Yesterday, the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies Subcommittee of the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee held a hearing to discuss the National Labor Relations Board’s 2016 budget proposal. The proposal, coming in a year where the Board has released several decisions that have angered Republicans, seeks a $3.8mm increase in funds in order to hire more case investigators. The Board’s total budget request for 2016 comes in at a cool $278mm.
Per NLRB Chairman Mark Gaston Pearce, the need to hire more investigators (and the corresponding budget increase) stem from the Board’s increasingly complex case load.
“More staff would help to process cases faster … [to] deal with the complexities of case issues,” he said. There are thousands of cases with thousands of transcripts, and “applying the law to an ever-changing working environment … requires a lot of intensive analysis and investigation.”
But despite the complexity of cases coming through its doors, the Board Chairman also admitted that case filings have decreased. And some Senators further posited in pointed questioning that the Board’s uptick in complex cases was of its own making. As but one example, the Board has sought briefs on whether to change its long-standing “joint employer” standard to an amorphous “totality of the circumstances test,” to say nothing of the Board’s new “ambush election” rules.
Further, in a particularly heated exchange, Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) hammered Chairman Pearce about the Board’s call for amicus briefs to explore whether unions should be allowed to charge certain grievance-processing fees to non-members.
“Does that law sound permissible under the National Labor Relations Act?” Alexander asked.
“I believe so, yes,” Pearce responded. Alexander pressed the former union attorney on the call for briefs, which traditionally indicate that the board is attempting to revise existing precedent.
“Why would you ask those questions when the law has been settled for 47 years?” he asked.
“The case that is before us is one I can’t comment specifically on because it is pending,” Pearce said.
“It seems to me … that that’s undermining right-to-work laws,” Alexander said. “I cannot think of anything more damaging to middle income Tennesseans than to undermine the right-to-work law. … I’m very concerned.”
To be sure, the hearing was not all doom and gloom for the beleaguered Board, as Senator Patty Murray (D-Washington) voiced her support for the NLRB’s new “ambush election” rules, arguing that they will “reduce needless delays.”
So it remains to be seen whether a hostile Republican-controlled Senate will approve the Board’s requested budget increase when the proposal reaches the full appropriations committee. But a gambler would predict that Senator Alexander and his colleagues in the GOP will fight any expansion of Board power tooth and nail, as they have throughout the Obama Board’s tenure. We will be watching this budget fight closely, so keep checking back here for updates.