The Senate on Monday confirmed business lawyer William Emanuel, President Trump's pick to fill an open seat on the National Labor Relations Board, by a vote of 49-47.
The vote puts the board, the nation's top labor law enforcement agency, under the control of Republican picks for the first time since President George W. Bush's administration.
The vote was narrow but not a surprise. Democrats filibustered Emanuel's nomination last week, but the Senate voted 49-44 in favor of cloture.
Democrats slammed the pick as a sop to big business. "Mr. Emanuel has spent decades working with corporations to undermine workers' efforts to collectively bargain, which is the NLRB's mission," said Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, the top Democrat on the Senate Health, Education Labor and Pensions Committee.
"The NLRB may be the most important independent federal agency you have never heard of," said Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. "A man who spent his entire career opposing workers' efforts to join unions has no place on the board."
Republicans countered that the board effectively had become an arm of organized labor under former President Barack Obama and that Emanuel's appointment would tilt it back to being a neutral enforcement agency.
"It's a new day at the NLRB. Today marks the end of a partisan era at the board, where we saw an activist agenda that empowered special interests at the expense of hard-working men and women. As the committee continues to undo the damage that's been done, we look forward to finally having a fair and balanced board that will serve as an impartial referee and protect the rights of workers and job creators," Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., chairwoman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, told the Washington Examiner.
Business groups also applauded the vote. "William Emanuel's confirmation will allow for the full consideration of issues directly impacting small businesses, like restaurants, while restoring fairness and balance to the NLRB. We look forward to working closely with Mr. Emanuel and the NLRB," said Cicely Simpson, executive vice president of the National Restaurant Association.
The White House is remaking the board. In January, Trump appointed the board's then-lone Republican member, Philip Miscimarra, as chairman. The Senate in August approved former GOP House staffer Marvin Kaplan to an open seat on the board. The administration announced earlier this month that it was nominating private-sector lawyer Peter Robb to be the board's next general counsel. If confirmed, Robb would replace Richard Griffin, an Obama appointee known for his activist stance.
The nominations have been part of a concerted effort by the Trump White House to roll back many of the Obama administration's labor policies, from its expansion of overtime coverage to its redefinition of the joint employer doctrine, a policy that originated with the labor board and vastly expanded legal liability for businesses. Reversing measures at the NLRB has been harder than at other federal agencies, though. While the board's members are nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate, it acts independently.
"Top priorities of the NLRB should include: overturning the joint employer decision, which exposes large and small businesses to near-unlimited liability, and rescinding the union ‘ambush election' rule that threatens worker privacy," said Trey Kovacs, labor policy expert at the free-market Competitive Enterprise Institute.
Miscimarra's term expires Dec. 17 and he has declined to serve another. The Trump administration is reportedly considering John Ring, a Washington management-side labor law attorney, to replace him.