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NLRB Funding Boost Falls Short of White House, Unions’ Requests

Dec. 21, 2022, 10:09 AM

Congressional appropriators have proposed a $25 million budget increase for the National Labor Relations Board, failing to heed unions’ calls for a more significant boost to strengthen the agency at a time when organizing efforts are on the rise across the US.

The omnibus text draft released early Tuesday would give the board $299 million for fiscal year 2023. The 9% gain may be the first increase in years, but still is less than President Joe Biden’s 16% hike request and is also slimmer than what the House and Senate budget panels proposed this summer.

The agency has received the same $274 million budget since fiscal year 2014. NLRB General Counsel Jennifer Abruzzo tweetedthis month that the NLRB faces a $20 million shortfall in the wake of the stagnant funding, and told lawmakers in a letter that furloughs would be likely if there was no increase to cover those deficits next year.

The proposed increase is likely enough to avoid furloughs and perhaps mollify business groups that dispute the NLRB’s claim that it’s overwhelmed. But some labor leaders don’t see it as a robust boost to the agency after eight years of flat funding, and what they say is a rising workload from a jump in unionizing activity.

The NLRB saw a 53% increase in union representation petitions in fiscal year 2022, along with a 19% rise in unfair labor practice charges. That hike in caseload, which is the largest in a single year since 1976, comes as the agency has 39% less staff compared to 20 years ago.

Bart Sheard, a legislative representative for the AFL-CIO, said corporate influence in Congress is to blame for the increase being slimmer than what Democrats and the president had asked for.

“There are real forces at hand trying to keep the board from getting this funding,” Sheard said in an interview Tuesday. “Corporations are overly represented on the Hill, and employers benefit from the underfunding.”

The NLRB didn’t immediately provide a comment on the proposed funding increase.

Top Progressive Issue

Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) said increasing the NLRB’s funding was the least Democrats could do after multiple efforts to pass pro-labor legislation—such as the PRO Act—failed in the Senate.

“This is in our control, we can’t blame the filibuster,” Khanna said during a press conference with union leaders last week. “We’re talking about crumbs when it comes to the federal budget.”

Rep. Donald Norcross (D-N.J.), vice chair for labor for the progressive caucus, said in a statement Tuesday the increased funding was a win, even if not enough to overhaul the agency.

“The increase in NLRB funding is a sigh of relief for millions of America’s workers,” said Norcross, who noted furloughs at the agency would have impacted employees nationwide. “We still have a long way to go to restore this agency to its proper place, but this funding can’t come soon enough.”

Business Opposition

Some industry leaders have disputed the claim from the agency and unions that the board is overwhelmed by union elections and unfair labor practice charges.

“The NLRB’s caseload has been steadily declining for two decades,” the National Retail Federation, the American Hotel & Lodging Association, and other business associations wrote to appropriators last week amid budget negotiations.

The groups said the board has processed 17,998 unfair labor practices in 2022, compared with 28,124 in 2001, noting a decline of more than 40% in union elections in the same period.

“These numbers do not suggest that the agency is now suddenly under-resourced,” the groups said in their letter.

‘Keeping the Lights On’

Union leaders predicted before the numbers were released that a modest budget increase wouldn’t meet the demands of a rising workload at the NLRB.

Sara Steffens, secretary-treasurer for the Communications Workers of America and co-chair of the labor group Worker Power Coalition, had urged lawmakers to include $368 million for the NLRB in its budget.

“It doesn’t do anything to allow the board and its regional offices to accommodate all the work in organizing that is going on right now,” said Steffens. “It doesn’t in any way reflect the increase in demand.”

D. Taylor, president of the Unite Here labor union, also criticized a slimmer increase ahead of the spending package’s release early Tuesday. Avoiding furloughs isn’t enough if the goal is to keep a government agency better equipped to deal with a rising demand from workers looking to organize, Taylor said Monday, hours before the spending package’s release.

We’re “not interested in keeping the lights on,” he said.

(Disclosure: Bloomberg Law employees are represented by a CWA affiliate.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Diego Areas Munhoz in Washington, D.C. at dareasmunhoz@bloombergindustry.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Genevieve Douglas at gdouglas@bloomberglaw.com; Martha Mueller Neff at mmuellerneff@bloomberglaw.com