Big Union's Unethical Influence in Government; Revolving-Door Reform Needed at the Labor Arbitration Agency

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), June 1, 2012 | Go to article overview

Big Union's Unethical Influence in Government; Revolving-Door Reform Needed at the Labor Arbitration Agency


Byline: F. Vincent Vernuccio and Trey Kovacs, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

I n one of the most glaring examples of Washington's sordid revolving-door political culture, former National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) member Craig Becker took a job as co-general counsel with the AFL-CIO barely six months after leaving the government. Mr. Becker was the first-ever NLRB member to be appointed directly from a union. At the time of his recess appointment by President Obama, he worked as an attorney for the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).

The fact that Mr. Becker left a large union, worked for the federal agency that is supposed to function as a neutral arbitrator in labor disputes, and then went back to another labor organization as soon as his appointment ended should raise questions about his ability to act as an independent judge.

A review of Mr. Becker's record at the NLRB reveals a consistent pattern of pro-union activism. The only functional difference between his post at the board and his job as a union lawyer is that taxpayers paid his salary at the NLRB.

Worse, his pro-union advocacy often was based on dubious legal reasoning. Judges overturned several decisions Mr. Becker supported and voted for while he was a member.

Mr. Becker's ties to major unions were one of the reasons his nomination was rejected by the Senate in bipartisan fashion. Only three months into his tenure, then-ranking member (now chairman) of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Rep. Darrell E. Issa, California Republican, asked the inspector general to investigate the likely conflicts of interest in Mr. Becker's participation in a case to which his former employer was a party.

Under oath during his confirmation hearing, Mr. Becker stated, [I]f at any time during my service on the board a case comes before me relating to SEIU, an SEIU local or any other entity in which recusal is not required by law, by my ethics pledge, or by my ethics agreement, but where the particular circumstances are such that my participation would constitute a conflict of interest, I will recuse myself.

However, Mr. Becker refused to recuse himself from cases involving SEIU local unions because the cases did not involve the national SEIU headquarters and, taking legal hair-splitting to a new level, Mr. Becker argued that the locals were distinct legal entit[ies].

Mere days after Mr. Becker's new position became public, Terrence Flynn, a Republican member of the NLRB, announced that he would resign because of an ethics violation. Democrats in Congress had accused Mr. Flynn of giving out information of pending board decisions. Whether the allegation had merit or not, Mr. Flynn saw that his position was compromised and resigned in order to preserve the integrity of the board. …

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