Although the National Labor Relations Board has been one of the most active and aggressive federal labor/employment agencies since Biden took control of the Executive Branch almost two years ago, there is trouble brewing. The NLRB has had the same $274 million dollar budget since 2014 according to its General Counsel Jennifer Abruzzo. The lack of a budget increase is now causing the NLRB to consider furloughing career agency employees. At the same time, the union for the NLRB workers publicly blasted the Board Administration, and more specifically GC Abruzzo, for their positions at the bargaining table on Thursday via its Twitter page @TheNLRBU.
In a letter to the House and Senate Appropriations subcommittees responsible for NLRB funding, co-authored by NLRB Chair Lauren McFerran and General Counsel Abruzzo, explained that the budget paralysis, combined with inflation, has substantially reduced the NLRB’s purchasing power to just 75% of what it was in 2014 and that additional funding will be needed to keep the NLRB at status quo in light of $18.7 million in new expenses for required pay increases, non-labor inflation, and upcoming field office relocations. These increased expenses, says the NLRB, are beyond its control and, absent Congressional approval of a sufficiently increased budget, it will have to furlough NLRB employees. Of note, the letter cites a $10.7 million increase in labor costs stemming from a 4.6% raise to its workforce that goes into effect in 2023 and emphasizes that the NRLB has “exhausted its ability to absorb cost increases through staff attrition and operational efficiencies,” suggesting the NLRB is already running a lean operation.
For its own part, the NLRB Union, which represents over 700 NLRB staff, took to social media to echo GC Abruzzo’s concerns about the possibility of furloughs and reorganization absent an increase in the budget. With nearly the same breath, however, the NLRB also leveled public criticism of GC Abruzzo’s recent apparent efforts to bring back the NLRB’s pre-pandemic work policies, by allowing a pandemic remote work policy to expire. Requiring more on-site work, the Union argues, compounds the NLRB’s staffing problems. The NLRB remote work policy changes are causing NLRB employees to leave their jobs for other flexible work opportunities and new applicants to reject NLRB employment offers because of the inflexibility.
The Union’s reaction to the budget and remote work policy issues coincide with ongoing negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement. Notwithstanding the remote work policy lapse, GC Abruzzo has indicated a commitment to reaching a new collective bargaining agreement that increases remote work for NLRB employees.
There are a number of variables in play with the NRLB that collectively and individually could impact its enforcement operations at a time when it enjoys more administration support from the White House than at any time in recent history. There is no question that Biden will sign any bill that increases the funding of the Board. It will be interesting to see whether or not the new Congress is inclined to do what has not been done in over seven years and provide a material budget increase for the labor agency. If not, then the question to consider and watch for is whether the decreased funding and strife that lack of funding appears to be causing will carry over to operations such that enforcement and other areas related to the way the agency operates for the next year and the remainder of the Biden administration are negatively affected.