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Harkin Statement on National Labor Relations Board Nominee

WASHINGTON, D.C.— Today, Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, delivered the following statement at the HELP Committee hearing on the nomination of Lauren McFerran to serve as a Member of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

Harkin praised McFerran, urging swift approval and emphasizing the important role the NLRB plays in supporting a growing economy and a strong middle class by giving workers a voice in the workplace to speak up for fair wages and benefits, and for safe working conditions.

*Chairman Harkin’s Statement As Prepared for Delivery.*

“We have convened this hearing to consider the President’s nomination of Lauren McFerran to fill an impending vacancy on the National Labor Relations Board. Ms. McFerran is well known to most of us as a senior staff member on this Committee, and I look forward to her speedy confirmation. She has been nominated to fill a vacancy that will result from the departure next month of a current Board member, Nancy Schiffer. I would like to thank Ms. Schiffer for her dedicated service. She has been a highly respected Board member, and I wish her every success in her future endeavors

“The National Labor Relations Board is an agency that is absolutely critical to our country, to our economy, and to our middle class. Over 75 years ago, Congress enacted the National Labor Relations Act, guaranteeing American workers the right to form and join a union and bargain for a better life. The Act sets forth a national policy to encourage collective bargaining. Specifically, the Act states:

“‘It is declared to be the policy of the United States to eliminate the causes of certain substantial obstructions to the free flow of commerce and to mitigate and eliminate these obstructions when they have occurred by encouraging the practice and procedure of collective bargaining and by protecting the exercise by workers of full freedom of association, self-organization, and designation of representatives of their own choosing, for the purpose of negotiating the terms and conditions of their employment or other mutual aid or protection.’ 

“For union and non-union workers alike, the Act provides essential protections. It gives workers a voice in the workplace, allowing them to join together and speak up for fair wages and benefits, and for safe working conditions. These rights ensure that the people who do the real work in this country have a shot at receiving a fair share of the benefits when our economy grows – and with rising income inequality in our country, these rights are more important than ever.

“The NLRB is the guardian of these fundamental rights. Workers themselves cannot enforce the NLRA, but they can turn to the Board if they have been denied the basic protections provided under the law.  In short, the Board plays a vital role in vindicating workers’ rights. In the past 10 years, the NLRB has secured opportunities for reinstatement for 22,544 employees who were unjustly fired. And it has recovered more than $1 billion on behalf of workers whose rights were violated. 

“The Board also provides relief and remedies to our nation’s employers. For example, employers can turn to the Board for relief if a union commences a wildcat strike or refuses to bargain in good faith during negotiations. The NLRB has a long history of helping businesses resolve disputes efficiently. By preventing or resolving labor disputes that could disrupt our economy, the work that the Board does is vital to every worker and every business across the nation. 

“That is why it is so important that we maintain a fully functional, five-member NLRB. I am proud of the fact that, just a little over a year ago, we were able to confirm members to completely fill the board for the first time in over a decade. Now, we need to fill a soon-to-be open seat so that the Board can continue to function effectively. 

“Ms. McFerran is not the first nominee for this seat. In September, this Committee approved the nomination of a dedicated public servant, Sharon Block. Republicans and Democrats agreed on Ms. Block’s reputation and qualifications, but her nomination was withdrawn in the face of circumstance beyond her control. As a result, Ms. Block will not have the opportunity to serve on the Board.  Ms. Block is a tremendous public servant whose qualifications are unaffected and undiminished by the present circumstances and I look forward to Ms. Block’s future service to our country. 

“I am heartened, however, by the President’s decision to nominate Lauren McFerran. Ms. McFerran currently serves as Chief Labor Counsel and Deputy Staff Director of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee. I am proud to have her as a member of my staff; she has served this committee with excellence and great professionalism; and I know firsthand that the President could not have found a more able successor to Ms. Schiffer. Ms. McFerran is an incredibly talented lawyer with deep knowledge of labor law. She is a person of sterling integrity and strong character. She will be a great asset to the Board.

“It is my hope that by promptly confirming Ms. McFerran’ s nomination to fill the looming vacancy we can continue the progress that has been made recently, and begin a new era where orderly transitions on the NLRB are the norm. Instead of letting every vacancy become a political football with threats to shutter the Board and pressure for recess appointments, we should set a new precedent of confirming nominees – Democratic and Republican alike – in a timely manner, allowing the dedicated public servants at the Board to stop worrying about making headlines and instead focus on the important work they do each day.

“I have no doubt that Ms. McFerran will do an excellent job in this important position. I look forward to hearing Ms. McFerran’s testimony today, and to moving her nomination expeditiously through this Committee.”