Atty. Gen. Eric Holder is facing his first real test to enforce the most heralded value of President Obama’s Administration—the ethics pledge.
Holder is being pressured to determine whether Craig Becker, a controversial recess appointment to the National Labor Relations Board, has violated that pledge more than a dozen times in just a few short months.
Prior to his confirmation being steamrolled past the Senate process in March, Becker served as associate general counsel for the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which represents 1.8 million members, and is a former staff counsel for the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO).
Now as a member of Obama’s board, Becker sits in judgment of unfair labor practices, whether it’s committed by an employer or the labor organization itself.
The National Right to Work Foundation has asked Becker to recuse himself in 13 cases that involve the union but Becker has declined to do so despite a separate pledge in writing.
Becker’s reasoning is that the national unions are a separate entity from any of the local unions.
But the foundation points out that the SEIU’s own constitution states that the local chapters are “constituent subordinate bodies” and in 2009 more than 85% of the SEIU’s receipts came from a per capita tax on the locals’ membership dues and fees. The national union even has the power to assume control over its locals if they do not conform to its international policies.
Now the foundation is asking Holder to hold Becker’s feet to the fire and determine whether he has violated the ethics rule.
“If Craig Becker’s shaky analysis stands, the Obama Administration’s much-touted ethics pledge clearly is not worth the paper it is printed on,” said Mark Mix, president of the National Right to Work Foundation.
“Independent-minded workers who dare to challenge the SEIU’s coercive practices deserve a fair hearing, but how can they get that from the very same union’s former top lawyer?” Mix said.
According to Obama’s ethics rule, Becker must pledge for a two-year period not to “participate in any particular matter involving specific parties that is directly and substantially related to my former employer or former clients, including regulations and contracts.”
Additionally, Becker stated in an April 8 letter to the labor board’s ethics officer that he would resign from both of his labor roles and “will not participate personally and substantially in any particular matter involving specific parities in which either the SEIU or the AFL-CIO is a party or represents a party.”
Justin Wilson, managing director of the Center for Union Facts, said, “the trouble with the NRLB is its supposed to be impartial.
“But it isn’t, it’s partisan,” Wilson said.
One Washington lawyer who has represented several clients in front of the board, and asked to remain anonymous because he has future cases pending, said a basic standard should apply: If it has the appearance of impropriety, it’s improper.
“This goes to the core issue of how could anyone have respect for a decision when the person involved in the decision previously represented either side,” the lawyer said.
“He needs to remove himself from any case that involves SEIU entirely,” the lawyer said.
That Becker has only recused himself from one case is an obvious conflict of interest, says Patrick Semmens, the foundation’s director of legal information.
“This was an unprecedented pick,” Semmens said. “We don’t think we can get a fair shake in front of him, period.
Added Raymond J. LaJeunesse, Jr., the foundation’s vice president and legal director: “Employees working under the NLRB’s jurisdiction need to be assured of the integrity of its adjudicatory processes.”
“And, all citizens need to be assured that President Obama’s Executive Order concerning the integrity and impartiality of government appointees is more than symbolic. Member Becker’s serious conflicts of interest undermine that integrity and impartiality,” LaJeunesse said in his letter to Holder.