Politics & Policy

Obama’s Union Point Man

Inset: NLRB appointee Richard Griffin
NLRB appointee Richard Griffin is a reward for union bosses.

On January 4, President Obama took the unprecedented step of declaring the Senate to be in recess — although the Senate considered itself to be in session — so that he could install several appointees in key positions at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). While a lot of attention has been focused on the procedural defect of these appointments (correctly, as I’ve explained), there has been far too little attention paid to the most radical of these appointees: Richard Griffin.

Unlike Obama’s appointment of Richard Cordray, which was announced to a frighteningly enthusiastic crowd at an Ohio rally, the Griffin appointment was done quietly, in a written announcement. The appointment was a direct reward for the union bosses who made an enormous contribution to Obama’s 2008 campaign and will be critical to his reelection effort.

#ad#It was also a response to the administration’s failure to get card-check legislation passed.

As longtime union organizer Stewart Acuff put it: “If we aren’t able to pass the Employee Free Choice Act, we will work with President Obama and Vice President Biden and their appointees to the National Labor Relations Board to change the rules governing forming a union through administrative action.”

In 2010, Obama used a legitimate recess appointment to install radical union lawyer Craig Becker on the NLRB to do precisely what Acuff had suggested. And indeed, before Becker’s appointment expired at the end of last year, the NLRB made a number of new rules to tilt the playing field toward union bosses.

They greatly shortened the timetable for union elections to allow union organizers to ambush employers with surprise elections, approved so-called micro-unions to allow organizers to cherry-pick very narrow classes of workers, in order to get a foot in the door, and took away the right of workers to demand a secret-ballot election in cases where employers collude with union organizers to forego one.

But with a difficult reelection on the horizon that will depend heavily on support from union bosses, this year Obama took his union pandering to another level, installing Griffin with far less scrutiny than Becker received. There was no vetting of Griffin’s background. In fact, Obama named him as an appointee only on December 15, 2011 — less than three weeks before the Obama non-recess recess maneuver. He never went through the normal background check performed by the Senate. He never filled out the usual questionnaire, or met with any Republican senators.

Griffin has the dubious distinction of being the second board member ever (Becker was the first) to join the NLRB directly from a labor union. In Griffin’s case it’s the International Union of Operating Engineers, where he was general counsel. The IUOE is one of the most chronically corrupt unions in America, with ongoing criminal investigations against several of its locals and a history of criminal misconduct.

The IUOE is an especially autocratic union that has been criticized by union activists for imposing strict censorship on members who have the temerity to criticize union leadership on the Internet. Griffin justified the gag rule as necessary to protect the “union’s sensitive and/or confidential internal workings.” In truth, the order was designed to make it impossible for workers to successfully challenge their corrupt leadership. Griffin even threatened to fine union members for challenging the gag rule in court.

#page#In 1998 testimony to a House committee, Griffin argued for more expansive NLRB powers to order fines and other remedies, to enforce its decisions without a court order, and to allow unions to organize at single locations. Most significantly, in that testimony Griffin was asked whether unions and employers both engage in illegal conduct. He said: “The vast majority of illegal conduct is committed by employers, and therefore the vast majority of charges are addressed to employer conduct.” The chronic criminal behavior in his own IUOE, of course, strongly suggests otherwise.

#ad#Griffin will accelerate the NLRB’s illegitimate bureaucratic rewriting of our labor laws to tilt the playing field to union bosses. The losers will be not just the employers who are hamstrung by expensive new bureaucratic dictates, but also the workers forced into unions and into paying union dues against their will. Not to mention the workers who won’t find jobs at all in places where expensive NLRB dictates lead to plant closures or prevent plants from opening in the first place — or the consumers who suffer from all of this.

As Senate Republicans consider the tools available to them to challenge Obama’s illegitimate non-recess appointments, they should keep the focus squarely on the most dangerous beneficiary of those appointments: Richard Griffin.

— Phil Kerpen is vice president for policy at Americans for Prosperity and author of Democracy Denied: How Obama Is Ignoring You and Bypassing Congress to Radically Transform America — and How to Stop Him.

Phil Kerpen is president of American Commitment, a nationally syndicated columnist, chairman of the Internet Freedom Coalition, and author of Democracy Denied.

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