Labor Board Urged to ‘Change Course’ on Reported Funding Freeze (1)

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By Hassan A. Kanu

A pair of Democrats asked the labor board April 25 to assure them the agency won’t do an end run around Congress and freeze funding as part of the White House’s reported attempt to claw back billions from the spending bill passed last month.

“We remind you that Congress, not the Administration, has the ultimate authority to set funding levels for executive branch agencies,” Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) wrote in a letter, obtained by Bloomberg Law and addressed to National Labor Relations Board General Counsel Peter Robb. “Any actions to unilaterally reduce spending” would be “particularly troubling given that President Trump just recently signed bipartisan legislation that set spending levels and guidance for agencies into law,” they said.

The lawmakers also said they’re “especially troubled” by a previously undisclosed e-mail conversation that “appears” to show coordination between Robb and Michael Lotito, a management-side attorney for law firm Littler Mendelson.

Bloomberg Law initially reported that the White House Office of Management and Budget instructed the NLRB to restrict spending while President Donald Trump and a group of Republican lawmakers consider a plan to rescind some of the board’s allotment. Congress in March passed an omnibus spending bill that largely ignored Trump’s proposed 9 percent haircut for the agency.

The NLRB didn’t respond to Bloomberg Law’s previous inquiries about the spending freeze and didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment on the letter.

Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta told Congress the Labor Department is discussing “a potential rescission” with the OMB after repeated questions on the matter April 17. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) later shot down the idea, telling reporters he opposes rescission.

Murray and DeLauro said efforts to withhold appropriated funds or rework the spending package without “submitting a special message to Congress” would be “an extreme act of bad faith.” They also suggested it may be a violation of federal budget laws.

The lawmakers asked for prompt “assurances” that the agency will abide by the two federal statutes that lay out the process for budget rescissions and modifications.

Murray and DeLauro are the ranking Democrats on the Senate and House appropriations panels with authority over labor agencies.

Dems Suggest Improper ‘Coordination’ With Law Firm

The lawmakers also raised the issue of Robb’s plans to potentially reorganize the agency’s field offices and how it adjudicates disputes between workers, unions, and businesses.

Murray and DeLauro suggested that certain communications—made in response to a Bloomberg Law inquiry to Lotito—create the “appearance” of improper coordination between Robb and Littler.

The law firm houses one of the largest labor and employment law shops in the country and generally represents employers. Lotito heads the firm’s lobbying arm, the Workplace Policy Institute, which has an outsize presence on Capitol Hill and significant influence within labor agencies.

The NLRB in response to a request from Congress provided various documents to lawmakers related to Robb’s potential reorganization. That included an email from Lotito, informing the general counsel that Bloomberg Law had inquired about the possible changes at the agency and asking for “guidance” about how to respond.

“I cannot comment on any reorganization,” Robb told Lotito, according to copies of the exchange obtained by Bloomberg Law.

“Although you did not comment in writing, it appears that you have coordinated to some extent with Littler Mendelson in crafting or contemplating reorganization plans and that, long before Congress or the public was aware, Mr. Lotito understood you to have a ‘reorganization’” plan, DeLauro and Murray said.

Lotito referred questions to the firm. A spokesperson for Littler Mendelson didn’t respond to requests for comment.

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