National Labor Board Vacancies Put Rulings At Stake

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Justice Department on Tuesday asked the Supreme Court to let a federal labor board continue working even though three of its five seats are vacant.

The National Labor Relations Board, which resolves conflicts between unions and management, has worked with three vacancies for nearly two years because of political wrangling in the Senate.

Earlier this year, a federal appeals court in Washington said hundreds of decisions issued by the NLRB are invalid because federal law does not permit the board to act without at least three members.

But three other federal appeals courts -- in Boston, Chicago and New York -- have reached the opposite conclusion. The Justice Department's petition urges the Supreme Court to resolve the split.

The uncertainty has thrown into question more than 400 decisions that clarified the rules of union organizing or decided whether there was merit to claims of unfair labor practices.

The standoff has also forced the two remaining board members -- one Democrat and one Republican -- to postpone dealing with more complex cases that could have a wider impact on the workplace.

Democrats refused to fill the empty seats during President George W. Bush's final year in office, angered over a series of anti-union board rulings and a perception that Bush's nominees were too pro-business.

Now Republicans have stalled President Barack Obama's picks for the board after business groups complained that one nominee -- former union lawyer Craig Becker -- has views that are "out of the mainstream." Obama's nominees have been pending since July.

The NLRB has continued to hear cases and issue decisions in which the chairwoman, Democrat Wilma Liebman, and Republican board member Peter Schaumber can agree.

"We continue to believe that our position is correct, and hope that a decision from the high court will bring some finality to these cases," Liebman said.

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