Stephens is a past chairman of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), where he won praise from stakeholders for his moderation and ability to adjudicate different points of view. He served on the NLRB as a board member from 1985 until 1995, and was chairman from 1987 until 1994.
His last position was at the Office of Compliance, where he worked from 1995 until 2001 as deputy executive director for the House of Representatives.
"Jim Stephens is eminently qualified, and definitely his own man," commented Dan Yager, senior vice president and general counsel for the Labor Policy Association, a public policy advocacy organization representing senior human resource executives. "Jim will not be beholden to any interest group I think it's a good choice for the commission."
Peg Seminario, director of occupational health and safety at the AFL-CIO, also supported the Stephens nomination. Seminario said she had worked with Stephens when he was labor counsel on the Senate Labor Committee in the early 1980's. "He's a very knowledgeable, moderate and fair individual," she said. "There was no opposition to him."
While the Review Commission should now have no difficulty in satisfying the quorum requirements it needs to function as a "court of appeals" for OSHA enforcement cases, decisions must soon be made about the other two members of the panel.
The term of the current chair, W. Scott Railton, expires at the end of the 2003 congressional session because he is serving as a recess appointee. Now that Republicans control the Senate, the chances that Railton will be confirmed to a full term have improved.
Thomasina Rogers, the only current member appointed by a Democratic administration, has a term that expires in April of next year. She could be re-appointed, her position could be left vacant or Rogers' slot could be filled by someone new.
There has been some informal discussion among stakeholders that one position on the Review Commission should be reserved for the minority party, in which case Rogers would be re-appointed or her replacement would be a Democrat.
The practice of reserving one position on the commission for the party out of power was followed when Republican Gary Visscher, currently the deputy assistant secretary of labor for OSHA, was appointed to the Review Commission during the Clinton administration.