The National Labor Relations Board’s top lawyer plans to reorganize case handling in seven Western regional offices later this month, a move that would take authority away from more experienced leadership, according to senior Democratic lawmakers who are among those who oversee the agency.
The reorganization will “undermine the NLRB’s ability to fairly and effectively protect workers’ rights under the National Labor Relations Act,” the lawmakers said in a statement announcing letters of protest sent Thursday to NLRB Chairman John Ring and General Counsel Peter Robb.
The plan, which the agency frames as a resource-sharing measure, calls for the affected regional directors to pick an official to assign incoming cases throughout and among those seven regions, the lawmakers said. That change is set to take effect Aug. 17, they said.
House Labor and Education Committee Chairman
“There is no reason to sideline the Regional Directors’ expertise and shift the authority to assign and handle incoming cases away from the Regions,” the senior Democrats told the two NLRB officials. The plan also involves the involuntary transfer of NLRB staffers and reassigning them from busier areas to those with fewer cases, the lawmakers said.
NLRB spokesman Edwin Egee said the agency looks forward to responding in detail to the Democrats’ letters.
The new reorganization plan applies to the two regional offices in Los Angeles, as well as offices in the Seattle, San Francisco, Oakland, Denver, and Phoenix regions, according to the lawmakers. They say those offices are led by directors who have expertise in workplace issues and labor law communities in their areas.
Each regional director from those seven offices is supposed to tap a representative to serve as the case-assigning officer on a rotating monthly basis, the Democrats said.
The lawmakers asked Robb and Ring to provide them with extensive details about the plan, regional office staffing and workload levels, and other information about agency functions.
The reorganization blueprint described by the Democratic lawmakers is reminiscent of Robb’s prior proposal to restructure regional offices and demote regional directors. A top official in Robb’s office announced in March that the agency would centralize the writing of pre-election decisions in union representation cases.
More Efficient, or Less?
Robb’s proposal is a continuation of his previous efforts to streamline NLRB operations to ensure more efficiency and budget certainty, said Michael Lotito, a lawyer with Littler Mendelson and co-leader of the management-side firm’s Workplace Policy Institute. The plan should help ensure that case handling isn’t delayed, since those offices with the most capacity will be assigned cases.
But the plan could make the agency less efficient if cases from one region are assigned to a different office, said Julie Gutman Dickinson, attorney with the union-side firm Bush Gottlieb. Regional staffers develop expertise from handling labor issues in certain regional industries that would be squandered, she said.
Investigations also would suffer if board agents from outside regions handle cases remotely, said Robert Giolito, a lawyer who represents workers and unions in the entertainment industry. The agency has been interviewing witnesses remotely due to the coronavirus pandemic, and they’re generally inferior to face-to-face interviews, he said.
Stripping NLRB regional directors of their power to assign and manage cases qualifies as a demotion that Robb can’t implement without board approval, the Democratic lawmakers told Robb and Ring in their letters.
Three of the regional directors who would lose authority under the plan are Black, representing half of the agency’s regional directors who are people of color, the lawmakers said. Four women would also be demoted, roughly a quarter of the agency’s female regional directors, they said.
The lawmakers also accused the NLRB of shielding the proposal from transparency, as the agency hasn’t shared its plan publicly or briefed members of Congress, lawmakers said.
—With assistance from Josh Eidelson.