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The federal labor board’s top prosecutor has begun implementing what looks to be the first in a series of changes to how the board processes complaints from workers, unions, and businesses.
The National Labor Relations Board will “immediately” enact several reform proposals to centralize and streamline case decision-making, according to a July 30 internal memo obtained by Bloomberg Law. The NLRB protects the rights of most private-sector workers to engage in union activities, conducts union elections, and investigates unfair labor practice charges.
The bulk of the changes are aimed at centralizing and streamlining certain steps in the process of reviewing a complaint, like the actual writing of a decision, to achieve greater consistency and efficiency. Several other items from general counsel Peter Robb ‘s original list of 59 proposals—which drew significant criticism—will be addressed in “memos soon to follow,” the board said.
The NLRB didn’t respond to a request for comments. Robb said in the memo that the changes are intended “to improve our efficiency and effectiveness.”
One of the new processes, labeled “Team-Decisions,” allows the agency’s field office heads, known as regional directors, to delegate to supervisors the authority to dismiss, withdraw, or settle cases. Those decisions previously were only made by regional directors in the agency’s roughly 26 offices.
The memo notes that about “17 of our regional offices have already been engaged in delegating such case handling decisions with great success.”
Some agency employees and worker advocates have expressed concern that the team-decision process could prejudice businesses or workers. They say the change might incentivize quicker disposals of cases, and could lead to less oversight of relatively inexperienced teams in particular field offices.
One union official in a regional office told Bloomberg Law that the major concern is that these changes are of a piece with other reforms proposed by Robb. Critics are concerned the moves will ultimately downplay field office authority and centralize decision-making in the general counsel’s office in Washington.
Employee representatives at the NLRB have told Bloomberg Law that they suspect the general counsel will implement his proposals piecemeal. Some said that could be a strategy to avoid having the moves characterized as a major overhaul of agency process, although that might be the ultimate result.
The board has noted in its memos about case-processing that the proposals were “developed almost entirely from suggestions” from employees. Robb asked staffers to submit proposals via email shortly after coming on board, but some have suggested that the general counsel may have developed and put forth a number of the more far-reaching proposals himself.
The NLRB hasn’t responded to inquiries from Bloomberg Law about how submissions made it into the list of 59 proposals circulated by the general counsel.
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