Republicans likely to push for budget cuts to NLRB soon

Matthew Boyle Investigative Reporter
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The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ranks high on the budget cut list for top House Republicans.

House Education and Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline, Minnesota Republican, is particularly concerned with some of the NLRB’s recent pro-union agenda, The Daily Caller has learned, and will take that into special consideration when it comes to what’s going to get cut from the budget in the near future. Education and Workforce’s subcommittee on Health, Employment, Labor and Pensions will conduct a hearing on Friday on “emerging trends” at the NLRB, which TheDC has learned will likely feature a broad discussion of the NLRB’s alleged power grabs.

Education and Workforce committee spokesman Brian Newell said Kline is worried about how the NLRB’s recent actions will affect workers and that the NRLB budget is on the table when it comes to budget cuts.

“Chairman Kline has pledged to take a look at every dollar being spent at the federal level and that certainly includes money spent at the NLRB,” Newell said in an e-mail to TheDC. “The chairman is also very concerned about some recent actions taken by the NLRB and their impact on workers. Moving forward, all options are on the table when it comes to protecting the rights of workers.”

One of the concerns Kline and other top Republicans have with the NLRB is that the historically politically neutral board is shifting into the advocacy realm. One thing the board is considering is shrinking the time period in which workers can educate themselves before voting in a union election. The board might also allow electronic union elections, which U.S. Chamber of Commerce labor specialist Glenn Spencer said is “cyber card check.” Card check is when labor organizers get workers to sign a card that, in most cases, counts as a vote in favor of unionization. They get workers to sign the cards by telling them a certain percentage need to be signed for a unionization vote to take place, but when organizers get enough signed cards, they can forgo a vote altogether.

Spencer said the board is also pushing to allow unions more freedom to organize small sectors of workplaces. He said Big Labor is interested in these “mini-unions” because they’re easier to organize and unions can focus on different parts of a company instead of having to go after the whole workforce at once.

“The Board is really pushing the boundaries of their legal authority in some instances and being very aggressive in expanding the scope of what they decide via case law so they shouldn’t be surprised if they’re catching the eye of appropriators and the oversight committees,” Spencer told TheDC. “I think like any agency in the federal government, we’re looking at a huge deficit and we all have to tighten our belts a little bit.”

Spencer said any NLRB budget cuts would hurt that agency worse than most others. That’s because 90 percent of the NLRB’s budget pays for staff and their expenses, and any cut would force the agency to start laying people off. “A large amount of what the NLRB handles relies on personnel, so reducing funding means less workers,” Spencer said. “Budget reduction will have a pretty significant impact.”

The NLRB had a 2010 budget of $287 million, a $20 million increase from 2009.

Workforce Fairness Institute executive director Katie Gage said what the NLRB has already done – threatening lawsuits against South Dakota, South Carolina, Utah and Arizona for ensuring workers are allowed secret ballots for union elections – is only a precursor of what’s to come with the NLRB in the near future.

“We’re not really focused on where they’ve gone because they haven’t done that much lately,” Gage told TheDC. “They’ve been a fairly neutered agency for a long, long period of time. The thing that has us worried is what they’ve hinted at what they’re going to do.”

Another concern of the NLRB’s critics is what they see as the growing influence on the board of Craig Becker, the former top AFL-CIO and SEIU lawyer currently serving as the result of a recess appointment by President Barack Obama. Gage said Becker’s influence on the board is increasing and even if the Senate doesn’t confirm him this time around, he gets to serve through the end of the year. She said the NLRB will “prey” on small business owners and on job creators on behalf of the unions with the sole goal of organizing more workers.

Spencer said another way to cut the NLRB’s power is to attach strings to the agency’s appropriated funds. Basically, these strings, or “appropriations riders,” restrict the NLRB from spending any of its money on a specific purpose, usually a new “rule” the agency would be pushing.

House Republicans wouldn’t, however, likely be able to stick riders in regarding the number or types of cases the NLRB can hear, which is where the agency gets a substantial amount of power. The board can project broad policy from narrow case decisions.

That’s the reason why the NLRB budget needs to be cut back and its powers needs to be limited, said Rick Manning from Americans for Limited Government.

“It’s our hope that the National Labor Relations Board will be precluded from taking legal action against the four states which guarantee their citizens secret ballot elections in their Constitutions,” Manning said in a phone interview. “The NLRB is becoming an activist agency on behalf of organized labor. Budget cuts would return them to their rightful place as a neutral arbiter instead of as an advocate.”

The first appropriations cuts could be released publicly as soon as Thursday.