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NLRB head Pearce ducks Beltway heat in visit home

Mark Gaston Pearce came home Sunday to a crowd much more welcoming than the U.S. Senate.

The Buffalo labor lawyer-turned-National Labor Relations Board chairman spoke at a downtown dinner, still fresh from a confirmation process that turned partisan last month.

“Our agency is under fire,” Pearce said of the Republicans who filibustered his appointment by President Obama. “Several senators even questioned the legitimacy of our board.”

Pearce, who has served on the NLRB since 2010, is one of several Obama appointees at the center of a growing feud over the federal agency that oversees unions and labor relations.

Republicans insist the NLRB, under Pearce’s stewardship, has become too pro-labor. They also take issue with the legality of Obama’s previous appointments to the board.

Democrats counter by saying Pearce is a well-qualified public servant – he spent 15 years working at the board’s offices in Buffalo – and that he deserves an up-or-down vote by the full Senate.

He finally won that right two weeks ago when a Senate subcommittee approved his five-year appointment along party lines and moved his confirmation to the floor of the Senate for a vote next month.

“I’m pleased we’ve completed the process,” he said Sunday before his speech at the Buffalo NAACP’s annual awards dinner in the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center.

Pearce said he would “never second-guess what a Republican is thinking” and stopped well short of criticizing their filibustering tactics.

He did note, however, that the NLRB has a long history of dealing with politicians who are anti-NLRB.

“The board was born of controversy,” he said. “The board was challenged when it was first created and, even then, the board continued to do its work.”

Pearce is not the only Buffalonian whose fate at the NLRB rests with the Senate. Richard F. Griffin Jr., a Buffalo native, has served on the board since January of last year and was reappointed earlier this year by Obama.

Pearce, in his speech Sunday night, spoke about A. Philip Randolph and what that great labor leader and civil rights activist might think about modern day Washington. Randolph organized the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the first predominantly black labor union, and he led the historic 1963 civil rights March on Washington. Pearce said Randolph’s use of collective-bargaining tactics to help the civil rights movement can serve as a lesson to those trying to improve today’s political climate.

And whether those changes come or not, Pearce plans to continue his work at the NLRB.

“Our job is to keep the industrial peace,” he said, “and that’s something we’ll continue to do.”

Pearce, who has served as NLRB chairman since August 2011, was a founding partner of Creighton, Pearce, Johnsen & Giroux in Buffalo.