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By Chris Opfer
The National Labor Relations Board’s five members will have the last word on any sweeping changes to the NLRB’s regional director system proposed by the board’s general counsel, Chairman Marvin Kaplan (R) recently told a group of lawyers.
NLRB General Counsel Peter Robb (R) can’t overhaul the regional director system without board approval, Kaplan said in a Jan. 19 meeting with an American Bar Association practice group, according to sources who were present at the meeting. The comments came days after Bloomberg Law reported that Robb is considering moves that would limit the 26 regional directors’ authority. That includes possibly eliminating regions and installing four managers directly reporting to Robb to oversee the directors.
Some board observers pegged the proposal as Robb’s attempt to consolidate his power as the NLRB’s lead attorney and reduce the role of directors who may not share his views. Others familiar with the proposal said it’s a response to expected budget cuts.
Kaplan also told the group that the proposal may require public input, according to the sources, who spoke on the condition that they not be identified. Robb attended portions of the meeting but wasn’t in the room when Kaplan made the comments, they said.
Kaplan said “the Board will seek public input and he understands that the General Counsel would seek Board approval consistent with the Board’s longstanding practice,” an NLRB spokesperson told Bloomberg Law.
Robb in the general counsel position serves as the NLRB’s chief prosecutor for unfair labor practice cases under the National Labor Relations Act, a role independent of the board. He also oversees NLRB field offices.
Regional directors generally have broad authority to review unfair labor practices cases and determine whether those cases move forward. The board has also delegated to regional directors the power to review representation cases, including by conducting union elections and certifying the results.
NLRB memoranda describing delegations of authority from the agency’s board to the general counsel have for years required board approval of any appointment, transfer, demotion, or discharge of a regional director. Federal personnel law and regulations could also affect the agency’s ability to downgrade or demote regional directors.
The NLRB has seen a steady decline in total cases, from about 34,000 in 2001 to roughly 24,000 in 2016, prompting some lawmakers to call for trimming the board’s budget.
President Donald Trump proposed in last year’s budget request to shave about 6 percent in NLRB funding. An appropriations bill passed in the House last year would have reduced the board’s budget by about 9 percent, while a separate measure introduced in the Senate would have held NLRB funding steady at $274 million.
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