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The 'Supreme Court of labor law' can finally function again

Associated Press

I imagine a lot of folks who voted for President Obama last fall are feeling a little frustrated right now. It's not that the president is pursuing a misguided agenda or breaking campaign promises, but the frustration likely comes with the realization that the "fever" among congressional Republicans did not break on Election Day 2012 and radicalized GOP lawmakers will make legislating all but impossible for the foreseeable future.

And so long as Republicans won't compromise, there's not a whole lot Obama can do about it.

But the news for the president's allies isn't all bad -- Congress may be a laughingstock for the ages, but Obama can still make progress on progressive goals. Take the NLRB, for example.

After a contentious fight over some of President Obama's nominees, the Senate confirmed five members to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

On Tuesday, the Senate voted to clear all five nominees -- Harry Johnson III, Philip Miscimarra, Nancy Schiffer, Kent Hirozawa and Mark Pearce.

The Senate was acting against a deadline -- over the August recess, the NRLB chair's term will end, without confirmation of new members, the board would not have the quorum needed to function. As of yesterday, that's no longer an issue.

Following the confirmation votes, the NRLB will have no vacancies for the first time in over a decade.

And why should you care? On the surface, of course, there's the fact that the nuclear-option deal is holding (for now) and the president is finally having some success when it comes to nomination fights. Senate Democrats had to play hardball to overcome obstructionism on this issue, and they can claim some satisfaction from the fact that their efforts worked.

But there's also the fact that the NLRB actually matters. MSNBC's Chris Hayes recently called it the "Supreme Court of labor law in this country," which is a great description.

From an "All In" segment aired a few weeks ago:

"If you don't have a remedy, you don't have meaningful rights. The Supreme Court of labor law, the NLRB has been inoperable for a year and a half. It's really astounding. I mean, think about just turning off the Supreme Court for a year and a half. All those big decisions that came down the last few weeks, all the consequences for people seeking redress, gone, shuttered.

"And there are real consequences for the NLRB. It oversees all kinds of cases. If your boss illegally withholds wages or benefits, if your boss fires you for a Facebook post about safety or salary in the workplace, if your boss fires for you trying to organize fellow workers, all those disputes would work their way through to the NLRB.

"There are a wide range of actions both by you and your boss which come under the umbrella of its protection. If the NLRB isn't there to tell your boss that he can't do that, well, then, your boss can pretty much do as he pleases."

As of yesterday, the NRLB is back on track, able to intervene in these cases once more.

And as this relates to the frustrated Democrats referenced above, it's fair to say if this were the first year of a Romney/Ryan administration -- or the second term of a McCain/Palin administration -- the NRLB would either effectively disappear, or would be stacked with board members who aren't especially interested in the rights of workers. Instead, Obama named progressive members chosen in consultation with his labor union allies.

Yesterday, in other words, was a quiet win for progressive governance, and that matters.