Grassroots mobilization overcomes Senate filibuster; NLRB nominees confirmed

The US Senate on July 30 confirmed all five nominees to the National Labor Relations Board ensuring that the NLRB will have a quorum and be fully functioning after August 27 when the terms of the current members expire.

A vote on the nominations had been held up for two years by a Republican filibuster.

“Most people had given up on a fully functioning NLRB,” said Yvette Herrera, CWA senior director to a national CWA union hall meeting held by teleconference.

Blocking the nominations and preventing the NLRB from having a fully functioning board and a quorum that could rule on thousands of pending cases involving worker rights at the workplace was a major priority of the US Chamber of Commerce and its business members, added Herrera.

But a grassroots mobilizing drive that included labor, environment, civil rights, and public interest groups succeeded in overturning the filibuster and bringing the nominations before the Senate for an up or down vote, said CWA President Larry Cohen to the union hall participants.

Republicans for two years used the rules of the Senate that allow individual Senators to anonymously block bills and other Senate business from a vote on the Senate floor to block the nomination of two NLRB nominees selected by President Obama: Sharon Block and Richard Griffin.

The President subsequently, appointed the two to the NLRB during a congressional recess, but a federal court ruled that the appointments were unconstitutional.

The two continued to serve on an interim basis, but without their confirmation by the Senate, their terms would have expired on August 27, and the NLRB would have no quorum and thus be unable to rule on pending cases.

In addition to Block and Griffin, the filibuster was also holding up the confirmation of Mark Pearce, the current NLRB chair whose term is about to expire, Harry Johnson III and Phillip Miscimarra, both of whom were appointed by Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, and presidential nominees to lead the Labor Department, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

It looked as if the Republican obstructionism would be successful, but in the spring, CWA began building a coalition to change the filibuster rules and allow a democratic vote on the presidential nominations.

The organized coalition became known as the Democracy Initiative, which in addition to the CWA originally included the NAACP, the Sierra Club, and Greenpeace.

The Democracy Initiative, which has now grown to about 60 like-minded organization, mobilized members to demand a democratic vote on the nominations being blocked.

Members phoned and e-mailed their senators, signed petitions, and met with senators in Washington and in their home states.

As a result of this effort, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid sought to change the interpretation of Senate rules that would have allowed a democratic vote on the nominations.

The change never took place, but in order to avoid the changes, a group of Republicans agreed to a compromise that would allow a vote.

Among other things, the Republicans willing to compromise demanded that the nomination of Block and Griffin be withdrawn; however, they agreed to allow a vote on two nominations chosen by President Obama.

“CWA doesn’t throw people under the buss,” said Cohen, “but with thousands of cases pending before the NLRB and so much at stake, Block and Griffin put the public interest ahead of their private interest and agreed to the deal.”

President Obama subsequently appointed Nancy Schiffer, a former associate general counsel for the AFL-CIO, and Kent Hirozawa, who has served as chairman Pearce’s counsel on the NLRB.

Schiffer, Hirozawa, Pearce, Johnson, and Miscimarra were all approved by the Senate on July 30.

During the union hall meeting, Cohen said that without a fully functioning NLRB board, there would be no one to enforce laws that protect workers’ right to organize and take collective action.

Cohen pointed to the Verizon strike in 2011 in which the company illegally fired 85 CWA members for their strike related activities. Without a board to rule against the company’s illegal actions, it’s unlikely that the fired workers would have gotten their jobs back.

More recently, Cablevision in Brooklyn fired 22 workers because of their union activity. CWA subsequently filed charges with the NLRB against Cablevision. An impending NLRB hearing and a mass mobilization effort that included Cablevision workers, community supporters, and elected officials resulted in all of the workers getting their jobs back.

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