President Barack Obama recess-appointed three members to the National Labor Relations Board on Wednesday, bypassing fierce opposition from Republicans who claim the agency has leaned too far in favor of unions.
The appointments came just hours after Obama used a similar move to install former Ohio Atty. Gen. Richard Cordray to head the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
Both moves infuriated GOP leaders, who threatened legal action and warned that Obama was setting a dangerous precedent by ignoring the will of Congress. Union leaders praised the decision, saying it was a legitimate response to Republican gridlock.
Obama appointed Deputy Labor Secretary Sharon Block, union lawyer Richard Griffin and NLRB counsel Terence Flynn to fill vacancies on the five-member board, giving it a full contingent for the first time in more than a year. Block and Griffin are Democrats, while Flynn is a Republican.
The board, which referees labor-management disputes and oversees union elections, has been a prime target for Republicans and business groups since it filed a controversial lawsuit last year that accused Boeing of illegally retaliating against union members.
That case was dismissed last month after Boeing and the union settled their differences. But Republicans are still incensed over the board's approval last month of sweeping new rules to speed up the union election process, making it easier for unions to gain new members.
Obama's action prevents the board from losing much of its power for the rest of the year. The NLRB is supposed to have five members, but it has operated for months with only three. This week, it is down to just two members, after Democrat Craig Becker completed his term. The agency is not allowed to conduct regular business with only two members.
Senate Republicans, hoping to effectively shut the agency down, had vowed to block any more appointees to prevent any further key decisions affecting labor relations. Last month, all 47 Senate Republicans sent Obama a letter warning that bypassing the Senate would set a dangerous precedent.
Obama, in a prepared statement, said the nation deserves "to have qualified public servants fighting for them every day _ whether it is to enforce new consumer protections or uphold the rights of working Americans."
Labor unions, a bedrock of Democratic political support in this election year, had been pushing the White House to fill the seats.
"Some Republican members of the Senate have made a determined effort to cripple the NLRB and other government agencies by refusing to act on President Obama's nominees, no matter how qualified," said James Callahan, president of the International Union of Operating Engineers. "Leaving the NLRB without a quorum would penalize both labor and employers."
Wyoming Sen. Mike Enzi, top Republican on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, called the White House move a sign of "its contempt for America's small businesses."
"The president has ignored the Senate's confirmation and vetting process, ensuring that our struggling economy will soon be faced with two additional bureaucrats who will shackle America's employers with new onerous regulations," Enzi said.
Obama's announcement of the new NLRB members came without fanfare in an afternoon press release. By contrast, Obama trumpeted his appointment of Cordray earlier in the day at a speech in Ohio, where he chastised Congress for standing in the way of consumer protection.
Block is deputy secretary for congressional affairs at the Labor Department. Griffin is currently the general counsel for the International Union of Operating Engineers. Flynn serves as chief counsel to the NLRB's other Republican member Brian Hayes.
Flynn's nomination has been pending for a year, but Block and Griffin were just nominated in December.