Labor Board Funding Cut 6 Percent in Trump Budget Plan

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By Lawrence E. Dubé and Hassan A. Kanu

National Labor Relations Board funding would drop nearly 6 percent under President Donald Trump’s budget proposal released May 23. The proposal calls for the agency to reduce staff by about 275 full-time-equivalent employees (FTEs) in fiscal year 2018.

The proposal would reduce the board’s budget authority from the current level of $274 million in FY 2017 to $258 million for FY 2018.

The budget projects that the agency’s caseload will actually increase, with unfair labor practice charges and representation case proceedings rising about 5 percent from the FY 2017 estimated levels. However, the agency’s mission would be handled by an estimated 1,320 employees rather than the current staff of about 1,596 under the proposed budget.

Budget Calls for Labor Board Cuts

The NLRB has 26 regional offices and its Washington headquarters. The budget includes a $2 million increase the NLRB requested to cover rental payments to the General Services Administration. However, in most categories, the budget calls for less funding than the board currently has.

The budget provides for $159 million for personnel compensation, down from $167 million estimated this year. Civilian personnel benefits would drop from $50 million to $47 million, and the projected employment of 1,320 FTEs in fiscal 2018 would be a drastic staff cut. Since FY 2001, agency employment has fallen from 1,993 FTEs to about 1,600, but it averaged more than 1,700 during the period.

The Trump administration budget includes one “administrative provision” that no appropriations for the NLRB may be used to adopt electronic voting in union representation elections. In 2010, the NLRB invited vendors to submit “industry solutions” on secure methods for electronic balloting. The agency never acted on the subject, but appropriations have been restricted in recent years to block adoption of electronic balloting technology.

The budget doesn’t spell out how the agency is to reduce its FTE headcount and personnel costs, but two former board members agreed such a deep cut in human assets would affect the agency’s performance.

"[T]he president claimed during the campaign that he would be the voice of American workers, but these proposed cuts in the NLRB’s budget threaten workers’ right to speak for themselves through organizing and collective bargaining,” AFL-CIO General Counsel Craig Becker, who served as a Democratic member of the NLRB on a recess appointment from April 2010 to January 2012, told Bloomberg BNA May 23.

Becker said the board and its general counsel “run a lean and efficient operation” but “the proposed cuts will impair their ability to enforce this critical workplace law.”

Marshall Babson, who served on the board as a Democratic member from 1985 to 1988, told Bloomberg BNA May 23 that the proposed budget cuts for the NLRB are unfortunate.

Even assuming there have been regulatory excesses at the NLRB, cutting budgets and eliminating resources is not helpful, said Babson, who is now counsel at Seyfarth Shaw LLP in New York, where he represents management. The National Labor Relations Act is intended to serve employers, unions, and employees, and leaving the agency with inadequate funding and resources would hurt all of them, the lawyer said.

Some 5 percent of the NLRB’s cases may be controversial but 95 percent are routine, Babson said. Hobbling the agency from handling its caseload is not the answer, he said, and cutting 275 FTEs would certainly impede the NLRB from administering the law.

But Brian E. Hayes, a Republican board member from June 2010 to December 2012 and now a shareholder representing employers at Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart in Washington, said the agency’s speed in those cases hasn’t been “lightning fast” anyway, . In representation cases, Hayes said, he believes the board has placed too much emphasis on pressing for fast elections.

The NLRB is not being singled out by the Trump administration, which has proposed even deeper cuts at the Labor Department, Hayes said, but the funding and staffing reductions proposed for the board would certainly have an effect if they are adopted.

Hayes said he expects the Trump administration’s proposal will be just the opening salvo in a debate over funding the agency in FY 2018.

An NLRB spokesperson declined to comment on the budget proposal.

Smaller Mediation Agencies Not Affected

Two smaller labor agencies would maintain their current funding levels under President Trump’s budget.

The Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service provides conciliation and mediation assistance to employers and unions in labor disputes in industries other than the railway and airline industries and to federal agencies and public employee unions. The agency, which presently has an estimated 226 direct civilian full-time employees, also provides mandatory mediation and impartial boards of inquiry to help resolve labor disputes involving private and nonprofit health-care institutions.

Trump’s budget estimates that most of the agency’s workload will be unchanged in FY 2018, and proposes to maintain FMCS funding at its current $49 million level, with the same number of employees.

The National Mediation Board mediates labor-management disputes in the rail and air transportation industries covered by the Railway Labor Act.

The agency only has an estimated 51 direct civilian FTEs at present, and the FY 2018 budget estimates staffing at the same level as 2017. The NMB would be funded at $13 million under the FY 2018 budget, matching its current funding level.

—Jasmine Ye Han contributed to this article.

To contact the reporters on this story: Lawrence E. Dubé in Washington at ldube@bna.com; Hassan A. Kanu in Washington at hkanu@bna.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Peggy Aulino at maulino@bna.com; Terence Hyland at thyland@bna.com; Christopher Opfer at copfer@bna.com

Copyright © 2017 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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