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New Faces Join the NLRB: The Bush Board

December 31, 2002

The National Labor Relations Board (the "NLRB" or "Board") is a federal agency created by Congress in 1935 to administer the National Labor Relations Act (the "NLRA"). The Board sits in Washington, D.C. and is comprised of five members; it decides both unfair labor practice cases (matters in which it is alleged that an employer or union has violated employee rights under the NLRA) and representation cases (matters involving union elections, decertifications, and clarifications of existing bargaining units). Generally, Board decisions arise out of appeals from the recommended decisions and orders of administrative law judges (in unfair labor practice cases) and from decisions issued by the Board's various Regional Directors (in representation matters). Board members are appointed by the president to 5-year terms, with Senate consent, and one member is designated by the president to serve as the chairperson.

The Board wields tremendous power in setting the ground rules governing labor-management relations in the United States. Consequently, the confirmation process for Board nominees frequently generates the kind of political horse-trading, maneuvering and delay that characterizes the confirmation of nominations to the federal courts. Often, the terms of Board members expire without a successor having been confirmed: when that occurs, the vacancy is sometimes filled with a temporary recess appointee; sometimes the seat remains unfilled, leaving the Board with fewer than five Members. In fact, the Board was operating without a full complement of Senate-confirmed members from August 2000 until December 2002.

On November 14, 2002, however, the Senate approved a package of Board nominees, including both new members and extensions of the terms of existing members. With their swearing in on December 17, 2002, the Board is now at full strength for the first time in two years.

Three of the five are Republicans selected by President Bush: Peter C. Schaumber, Rene A. Acosta and Robert J. Battista (who has been designated to serve as chairperson). The other two members are Democrats who have been reappointed by President Bush to new terms: Dennis P. Walsh and Wilma B. Liebman. This is the first time in the Board's history that all five members were confirmed at one time. A brief biography of each of the newly confirmed members follows:

Robert J. Battista was nominated by President Bush in May 2002 and designated to serve as Chairman of the Board; his term expires on December 16, 2007. Mr. Battista has practiced labor and employment law on the management side since 1965 with the Detroit firm of Butzel Long. He is also a past chair of the Michigan State Bar Labor and Employment Section, and has served as chief negotiator, counsel and trial attorney for numerous educational institutions, companies and public employers.

Rene Alexander Acosta was nominated in the fall of 2001 and has been confirmed by the Senate to serve on the Board until August 27, 2003. Mr. Acosta previously served as Deputy Attorney General in the Office of Civil Rights at the Department of Justice. Prior to that, Mr. Acosta was an associate in the labor and employment practice at Kirkland & Ellis in Washington, D.C.

Peter C. Schaumber will serve on the Board for a term that expires on August 27, 2005. Prior to his appointment, Mr. Schaumber was a labor arbitrator in Washington, D.C. He was a member of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service and the National Mediation Board and panelist at the American Arbitration Association. Mr. Schaumber also practiced law with the firm of Wickwire Gavin and was a partner and director of the litigation department at Colton and Boykin.

Dennis P. Walsh originally became a Board member through a recess appointment by President Clinton on December 29, 2000; in October 2001, President Bush nominated him to become a Member for a term expiring August 27, 2003. Mr. Walsh is a career Board employee. He formerly served as Chief Counsel to two other Board members, Wilma B. Liebman and Margaret A. Browning, and also served as Staff Counsel to Board Member Patricia Diaz Dennis. Prior to that, he was a field attorney with the NLRB's Regional Office in Philadelphia.

Wilma B. Liebman has served as a Board member since her appointment by President Clinton in 1997. As a result of her reappointment by President Bush and Senate confirmation, she will serve a new term to expire August 27, 2006. Ms. Liebman formerly served as the Deputy Director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, where she acted in several capacities, ultimately in the position of chief operations officer, overseeing arbitration, alternative dispute resolution, international affairs and labor-management cooperation grant programs. Prior to that, Ms. Liebman was a union-side attorney: She was Labor Counsel for the Bricklayers and Allied Craftsmen for four years and for the International Brotherhood of Teamsters for nine years. She also served as a staff attorney in a Regional Office of the NLRB.