vehicle to do that, we are not going to stop looking for ways to make sure people get raises and have choices," he said.

Among the proposals unions have on their agenda: a jobs bill and legislation that would require employers to give workers time off to deal with their own or others' health needs.

Some business groups are concerned about the prospect of more aggressive enforcement actions by the Labor Department. They point to the recent confirmation of Patricia Smith as the department's solicitor, the agency' No. 3 post. Strongly supported by unions, she gained a reputation as a tough labor commissioner of New York state known for vigorous enforcement of rules for minimum wage and overtime pay. In her first year on the job, she collected 37% more in wage underpayments and 20% more in fines than in the prior year.

"The danger there is that the enforcement gets targeted on companies that are being targeted by unions for organizing," said Dan Yager, chief policy officer of the HR Policy Association, a Washington business group.

Unions will also look for more federal spending on infrastructure projects that can benefit the building trades unions, labor experts said.




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