The Trump administration is looking to undermine the fundamental mission of the National Labor Relations Board, according to several employee and outside groups, who are objecting to cuts and a proposed reorganization of the agency.
Proposals from NLRB officials appointed by President Trump would seek to centralize functions currently performed by regional employees in the field and reduce their investigatory authorities as they seek to resolve cases involving workforce representation and unfair labor practices. The agency is also seeking to dramatically slash its budget and workforce, and has implemented a hiring freeze and other cuts despite uncertainty as to whether Congress will go along with the reductions. The multi-pronged efforts have demoralized employees, their advocates recently told leadership, and justifications of boosting efficiency could belie the true intention of crippling the agency.
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“Ultimately, whatever case-handling efficiency steps are adopted, they must be consistent with the mission of the [1935 National Labor Relations Act, which established the NLRB],” said the committee of regional directors, according to a letter to NLRB General Counsel Peter Robb obtained by Bloomberg Law. “Adopting measures that result in efficient resolution of cases but contravenes the mission of the act is a hollow accomplishment.”
The American Bar Association’s NLRA advisory committee said in its own letter that cutting costs did not sufficiently justify the changes the board’s leadership has proposed.
“We understand that efficiency and/or budgetary issues are the stated rationale for the proposal, but these concerns do not come close to justifying such drastic and harmful actions,” the committee said.
Robb previously sent a series of 59 suggestions to various employee groups and stakeholders. They included centralizing regional functions such as legal research, docketing and the writing of representational cases. Such changes would actually add bureaucratic levels, several groups said, and lead to less informed decision making.
The regional directors said those decisions were made in the field “for good reason,” as they are “best situated” to make them. A separate group of assistant regional directors said regional offices could not function without their own administrative staffs.
“Each region needs a core group of administrative professionals to function properly, and chronically understaffed regions should be allowed to hire,” the group said in its own letter, also obtained by Bloomberg. It said the proposals have caused “general anxiety and a discernible drop in morale in the field.”
The NLRB Union said in its own letter that the “chaotic, confusing and underdeveloped” proposals had deeply affected the agency’s workforce.
“Some feel confused, in some cases disrespected, and some have expressed the sense that this memo demonstrates an interest in destroying the agency from the inside,” the union said. “It is an understatement to say the memo has caused further deterioration of employee morale.”
NLRB has said it would freeze hiring, suspend performance awards and cut other agency resources. The NLRB Professional Association said this would result in the agency being “significantly less effective” in accomplishing its mission and could lead to undermining the will of Congress.
“These cuts will have lasting, detrimental impacts that cannot be easily dispelled when the agency’s funding is finalized,” the group said. “Indeed, as indicated, management will not even assure employees that it will restore the cuts if the agency is funded at its current level. These actions would appear to defy Congressional authority to appropriate and fund agencies.”
The employee groups also complained about a proposal to limit the use of investigative subpoenas to only exceptional cases.
“Experience taught us that this led to incomplete and poor quality investigations,” the regional directors said. They added that suggestions to increase the burden on those bringing charges, such as shortening the response time to two days and a more laborious process for filing documents and evidence, were unrealistic and would discourage individuals from filing “potentially meritorious charges.”
The NLRB Union said overall the proposals would, rather than improving efficiency, make longstanding issues at the agency worse.
“Many regions remain severely understaffed, which has caused many employees to feel overworked,” the union said. “Further, many employees feel under appreciated for their work and dedication to the mission and the agency. Very few of the concepts set forth in the memo seek to address these problems.”