05/16/2013 04:23 pm ET Updated Jul 16, 2013

Give Us Five: A Fully Functioning NLRB Needs All Five Members

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The Senate is dysfunctional. That's not news to anyone following the long list of agency and judiciary nominations that are going nowhere.

That might be okay for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and its allies, which prefer that agencies like the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau don't function. Or that important courts like the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals limp along as qualified candidates to that federal court can't get a confirmation vote.

But it makes no sense for our democracy. And it will do a great deal of harm to our country.

Case in point: Workers have lost the vital safeguards because of the dysfunctional Senate's reluctance to confirm five members of the National Labor Relations Board. Since earlier this year, a growing number of corporations have seized on a DC Circuit decision that found President Barack Obama's recess appointments unconstitutional and are using it as an excuse to reject and block previous NLRB decisions. Workers at Starbucks, CNN, Domino's Pizza and many more have now lost the protections of the law.

The NLRB is the only agency that enforces workplace rights for more than 80 million employed in the private sector. That's why workers, whether they're in a union or not, are saying, "Give Us Five" and confirm all five nominations to the NLRB. Working people know what's at stake. They know that even under the best circumstances, justice is hard to come by. Now, the Senate is making it virtually impossible for workers to gain the justice they deserve. And what does that say about our democracy?

The Senate majority has all the tools it needs to make sure that workers' rights are protected and labor law is fairly enforced. The Senate Democratic majority must adopt rules that allow for an up or down vote for these nominees. That's what democracy looks like, not obstructionism, not games playing, not valuing Senate "decorum" over the responsibility to constituents to get the people's business done.

The corporate agenda of obstructionism is all too real. For weeks, big corporate law firms have been lobbying hard on Capitol Hill, leading the fight for a split NLRB -- two Republicans and two Democrats. If the goal is to make sure that workers have absolutely no protection under federal labor law, this is a fine solution.

But that's not the function of the NLRB. Since 1935, the NLRB has worked to resolve workplace issues by taking on both employee and employer complaints, then issuing decisions that have the weight of law. We don't need a do-nothing agency. Workers are entitled to the protections of the law, and it's the function of the NLRB to enforce labor law, not ignore it.

Eight years ago, then-Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist threatened to change the Senate rules to get a basket of judicial nominations confirmed. Rule changes weren't made only because the nominations moved forward.

If the Senate fails to confirm all five members of the NLRB, there will be no rules or decisions that support the right of workers to improve their working conditions or have a union without facing employer harassment, discipline or termination.

The Senate majority can't allow that to happen. It must get these nominations confirmed, or change the Senate rules to make it happen.

Today, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions committee is holding a hearing on the pending nominations to the NLRB.

Give us five, by confirming a full, functioning, and yes, bipartisan NLRB.