Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Will Recess Appointment Mean School Is Out?

Over two years ago unionized newsroom employees of the Santa Barbara News-Press and their supporters had extra reason to celebrate the advent of the New Year. After all, an administrative law judge had just ruled that the paper's owner, Wendy McCaw, had wrongfully fired eight of her reporters and that the fired reporters were entitled to get their jobs back. Surely, reinstatement was just around the corner.

What immediately followed the sound of the last popping of the cork on the champagne bottle was pretty much dead silence. (If this website had sound, this is the point where you would hear crickets chirping in the background.)

Nope, no reinstatement, no triumphant returns from exile to the building where they once toiled. The wrongfully fired reporters have waited and waited and waited. The hang-up: A National Labor Relations Board that, due to vacancies, only had two members and hence was unable to dispose of McCaw's inevitable appeal of the administrative law judge's decision.

There was a glimmer of hope nearly a year ago when President Obama announced his nominees to fill the vacancies on the NLRB. One of those nominees proved to be quite controversial when Republicans portrayed union lawyer Craig Becker as a "pro-labor radical."

In their letter to the president, they wrote that Becker, “could not be viewed as impartial, unbiased or objective” in labor board cases. Becker at the time of his appointment last April, was associate general counsel for the Service Employees International Union. A law review article he wrote, saying that employers should not have a voice in unionization elections, angered many businesses and Republicans.

Becker's nomination would eventually be blocked by a filibuster in February. The successful filibuster must have made the fired newsroom employees feel like they were destined to serve a life sentence.

Perhaps now that life sentence in limbo has been commuted. Over the weekend, as Congress went on a recess, President Obama appointed Becker to the NLRB while also choosing a second member for the labor board so that four of its five slots will be filled. The "recess appointment" will enable the new appointees to serve without Senate confirmation until the chamber adjourns at the end of 2011 or when a person is nominated and confirmed to the job, whichever comes first. Obama’s action, in defiance of the Republicans, was hailed by union leaders.

According to an article last year in the Las Vegas Sun, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney said Becker and the other nominee, Mark Pearce, “understand the importance of workers’ rights, collective bargaining and the need to restore balance to the National Labor Relations Board.”

Of the recess appointment, Sen. John McCain was quoted as saying, "This is clear payback by the administration to organized labor."

Sounds like the battle has been joined to me.

The new appointees are expected to begin work over the next week.

If they want a suggestion as to what pending matter they should start with, I would invite them to give someone here in Santa Barbara a call.

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Edhat, in an experiment, is now letting its readers discuss non-local issues. That's kind of a big deal because it's a departure from the policy that news items submitted to Edhat must have a Santa Barbara connection. The non-local news page is separate from the local news page.

Check it out. Maybe you'll find a link to an article or two of mine.

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