Labor Board Tells Congress It Will Have To Furlough Staff Without A Funding Boost

Officials have warned that the agency's mission to protect workers' rights is in danger unless lawmakers step in.

Leaders of the federal agency responsible for enforcing collective bargaining law have told Congress they will have to furlough employees if they don’t receive an increase in funding as soon as possible.

The letter from the National Labor Relations Board shows just how dire the situation is at the agency. The NLRB is responsible for overseeing union elections and holding employers and unions accountable for labor law violations — a mission that officials say is now in danger, especially amid a surge in workplace organizing.

NLRB Chair Lauren McFerran and NLRB General Counsel Jennifer Abruzzo said in their letter Friday that “erosion” of staff and resources has become a “significant detriment” to employers and workers.

“At this point, the Agency has exhausted its ability to absorb cost increases through staff attrition and operational efficiencies,” they wrote. “The Agency has already implemented a hiring freeze and, without additional funding, will likely be forced to pursue furloughs.”

Congress has not given the NLRB a nominal increase in funding in the better part of a decade, leaving the agency unable to fill positions as they open up. Total staffing has dropped 30% in 10 years, from 1,733 full-time employees to 1,207. Most of the cuts have fallen on regional offices that conduct union elections and investigate unfair labor practices.

The agency’s annual appropriation from Congress has remained $274 million since fiscal year 2014.

“Adjusting for inflation, we have lost one-quarter of our purchasing power over the past nine years,” McFerran and Abruzzo wrote.

Meanwhile, the NLRB says workers filed more election petitions this past fiscal year than in any other since 2016, part of a boom in organizing at employers like Starbucks and Trader Joe’s.

With Republicans projected to win control of the House, it will likely be even more difficult for the agency to secure funding increases starting next year. McFerran and Abruzzo are hoping the additional money will come in an omnibus spending package next month, while Democrats still hold House and Senate majorities.

The NLRB’s staff union warned in a Twitter thread last week that furloughs could be on the horizon, saying the agency faced “budgetary Armagedon.”

“We are DESPERATELY asking Congress to increase our budget in the coming weeks,” the union said.

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