Progressive lawmakers and labor advocates are saying that a crucial funding boost for the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) must be the “highest priority” for Congress to pass before the end of the year as lawmakers consider a funding package for 2023.
In a press conference on Tuesday, Representatives Jamaal Bowman (D-New York), Ro Khanna (D-California), Andy Levin (D-Michigan), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) and Ilhan Omar (D-Minnesota) joined labor advocates in demanding that the board be fully funded in 2023, saying that the budget should be raised from its current level of $274 million to $368 million in order to fully meet the needs of the growing labor movement.
“The NLRB hasn’t received a budget increase in nine years — and that was already underfunded,” said Ocasio-Cortez. “In order for us to achieve a healthy, vibrant and strong economic democracy, we need to have a fully resourced, fighting NLRB in the United States of America.”
As the labor movement undergoes a renaissance and workers are realizing their power across the U.S., legislators need to ensure that the NLRB is there to support their efforts, she said, calling for lawmakers to pass a “big boost” to the agency’s budget before the close of the legislative session at the end of the month.
The NLRB has been raising the alarm about its funding levels for months. The agency is facing funding pressures from multiple angles: on one side, the NLRB budget has effectively been cut by 25 percent since 2014, which has forced the agency to have to dramatically reduce its field staff. At the same time, union filings and labor activity have skyrocketed in recent years, with union petitions increasing by over 50 percent in fiscal year 2022 over the previous year, even further squeezing what little resources the agency had.
This has left the NLRB facing a “budgetary Armageddon,” as the NLRB union said last month, and the agency has said that it will have to begin furloughing staff if its funding isn’t increased. Worse, the NLRB may soon begin seeing attacks from the Republican-controlled House, as the GOP has warned that it has placed a target on labor officials’ backs for House hearings and investigations.
“Unions have been under attack for decades. The cost of living has gone up, housing has gone up, health care has gone up, child care has gone up, groceries have gone up, and wages have remained stagnant. And part of the reason that that is the case is that the NLRB has not been fully funded,” said Bowman on Tuesday.
“We do not have a democracy without organized labor… We do not have a healthy society without workers earning a prevailing wage. You want to talk about issues of health care, public safety, education, it’s all about taking care of our workers,” he continued.
The lawmaker pointed out that the proposed $368 million NLRB budget is just a fraction of a fraction, about 0.004 percent, of the $858 billion defense budget that’s slated to pass Congress soon. President Joe Biden asked for the NLRB to be provided with $319 million in his budget request earlier this year.
Jim Williams, president of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades and co-chair of the Worker Power Coalition, also spoke of the need for the NLRB to be fully funded. “The NLRB needs to be modernized from top to bottom so that workers can meet the moment that we’re living in right now,” Williams said. “Those workers need an NLRB that can react quickly, that’s fully funded, so that they can go back to work and that their rights are upheld in the workplace.”
Labor advocates say that the NLRB’s funding is especially important in this moment as labor activity is surging. Workers have scored huge wins in the past year, unionizing at major companies like Starbucks and Amazon, kicking off campaigns within these companies and beyond.