POLITICS
07/16/2013 06:31 pm ET Updated Jul 17, 2013

Senate Filibuster Deal A Mixed Victory For Unions As Nominees Get 'Thrown Under The Bus'

WASHINGTON -- Labor unions greeted news of the Senate filibuster deal between Republicans and Democrats as a qualified victory on Tuesday, happy to see the National Labor Relations Board on a path toward normalcy but disappointed to see its two pending nominees tossed out in the process.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) had threatened to deploy the so-called nuclear option -- a procedural maneuver designed to force an up-down vote -- in order to put an end to the GOP filibuster of seven of President Barack Obama's nominees. Republicans had refused to budge on two of Obama's nominees to the NLRB, current board members Sharon Block and Richard Griffin, arguing that they had been serving illegitimately through Obama's contested recess appointments.

The deal brokered Tuesday requires the White House to put forth two new nominees -- already rumored to be Nancy Schiffer, former AFL-CIO associate general counsel, and Kent Hirozawa, current chief counsel to the labor board chair -- with Republicans promising to give the replacements a vote. This piece of the deal clears the way for a functioning labor board -- without new appointments, the body would lose its quorum next month when the current chairman's term expires, leaving it unable to issue decisions and enforce labor law. Yet, the deal also sacrifices two nominees who, even by Republican accounts, were qualified for those jobs.

Larry Cohen, president of the Communications Workers of America union, said on Tuesday that Block and Griffin were "definitely thrown under the bus" in the Senate negotiations.

"And I can tell you that's definitely how they feel," Cohen said, calling the opposition to Block and Griffin "a vicious, unprecedented attack on two people without saying they ever did anything wrong."

"We're not going to dress this is up," Cohen added. "These are two casualties who served their country magnificently."

In addition to GOP leadership, Cohen blamed what he described as "three or four" unnamed Democrats who he believed paved the way for the arrangement requiring the removal of Block and Griffin. While Cohen praised Reid as "magnificent and near-perfect" in the negotiations, he called that particular piece of the deal "a disgrace" for the Democrats who helped make it happen.

In a statement, Service Employees International Union President Mary Kay Henry called the deal a "step toward this goal" of a functioning NLRB. But she also said Block and Griffin were victims of the process.

"Two highly qualified nominees," she said, "were unfairly used as political pawns in the debate over Senate rules."

The AFL-CIO declined to comment on the Senate arrangement.

Republicans had called for Griffin and Block to step down months ago. But until this week, unions and Democrats had stood steadfast behind the nominees, noting that few if any Republicans seem to object to the pair on their merits.

Republicans' main problem with Block and Griffin seemed to be that the two have continued to serve while the Supreme Court waits to address the constitutionality of their appointments. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), ranking member of the Senate committee that oversees the NLRB, even said, "I don’t doubt that these two individuals are qualified nominees."

As of Monday night, labor officials were telling HuffPost that they maintained the same position: Block and Griffin must remain the nominees. But at some point on Tuesday, it became clear that the board members would be cast aside in a deal that would ultimately leave a little something for everyone. Republicans could say they got the recess appointments removed as they'd demanded, and organized labor could say they got a functioning labor board with clean appointments -- assuming the Senate actually confirms them as planned.

"There is some joy here," Cohen said.

UPDATE: On Tuesday night, the White House announced that it had formally submitted Schiffer and Hirozawa's names to the Senate for confirmation.

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