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National Labor Relations Board leaders faced a rare agency staff protest Nov. 8, the second such employee action in the current board’s first year.
Career staffers at the NLRB protested and handed out leaflets outside an American Bar Association conference attended by board Chairman John Ring. They say the agency is trying to make more cuts to pay and benefits despite ending the fiscal year with a budget surplus, and that it terminated two long-standing collective bargaining contracts for most of its staff to renegotiate the terms.
The protests are also aimed at Ring and General Counsel Peter Robb’s efforts to reverse the direction of federal labor policy and overhaul the agency, whose mission is to enforce workplace labor law and referee union elections. Senior career officials have said the moves and proposals made by President Donald Trump’s appointees would hobble the NLRB and gut American workers’ ability to file charges alleging unlawful workplace practices against employers.
Workers at federal agencies sign up with their employee unions at a much higher rate than workers in the private sector do. But the picketing and other protest actions often associated with private unions are rare in the federal government. There have been indications of internal strife under other agency heads in the Trump administration. The NLRB staffers’ public criticism of their leaders takes on added significance, however, given the agency’s own role as one of the government’s main enforcers of workplace and union rights.
“Since their appointment, General Counsel Robb and Chairman Ring have engaged in a systematic attack on the employees” and “the agency as a whole,” the staffers said in their leaflets. They pointed to the government’s annual employee surveys for 2018, noting that several measurements of employee confidence in leadership dropped steeply at the NLRB.
The percent of NLRB staffers who expressed dissatisfaction with agency leaders’ "policies and practices” more than doubled in 2018, from 22 percent to 47.4 percent, according to the 2018 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey.
“The NLRB takes employee concerns seriously, and we will look for ways to address this feedback,” Ring told Bloomberg Law in a Nov. 8 email.
The group and Ring are at the ABA’s annual labor and employment law conference in San Francisco.
The protesters are members of the NLRB Professional Association, the union representing workers at the board’s Washington, D.C., headquarters.
“The Agency’s current leadership cast aside years of a peaceful, collaborative relationship with its employees by terminating our contract and, by all accounts, preparing dramatic cuts to employees’ benefits, job protections, and compensation,” NLRBPA President Karen Cook told Bloomberg Law in an email.
The union says the moves are being made despite the agency’s ending the fiscal year with a surplus.
Staffers who’ve spoken with Bloomberg Law on the condition of anonymity said the surplus is likely money left over after the agency offered buyouts to reduce staff. There were fewer workers willing to accept the offers than the agency had expected.
The “upcoming collective bargaining will provide a good opportunity” to address employees’ various concerns, Ring told Bloomberg Law.
Career staffers staged an earlier protest against Robb’s proposed moves.
Robb has said his plans to revamp the agency’s processes are “to bring the Agency in line” with a directive from the Trump administration’s Office of Management and Budget that lays out a broad vision of slimming down the federal government by consolidating, minimizing, and eliminating certain programs and agencies.
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