The Obama administration has turned the nation’s top labor dispute board into a bastion of pro-union activism, according to a House report.
A House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform investigation revealed that the National Labor Relations Board, an independent arbiter of labor disputes, has demonstrated "strong pro-union bias" over the past three years.
Internal emails from political appointees and staffers revealed a heavily pro-union culture, according to several internal communications obtained by the committee. In one instance, NLRB’s Associate General Counsel Barry Kearney couched the legal fight between the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) and airplane maker Boeing Company in patriotic terms.
"Hooray for the red, white and blue," he said after reading a union press release.
He was not the only staffer or appointee who appeared to take sides after the NLRB filed a complaint against the aerospace company for attempting to relocate a factory from Washington State to South Carolina, a right-to-work state.
"Let the games begin," one staffer said in an email upon receiving Boeing’s NLRB response.
NLRB attorneys were in communication with union attorneys leading up to the complaint. A board lawyer reassured an IAM representative that "[Acting General Counsel] Lafe [Solomon] is thinking about it."
"The NLRB … may have brought the complaint against Boeing to induce a settlement," the House report states.
The board later withdrew its complaint against the company amid a political firestorm, but its staff appeared satisfied that they had advanced the union’s interest. Boeing eventually struck a new collective bargaining agreement with IAM after several rounds of contentious negotiations. NLRB staffers greeted the news with "jubilance and excitement," according to the report.
"A huge event for the [NLRB], this [Seattle] area and the labor movement," Richard Ahearn, the board’s Seattle regional director, said in an email.
The agency’s inspector general identified several instances in which Solomon violated ex parte separation rules by communicating with board members and public relations staffers about the Boeing case and he has been accused of participating in a case in which he held a financial interest.
Republicans say the NLRB acts simply as an extension of labor interests. President Barack Obama has appointed a number of former union attorneys to sit on the board, including several recess appointments that are being challenged in court.
Obama appointed Richard Griffin, Jr., Sharon Block, and Terence Flynn to the board in January without congressional approval. The administration has argued that the three controversial nominations fell under his recess authority; however, Congress was not in recess for the requisite three days at the time.
The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments on the matter on Dec. 5. If the court finds the recess appointments unconstitutional, dozens of NLRB decisions made since Griffin, Block, and Flynn took office would be struck down.
NLRB Chairman Mark Gaston Pearce has brushed off the legal controversy.
"We presume the constitutionality of the president’s appointments and we go forward based on that understanding," he told reporters in the aftermath of the recess controversy.