By Amanda Becker
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Senate on Tuesday voted to confirm five nominees to the National Labor Relations Board, marking the first time in a decade that the bipartisan agency that oversees union elections and polices unfair labor practices has had a full Senate-confirmed slate of five members.
"It's time to ratchet down the political rhetoric that has haunted this agency," Democratic Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa said before the votes.
Democratic nominee Mark Gaston Pearce, the board's current chairman, was confirmed for another term by a 59-38 vote.
Before President Barack Obama named Pearce to the board in 2010, he represented workers and unions in private practice and was an attorney in an NLRB regional office in Buffalo, New York.
"Together, we will continue to do the work that is necessary to enforce the law, so that business owners and employees can prosper and improve the lives of their families, their communities and our country," Pearce said of the newly confirmed board in a statement.
Democrats Kent Hirozawa and Nancy Schiffer, who both received a 54-44 vote, are also longtime labor lawyers who have worked in NLRB regional offices.
Hirozawa has been chief counsel to Chairman Pearce. He also spent 20 years at a labor and employment firm in New York City and worked in an NLRB field office there.
Schiffer works in the general counsel's office at the AFL-CIO in Washington, D.C. She began her legal career in an NLRB regional office in Detroit, Michigan, before going into private practice.
Two Republican nominees, Philip Miscimarra and Harry Johnson, were confirmed by voice vote.
Both are attorneys who represent management in labor disputes. Miscimarra works for the law firm Morgan, Lewis & Bockius in Chicago. Johnson works in the Los Angeles office of the firm Arent Fox.
"With today's vote, our country has qualified public servants on duty to defend America's workers, businesses and families," AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said in a statement.
The confirmations in the Democrat-controlled chamber mark the end of a contentious political battle over NLRB nominations. Republican lawmakers, who have accused the agency of activist decision-making, had refused to reconfirm two current board members whose appointments are being challenged in a case before the U.S. Supreme Court.
In mid-July, Obama withdrew the contested nominations and replaced them with Hirozawa and Schiffer. The swap was key to a bipartisan deal to usher an array of stalled nominations through the Senate.
The case before the Supreme Court challenges the validity of Obama's 2012 "recess appointments" to the NLRB when the Senate was in session but not conducting business. A federal appeals court in January ruled the appointments invalid. The Obama administration has appealed and the Supreme Court will hear the case during its next term, which begins in October.
(Reporting by Amanda Becker; Editing by Ros Krasny and Stacey Joyce)