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Labor Board Furloughs ‘Likely’ Absent More Cash, Agency Says (1)

Nov. 18, 2022, 4:56 PMUpdated: Nov. 18, 2022, 8:16 PM

The National Labor Relations Board will likely furlough its employees if the agency is unable to secure a funding increase, even as staffers are swamped by a surging workload, NLRB leaders told congressional appropriators.

The NLRB has received the same $274 million budget since fiscal year 2014, even as inflation has reduced its purchasing power by 25% over the last nine years, Chair Lauren McFerran and General Counsel Jennifer Abruzzo said Friday in a letter to the House and Senate Appropriations subcommittees that oversee the agency’s funding.

Additional funding is needed for fiscal year 2023 just to maintain current operations, the NLRB leaders said, pointing to $18.7 million in new expenses for required pay increases, non-labor inflation, and upcoming field office relocations. The agency already has a hiring freeze.

“These additional expenses are effectively beyond the Agency’s control,” they said. “However, we will be forced to reduce our operational capacity, including likely furloughs of the dedicated career employees at the agency, unless Congress provides funding to cover these costs.”

Congress has until Dec. 16 to pass spending legislation and avoid a government shutdown. That could be the last chance for the foreseeable future for the NLRB to get additional funding because Republicans took back the House in the Nov. 8 midterm elections.

Lawmakers are expected to intensify negotiations over government funding after the Thanksgiving holiday.

Workload Up, Staffing Down

The specter of furloughs comes amid a pronounced spike in the NLRB’s workload. The agency saw a 53% increase in union representation petitions in fiscal year 2022 from the prior year, as well as a 19% jump in unfair labor practice charges.

“The recent surge in organizing requires an urgent response from Congress and the Administration, and that response is to end the funding crisis that has left the agency straining under the weight of new caseloads,” Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), the outgoing chair of the House Education and Labor Committee, said in a statement.

Nearly a decade of flat funding has contributed to staffing shortages at the NLRB, which saw its total personnel drop by more than a quarter from 2010 to 2019, according to a Government Accountability Office report released last year.

The NLRB has 1,200 career staffers, according to Friday’s letter to lawmakers.

The Biden administration called for a 16% boost to the NLRB’s funding in fiscal year 2023. A group of nearly 150 lawmakers asked appropriators for even more, saying the agency needs at least a 34% increase.

The nearly $20 million budget shortfall due to the NLRB’s new expenses could require a month’s worth of furloughs, said Burt Pearlstone, president of the National Labor Relations Board Union, which represents the agency’s field staff.

The NLRB contemplated furloughs in 2013 due to budget constraints, but ultimately they weren’t necessary, Pearlstone said. Agency leaders had decided to shut down operations entirely on furlough days, rather than keep the agency open while sending some workers home unpaid, he said.

“That has the advantage of showing the public and whoever that the furloughs have an effect,” Pearlstone said. “Otherwise what happens? They furlough workers and keep the doors open, so the public thinks everything is fine.”

(Updated with additional reporting.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Robert Iafolla in Washington at riafolla@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Laura D. Francis at lfrancis@bloomberglaw.com; Martha Mueller Neff at mmuellerneff@bloomberglaw.com