Alexander: Obama Labor Board Nominee Has Caused “Mess of Confusion” for Tennessee Workers, Businesses

Asks nominee Sharon Block about upcoming board decisions: “If you were a Chattanooga VW worker, would you want your email address handed to union organizers?”

Posted on September 9, 2014


“I am concerned that the businesses and workers who count on the NLRB for stability are being asked to rely on the judgment of someone who chose instead to create confusion and instability.” –Lamar Alexander

Washington, D.C., September 9 – U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), the senior Republican on the Senate labor committee, today told President Obama’s nominee for the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), Sharon Block, that her previous unconstitutional appointment created “a mess of confusion” for Tennessee workers and employers who depend on the board to create stability in the workplace.

Block stayed on the board through July 2013, despite federal courts ruling that her appointment was unconstitutional, and despite repeated calls from Republican senators, including Alexander, for her to step down.

“I am concerned that the businesses and workers who count on the NLRB for stability are being asked to rely on the judgment of someone who chose instead to create confusion and instability,” Alexander said. “I am concerned too that in her time on the Board, Ms. Block has demonstrated a willingness to tilt the playing field towards organized labor.”

Block, whose appointment by President Obama in January 2012 was found unconstitutional in a unanimous decision this summer by the U.S. Supreme Court, was the subject of a committee hearing today after the president nominated her for a new term starting in December. The Supreme Court’s decision invalidated 436 board decisions in contested cases -- those decisions now must be re-decided.

Alexander asked Block about ongoing board issues, including an NLRB effort to require employers to provide union organizers with employees’ personal information: “In a secret ballot election last February, workers voted 712-626 to reject the United Auto Workers’ bid to unionize the plant. If you were one of the 712 employees who voted no, that you didn’t want to organize, would you want your boss to hand over your email address to the union organizers? What about your cell phone number? Your work location and shift details?”

Alexander explained that during an organizing effort, current law requires employers to provide union organizers with a list of employee names and addresses. The NLRB is in the middle of a regulatory effort to expand that to include employee telephone numbers, email addresses, work locations, shifts and job classifications.  “Seems like everything short of attaching a GPS to the coat of the employee,” Alexander said. 

Alexander also asked Block about an upcoming NLRB decision on the unionization of college athletes. “Do you believe that Congress, when it wrote the National Labor Relations Act, intended that the quarterback at Vanderbilt University or the woman’s basketball player at Iowa State who is on scholarship be considered an employee of the university?”

A regional office of the NLRB recently allowed Northwestern University football players to organize—that decision has been appealed to the full board. Alexander read from a 1991 Knight Commission report he helped write as president of the University of Tennessee: We reject the argument that the only realistic solution to the problem [of intercollegiate athletics] is to drop the student-athlete concept, put athletes on the payroll, and reduce or even eliminate their responsibilities as students. Such a scheme has nothing to do with education, the purpose for which colleges and universities exist. Scholarship athletes are already paid in the most meaningful way possible: with a free education.”

In his opening statement Alexander said that as the committee was meeting today, the National Labor Relations Board faces 436 decisions that it must re-decide because of the unconstitutional appointment.  “The D.C. Circuit said the appointments, including Ms. Block’s, were unconstitutional. The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals weighed in – said the recess appointment of Ms. Block violated the constitution. This summer, the Supreme Court unanimously said it was unconstitutional. The only people who seemed not to realize that were the president and the nominees themselves, including Ms. Block,” Alexander said.

Alexander said Block demonstrated a willingness to tilt the playing field toward organized labor during her time on the board. “This nominee would not be the first to tilt the playing field one way or the other. The NLRB has, in my opinion, become more partisan in recent decades.  Policy reversals and dramatic shifts are becoming a regular expectation with each new Administration.

“So, I intend, with Senator McConnell of Kentucky, next week to introduce legislation to restore the National Labor Relations Board to its intended role of acting as an umpire and applying the law fairly and impartially, instead of acting as an advocate for one side over the other."


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