The Biden administration released their budget proposal for 2023 on March 28th. It was $5.7 trillion in size. This proposal included surprising elements such as a proposal to impose a new tax upon billionaires and funds for a 4.6% pay increaseFederal employees. The proposal contained a key item that labor advocates needed to know about: a significant increase of funding for the National Labor Relations Board from $274 million up to $319.4million.
The NLRB has been one the few bright spots in the shaky Biden administration. Jennifer Abruzzo is the General Counsel of the Communications Workers of America. moved aggressivelyTo reshape American labor law, and redefine the role NLRB’s from an ostensibly neutral agency into a protector of the right of organization. Her most recent initiatives — moving toward a ban “captive audience” meetingsA return to the Joy Silk standard — would dramatically curb the ability of employers to intimidate workers during organizing drives.
The fact that the NLRB has been so effective is even more remarkable given its low resources. The NLRB has endured repeated rounds of frozen funding at $274 million for the past ten years. The net effect is a significant decrease of actual funding and capacity due to inflation and higher benefits costs. According to the union representing NLRB employees the agency has lost approximately $3.5 million. 30% of its staffSince 2010, the last budget increase was in 2014.
Given this, the White House proposal for $319.4 million dollars — which betters the House proposal from the 2022 budget — is positive. It’s higher than the White House’s 2022 budget proposal of $301.17 million, and would provide significant resources for a crucial, effective, but underfunded and understaffed agency. Based on the NLRB 2022 budget request, even a more modest increase to $301.17 million would add nearly 150 staff, dramatically expanding the Board’s capacity.
The funding of the NLRB has a significant impact on workers’ rights and directly affects whether or not the law is applied. Underfunding and understaffing results in delays in case handling — which, in the case of elections, gives employers additional time to campaign against the union. According to the NLRB Union lack of funding and increased organizing activities are already a problem. stretching their capacityThis raises the question as to whether Board resources are limiting workplace organizing’s dramatic rise. The current example shows that delays have severe consequences. Starbucks firing spreeDesigned to contain Starbucks Workers United, and the slow processing request injunction: a subject recent complaintWorkers United leaders
More funding — not just in fiscal year 2023, but right now — is necessary to defend the right to organize and enforce labor law against increasingly hostile employers. But despite the White House’s proposal, there’s no reason to believe that it’s anything but posturing for one simple reason: Democrats made promises and failed to deliver in the 2022 budget.
Both Congress and the White House proposed increases for 2022. However, they were not included in the final Omnibus spending bill. Although the House passed a strong proposal for $317million dollars, the Senate version, which was passed by the Health, Labor, Education and Pensions committee, reduced it to $301million, matching the White House request. The increases passed committee markup and were on track to be included in the Omnibus Spending Bill until they were removed by Representative Rosa DeLauro (chair of the House Appropriations Committee). In her floor remarks, DeLauro cited Frances Perkins and said that Americans “deserve a government that, instead of catering to the wealthy and big corporations, bends over backwards to support them” — a laudable sentiment that rings hollow alongside abandoned funding increases for key agencies like the NLRB and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
In the deal-making to reach an omnibus spending bill that could secure Republican votes, Democratic leadership made their priorities clear: and they didn’t include defending the right to organize. Both the White House as well as the congressional leadership have shown a willingness for cooperation. take a victory lapYou propose increased funding while maintaining austerity for the only federal agency charged with enforcing and enforcing National Labor Relations Act. With a critical midterm election approaching, they’ll no doubt line up to ask for union support, with little, save confirming Abruzzo, to show.
Congressional leaders should be held responsible for increasing NLRB funds by Congressional progressives as well as organized labor. With a surge in organizing activity and worker interest in organizing, ensuring the right to organize requires providing adequate resources for the NLRB: additional staff to support outreach and education initiatives, and additional field staff to support the agency’s casework. Providing additional funding will ensure that employers are held accountable and that the right of organization is protected and expanded where necessary.
Securing shorter term increases and ensuring that the 2023 spending bill includes added NLRB funding means making an issue of the agency’s funding: one that Democratic leaders can’t ignore in backroom horsetrading. Absent that, it’s entirely likely that the NLRB will once again suffer a round of flat funding. If Republicans secure a majority in November, the agency will likely reach a full ten years without a budget increase, with dramatic consequences for workers’ rights.
Starbucks workers and the astonishing Amazon victory in Staten Island show that more can be done and that worker-led organizing can reverse decades of decline. We must answer the call to action made by Amazon workers and Starbucks employees: that means fighting every front to expand the rights and capabilities of workers to organize. Workers want unions. They deserve an NLRB that can protect their right to form unions.