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Statement of Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) At the HELP Committee Hearing: “Hearing on the Nomination of Sharon Block to Serve as a Member of the National Labor Relations Board”

“We are holding this hearing today because at the end of the year there will be a vacancy at the National Labor Relations Board resulting from the departure of Member Nancy Schiffer. I would like to take a moment to thank Ms. Schiffer for her service. The President has nominated an exceptionally well-qualified and dedicated public servant—Sharon Block—to fill the opening, and I look forward to her speedy confirmation. 

“A little over a year ago, for the first time in over a decade, we were able to confirm a fully-functional five member NLRB. It is my hope that by promptly confirming Ms. Block’s nomination to fill the looming vacancy we can continue the progress that has been made and begin a new era where orderly transitions are the norm. 

“The NLRB 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 (NLRA), guaranteeing American workers the right to form and join a union and bargain for a better life. For both 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, good benefits, and safe working conditions.  These rights ensure that the people who do the real work in this country see the benefits when our economy grows.

“The National Labor Relations Board is the guardian of these fundamental rights. Workers themselves cannot enforce the NLRA – the Board is the only place workers can go if they have been treated unfairly and denied the basic protections that the law provides. In the past 10 years, the NLRB has secured opportunities for reinstatement for 22,544 employees who were unjustly fired. It has also recovered more than $1 billion on behalf of workers whose rights were violated. 

“The Board doesn’t just protect the rights of workers and unions; it also provides relief and remedies to our nation’s employers. The Board is an employer’s only recourse if, for example, a union commences a wildcat strike or refuses to bargain in good faith during negotiations. The NLRB also helps numerous businesses resolve disputes efficiently. By preventing labor disputes that could disrupt our economy, the work that the Board does is vital to every worker and every business across the nation. 

“During our last NLRB hearing, one of the nominees described himself as being not pro-worker, pro-union or pro-employer, but instead as ‘Pro-Act.’ I believe any nominee that comes before this Committee should be Pro-Act and am confident that Ms. Block—with her labor and employment law expertise and wealth of experience at the Board – will be such a person. Two of the qualities that have always impressed me about Ms. Block are her commitment to public service and her ability and willingness to work with Democrats, Republicans, or whomever as long as they are committed to upholding and enforcing our nation’s labor and employment laws.

“Much has been made by some of my colleagues about Ms. Block’s previous service at the Board as a recess appointee. During that period, I watched as she courageously fulfilled the duties she had sworn to carry out as a Member of the Board, even in the face of constant political interference and even personal attacks. Those criticisms and attacks were unfair then and they are unfair now. Ms. Block conducted herself appropriately at all times during her previous service and instead of attacks, she deserves our appreciation because without her service the Board would have lacked a functioning quorum and would have had to shut down.

“The National Labor Relations Board plays a critical role in giving American workers a voice to help ensure fair wages, good benefits, and safe working conditions. For the first time in over a decade, we now have a fully-functional five member NLRB. Sharon Block is an exceptionally well-qualified and dedicated public servant and confirming her nomination will ensure that we can continue the progress NLRB has made and ensure the voices of workers continue to be heard.

“We would be hard pressed to find a more qualified nominee than Ms. Block. Keeping the NLRB fully staffed and able to do its work will send a strong message to the American people that Washington can work, and yes, our government can function. It will give certainty to businesses and assure workers that someone is looking out for their rights and ready and able to enforce our nation’s labor laws.

I look forward to hearing Ms. Block’s testimony today, and to moving her nomination expeditiously through this Committee.”