GOP NLRB Cuts Would Lead to Backlog of 18,000 Cases

Mike Elk

In Fiscal Year 2009, the federal government budgeted $515 million for sports fishing programs, but gave only $263 million to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), the board with deciding workers’ rights violation cases — which frequently arise during union organizing drives.

For decades, it has been a point of contention among labor activists that the lack of funding of the NLRB has made the NLRB an agency unable to combat the massive assault on workers’ rights by big corporations.

While cuts to NPR and Planned Parenthood are the top priority for cultural warriors, the cuts to the already underfunded NLRB that the business community wants equally as bad. Earlier this year, the Republican led House of Representatives passed H.R. 1, a budget bill still under negotiations with the Democrat-led Senate and White House. H.R. 1 contains a $50 million cut to the budget of the NLRB’s current FY2010 $283.4 million budget.

According to an independent analysis by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service, the cut to the NLRB would force it to furlough its 1,600 person staff for anywhere from 58 to 64 days, depending upon how many workers are exempt from the furloughs. According to the analysis the cuts could have a wide reaching effect a substantial reduction in work days would be dramatic.

Other NLRB activities that could be affected include Board decisions, remedies to ULPs [unfair labor practices], collection of back pay, and requests for court injunctions to stop ULPs, responses to public inquires, outreach, completion of financial and other reports, and other activities.” The National Labor Relations Board estimates this would increase their backlog by 18,000 cases.

Congressman Miller protested the cuts, saying in letter to congressional leadership that, As you know, the NLRB’s mission is vital to enforce protections for American workers and private businesses under the National Labor Relations Act…. While Congress should identify and cut any wasteful or inefficient spending, these cuts to the NLRB are misplaced and are inherently destructive to labor-management relations.”

The NLRB has been the target of criticism from the business community for their enhanced enforcement of labor law with a democratic majority. Employers would much prefer to go back to an NLRB that cannot function properly and allows employers to violate labor law with impunity. The question is: How much is the White House willing to stand up to the business community in denouncing these cuts?

The answer appears to be not very much.

The NLRB sent out a press release denouncing the cuts saying that the cuts would make the agency essentially defunct. The White House immediately chastised the agency for publicly denouncing the Republicans cuts. As Ryan Grim of the Huffington Post reported,

The White House demanded that the NLRB scrub the statement defending the agency from its website and NLRB spokesperson told the Huffington Post… The Office of Management and Budget, an arm of the White House, reached out to the NLRB and told the agency to back off and take down the statement, according to the NLRB spokesperson.

For the White House to order the National Labor Relations Board to do anything — let alone scrub a press statement — was an extraordinarily heavy-handed move. The NLRB has always had a large degree of independence as an agency, as it as quasi-judicial board that issues rulings. In the past, the White House has been hesitant to interfere with the functioning in any way, shape, or form.

The White House’s muzzling of the NLRB on budget cuts should be a troubling sign for labor activists looking to the Obama administration to stop these disabling cuts.

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Mike Elk wrote for In These Times and its labor blog, Working In These Times, from 2010 to 2014. He is currently a labor reporter at Politico.
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