The Senate moved forward with the nomination of controversial former union official Richard Griffin to be the chief prosecutor for the National Labor Relations Board on Tuesday.
The Senate voted 62 to 37 to end debate on Griffin’s nomination on Tuesday afternoon. The union attorney benefitted from arm-twisting from Senate Democrats, who threatened to bring the nuclear option back on the table if Griffin was not confirmed.
“As general counsel for the NLRB, [Griffin] will safeguard fair compensation and working conditions for all American workers,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) said on Tuesday. “We should … ensure highly qualified nominees receive the fair and speedy consideration they deserve.
Griffin, who is likely to be confirmed, will lead the department, advising enforcement action against businesses in labor disputes, recommending cases to the NLRB, and selecting regional directors at NLRB offices across the country.
NLRB counsel rulings are not subject to judicial review until a case reaches the board, meaning that Griffin’s decisions carry much weight into American labor policy.
Labor watchdogs expressed outrage that the Senate is moving forward.
Fred Wszolek, a spokesman with the Workforce Fairness Institute, said that Griffin’s appointment was a big victory for unions.
“This agency, with its unlimited authority, is supposed to be [made up of] judges in black robes presiding over labor policy objectively,” he said. “When you have a pro-Big Labor prosecutor like Griffin, businesses end up in the crosshairs.”
Griffin, a long-time official with the International Union of Operating Engineers, is no stranger to controversy.
President Obama used his recess appointment power to appoint him to serve as an NLRB board member in 2012. Multiple federal courts declared the appointment unconstitutional, forcing Obama to re-nominate Griffin and fellow board member Sharon Block in July.
Republicans opposed the re-nominations because Griffin and Block ignored the court rulings and continued to serve on the board. The GOP forced Obama to withdraw the nominations in July as part of the deal to avoid the nuclear option. The White House quickly nominated Griffin to serve as general counsel.
Sen. Tom Harkin (D., Iowa), who heads the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, praised Griffin’s expertise on the Senate floor on Monday evening.
“Mr. Griffin is exceptionally well-qualified for this position,” he said. “I have no doubt that he’ll do an outstanding job of enforcing our nation’s labor laws for workers, unions, and for employers.”
Wszolek said that Griffin’s appointment sends the wrong message to future presidents. The confirmation extends beyond labor policy, as the Supreme Court will review the constitutionality of his recess appointment next month.
“This guy thumbed his nose at the court,” he said. “It’s an affront to the institution of the Senate and an affront to its advise and consent power.”
Three Democrats and two Republicans comprise the NLRB board. Wszolek said that the scales could be tilted irreversibly in unions’ favor with Griffin serving as general counsel.
“I almost picture Griffin at his confirmation saying, ‘we have a fully functional Death Star,’” he said. “It will be too costly for businesses to fight against these odds. They’ll have to cave to the unions.”
Reid has yet to schedule Griffin’s floor vote.