It took one year, nine months, 26 days and two nominations, but any day now longtime union lawyer Richard Griffin will start his job at the National Labor Relations Board.
Mr. Griffin has been at the center of one of the biggest power struggles in Washington, as Senate Republicans blocked President Obama’s nomination of him to serve as a member of the NLRB.
But Senate Republicans caved Tuesday, making way for Mr. Griffin to serve instead as the NLRB’s top lawyer, still a prominent post at the agency.
The Senate voted 55-44 to approve Mr. Griffin’s nomination to serve as general counsel at the NLRB. As the NLRB’s top lawyer, Mr. Griffin will decide which cases to bring before the board, although he will not have a vote that affects the board’s decisions.
“Mr. Griffin is very well-qualified, and he has been thoroughly vetted,” Sen. Tom Harkin, Iowa Democrat, said during floor debate before the vote. “I have received not one objection to his qualifications or his background.”
Cue the verbal warfare from House Republicans. The NLRB has served as a hotbed of contentious fights under the Obama administration, and Mr. Griffin is no exception.
One of the NLRB’s top critics, Rep. John Kline, Minnesota Republican and chairman of the House Education and The Workforce Committee, urged his Republican colleagues in the Senate to “restore the integrity of the NLRB” by voting against Mr. Griffin’s nomination.
“No one with his track record should be allowed to serve as the agency’s top attorney,” Mr. Kline said.
Conservative groups accuse Mr. Griffin of being a corrupt lawyer, pointing to his work with the International Union of Operating Engineers, which they denounce as a union overrun by organized crime, and to a civil lawsuit brought by workers against the union accusing Mr. Griffin and others of embezzlement.
Competitive Enterprise Institute labor analyst Trey Kovacs called the move a “disaster” and a “travesty of justice.”
“Richard Griffin comes directly from the union movement and has demonstrated willingness to be extremely partisan on behalf of unions,” Mr. Kovacs said.
Workforce Fairness Institute spokesman Fred Wszolek called the move an “assault by labor bosses” on American businesses. Mr. Wszolek warned that Mr. Griffin’s appointment sends “a message to America’s employers that political payback to the union bosses who bankrolled President Obama’s campaigns has greater importance than economic growth.”
But the Obama administration and congressional Democrats are thrilled to have a functioning NLRB, after two years of battles with Republicans and business groups.
“Today’s Senate vote to confirm Richard F. Griffin Jr. as General Counsel will ensure the NLRB’s ability to enforce the National Labor Relations Act,” NLRB board Chairman Mark Gaston Pearce said in a statement. “The Act guarantees the right of private sector workers to organize and bargain collectively with their employers and to participate in concerted activities to improve their pay and working conditions.”
Mr. Obama originally nominated Mr. Griffin to serve as a member of the NLRB, but Republicans vigorously denounced his Jan. 4, 2012, recess appointment. They challenged it in court and got Mr. Griffin’s appointment thrown out, even though he continued in that role as he waited for the Supreme Court to issue a final decision on the case.
Earlier this summer, Mr. Obama struck a deal with Senate Republicans to remove Mr. Griffin and appoint a new set of board members, who were quickly approved.
But Mr. Griffin was then reappointed to serve as general counsel, a position Tuesday’s vote confirmed. Mr. Griffin is expected to be sworn in within days, at which time he will take over for acting general counsel Lafe Solomon.