Allegations that NLRB’s Craig Becker is violating Obama’s ‘ethics pledge’ resurface with Boeing case

Matthew Boyle Investigative Reporter
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National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) member Craig Becker must recuse himself from the case against Boeing or violate President Barack Obama’s ethics pledge, critics say.

A union affiliated with Becker’s former employer, the AFL-CIO, is suing Boeing for opening a new factory in South Carolina, allegedly in retaliation against union workers in Washington state.

But since Becker didn’t directly represent the International Association of Machinists (IAM), the union filing the suit, he may be able to squeeze through a loophole in the pledge.

Becker was employed by the AFL-CIO and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) until at least February 2009, according to the White House. According to one interpretation of the pledge, Becker can rule on cases involving affiliates of those unions as long as the international-level unions aren’t named in the case or providing counsel for a party.

Critics say it is unacceptable for Becker to rule on cases directly affecting his former employers, their affiliates or their allies.

Crossroads GPS president and former Deputy Labor Secretary Steven Law told The Daily Caller he thinks Obama should make an open call for Becker to recuse himself from cases like this.

“If President Obama intends to live up to the ethical standards he promised in his executive order, he should immediately insist that Craig Becker recuse himself from any further involvement in rulemakings that would benefit his former union employers,” Law said in a email.

Becker has come under fire for failing to recuse himself in such cases before. Last summer, California Rep. Darrell Issa, then the ranking Republican on the House Oversight Committee, pushed the administration and NLRB to investigate whether Becker’s refusal to recuse himself from cases involving local SEIU chapters was a breach of Obama’s pledge.

The NLRB’s Inspector General (IG) concluded Becker’s decision wasn’t a breach because “locals” and international unions are “separate legal entities,” and that the “SEIU was not a party or representing the local union.”

Obama’s ethics pledge says his political appointees will not “participate in any particular matter involving specific parties that is directly and substantially related to my former employer or former clients, including regulations and contracts,” for two years after they’ve been appointed.

According to a “definitions” clause in the pledge, the phrase “directly and substantially related to my former employer or former clients” means that the matters in question have the appointee’s former employer “is a party or represents a party.”

Becker signed the pledge.

The Obama administration declined to answer questions about the specifics of the pledge as they pertain to Becker.

For instance, the administration refused to tell TheDC what constitutes a “party” or qualifies someone or something as “represents a party,” in the pledge.

Obama spokespeople also refused to say whether or not the president considers the AFL-CIO a “party” in the Boeing case, since an affiliated union brought the case. The administration also won’t say what punishment it plans to impose on those political appointees who break Obama’s ethics pledge.

President Obama activated the “ethics pledge” with an executive order as one of his first actions in office. The executive order’s vague language and loopholes cause critics like Nathan Mehrens at Americans for Limited Government (ALG) to say the Obama administration’s “pledge” to ethics is just another “empty promise.”

“The problem is the dichotomy between the vaunted public show of ‘ethical’ behavior and the actual real-life rules that mean that the ethics pledge is virtually meaningless as a method of prohibiting questionable conduct,” Mehrens told TheDC. “In reality, they can’t even follow their ‘ethical’ standards.”

Fred Wszolek of the Workforce Fairness Institute told TheDC that Becker’s refusal to recuse himself from cases like IAM’s against Boeing “undermines good government and raises serious questions about the commitments he made to Congress and whether he is fit to serve as a member of the board.”

By those “commitments he made to Congress,” Wszolek is referring to Becker’s Senate confirmation hearing in February 2010. In response to questioning from Utah GOP Sen. Orrin Hatch, Becker promised to recuse himself more than he’s required to by Obama’s pledge and by law.

Becker received a recess appointment from the president after the Senate rejected his nomination.

“It is obvious that Craig Becker, who pledged to recuse himself from cases in which his previous employers, the SEIU and AFL-CIO, have a direct and substantial interest, is nevertheless participating in cases which raise issues the resolution of which will have a direct and substantial interest on those same unions,” Wszolek said in an email.

“Virtually every action Becker undertakes rewards his previous employers and constitute an obvious conflict as he is siding with the same people who paid him over $1 million at the expense of American workers and businesses.”