Laws Don’t Mean Much Without People Enforcing Them

In the coming days, the Senate will have the opportunity to vote on some extremely important nominees for jobs that protect working people—unless, as has so often happened with important votes, the Senate’s Republican minority blocks the vote from happening in the first place. What’s at stake isn’t just the people nominated, but the very laws they’re being nominated to enforce.

The National Labor Relations Board: Since the 1930s, workers who are subject to abuse on the job have had a federal body tasked with hearing their complaints and remedying them. But right now, the very ability to enforce laws protecting workers’ rights at all is in doubt. As former chair Wilma Liebman notes, the board hasn’t been fully staffed with Senate-confirmed appointees in 10 years and has been in chaos since 2008 thanks to court cases and the refusal of Senate Republicans to allow nominations to proceed. That has real consequences for workers like Marcus Hedger, who was fired for advocating for a union. That’s illegal, but without anyone to enforce the law, it doesn’t matter—it’s as if Hedger’s house had been broken into, and when he called 911, he was told that the police had been shut down.

President Obama has nominated a bipartisan slate of five people to the NLRB, but they have to get Senate confirmation before the board can function.

The Department of Labor: Thomas Perez, currently an assistant Attorney General, is a great choice to be the next Secretary of Labor. He has a long record of enforcing civil rights and workplace law, and last week, his nomination was approved by a Senate committee. So naturally he’s the target of a filibuster threat, for the most tenuous of reasons. But why rush to fill the position? After all, all the Department does is oversee wage and hour laws, workplace safety, medical leave and pensions (among other things).

The CFPB: Here we go again. This week Sen. Harry Reid, the majority leader, will schedule a vote on Richard Cordray’s nomination to head the Consumer Financial Protection Board. The CFPB is a huge success—one of the best things to come out of the 2010 Wall Street reform bill that most Senate Republicans opposed. Rather than let a duly-passed law take effect, Republicans are attempting to nullify it by preventing a vote on Cordray. Without a director, the CFPB can’t do its job.

By blocking these nominees, Senate Republicans are wiping the laws they’re meant to enforce off the books without taking a single vote. These are laws that protect people from mistreatment by corporations that have enormous power over their lives. This is not an accident—Senate Republicans know exactly what they’re doing here.

The first attempt at fixing the Senate’s nominations process this year fell flat. Sen. Reid is looking at the possibility of giving filibuster reform another try. As Ed Kilgore notes, it’s about time.