NRLB’s Kirsanow Vows to Address Cases Objectively

By Mark Jr.

Feb. 16, 2006

In a town that’s been focused on Supreme Court nominees, it’s not surprising that Peter Kirsanow takes a page from their playbook when describing how he will serve on the National Labor Relations Board.

    “The philosophy is going to be similar to the philosophy I would expect from anyone in a judicial capacity,” he says. “I’m going to approach each issue as objectively as I possibly can, with adherence to precedent and statutory and regulatory law.”

    Kirsanow is not officially a judge, but he and his four fellow NLRB commissioners adjudicate disputes between companies and unions. The low-profile NLRB could have a big impact on employers as it rules on union certification and the definition of a supervisor.

    Like new Supreme Court Justices John Roberts Jr. and Samuel Alito, Kirsanow likely will bring a conservative perspective to the body he’s joining. The NLRB, composed of three Republicans and two Democrats, also tilts to the right.

    Unions protested Kirsanow’s recess appointment by President Bush in January. He can serve through 2007 without Senate confirmation.

    “Mr. Kirsanow has taken stands against the minimum wage, affirmative action, prevailing wages, voting-rights legislation and other basic protections for workers and citizens, and he has expressed a marked hostility to unions,” AFL-CIO president John Sweeney said in a statement.

“I’m going to approach each issue as objectively as I possibly can, with adherence to precedent and statutory and regulatory law.”
–Peter Kirsanow, NLRB

    A member of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission and a former employment lawyer, Kirsanow says he is not against the minimum wage, but does not want it indexed to inflation. He supports affirmative action as it was “originally constituted,” but opposes quotas and preferences.

    The fiercest controversy surrounding Kirsanow to date involves race. Critics assert that he has advocated the internment of Arab Americans if there were another terrorist attack.

    Kirsanow, whose father was held in a Soviet detention camp, strongly denies the charge. “I made it abundantly clear that what I was saying is that the best civil rights for all Americans is that we protect the safety of all Americans,” he says.

    Commissioners’ backgrounds and beliefs matter greatly on the NLRB, says one expert. “There are several issues where the philosophical and ideological approach will make a big difference,” says Risa Lieberwitz, associate professor of labor and employment at the Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations.

    Kirsanow does not oppose unions in principle, but he will favor establishing them in secret-ballot votes rather than through a card-check certification, says Charles Baird, professor of economics at California State University, East Bay. “Some people define being hostile toward unions as anyone who disagrees with John Sweeney,” he says.

    Kirsanow will strengthen the NLRB, Baird says. “The fact that he is a black member is a big plus for the board, and it’s a big plus for the ever-growing black community of conservative thinkers and scholars and lawyers,” he says.

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