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149 Democrats Demand More Cash for Underfunded Labor Board as Union Push Spreads

The NLRB’s field staff has been cut in half over the past 20 years as it’s faced budget shortfalls.

Supporters of Amazon workers attempting to win a second union election at the LDJ5 Amazon Sort Center rally on April 24, 2022, in Staten Island, New York.

As labor uprisings heat up and spread across the country, a group of House Democrats is calling for an increase in budget for the federal labor board, which has been starved of the funding it needs to address the current upswing in labor activity.

The group of 149 Democrats, led by Rep. Donald Norcross (D-New Jersey), sent a letter to the House Committee on Appropriations on Wednesday, asking for a roughly 34 percent boost to the National Labor Relations Board’s (NLRB) budget for fiscal year 2023 and requesting a budget of $368 million at minimum. The funding should be specifically directed toward addressing the “staffing crisis” at the board’s regional offices, they said.

The lawmakers also asked for the removal of an appropriations rider that bars the NLRB from conducting union elections with an electronic voting system, which the letter writers called an “antiquated prohibition.” Currently, elections are conducted with paper ballots that are mailed to labor officials, who count them by hand.

The NLRB’s budget has stayed the same for the last nine years, meaning that it has actually been cut by 25 percent in real dollars over the past decade or so. This has caused the overall staffing to shrink by 39 percent and field staffing to be cut in half over the past 20 years, the board says.

These cuts are making it hard for the agency to handle the current surge of union and unfair labor practice filings from movements like those of Amazon and Starbucks workers; earlier this month, the labor board reported that it’s seen a 57 percent increase in union filings and a 14 percent increase in unfair labor practice filings between October 2021 and March 2022.

“[W]ith 60 million non-union workers saying they would join a union if given the chance (including nearly 75 percent of young workers age 18-24), we only expect union election petitions to further increase,” the letter writers said. “With this skyrocketing workload, the NLRB is now responsible for far more workers than a decade ago yet has been denied the funding to meet these statutory requirements.”

In his 2023 budget request, President Joe Biden asked Congress to provide $319 million in funding for the board, which is an increase of about 16 percent over its current $274 million budget. Though the agency acknowledges that this would help ease budgetary and staffing pressures, it is still not enough to fully address staff shortages.

Norcross, co-chair of the Congressional Labor Caucus, told Truthout that the increase in funding is crucial to support the current burgeoning labor uprising.

“Our federal budget reflects our national priorities. It documents our values. These past few years have been incredibly tough on the working people of this country, and we’ve seen thousands organize to push for better wages and better working conditions in the pandemic’s wake,” Norcross said. “The NLRB plays a vital role in ensuring employers respect workers’ rights, but they can’t do their job well unless they are adequately funded.”

Increasing the NLRB funding is a step toward “placing the American worker at the heart of the federal budget,” the lawmaker continued.

It’s unclear if Democrats will be able to succeed in increasing the NLRB’s budget to this level. Though Republicans often claim to be the party of the working class, some conservatives have begun raising their objections with the NLRB, saying that it’s being used as a “cudgel” against corporations, which they claim are being harassed by labor officials.

In reality, however, it is the corporations that are harassing their workers. Unionizing workers across industries have said that corporations are subjecting them to intimidation, surveillance and other forms of union-busting in order to quash union efforts, forcing workers to file labor charges against the companies for breaking labor laws.

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