After months of advocacy from pro-labor groups and National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) union members, members of Congress have included a modest funding boost for the NLRB in the must-pass omnibus funding bill, which the NLRB union says will help stave off major funding problems in the short term.
The bill proposes a $25 million budget increase for the agency tasked with carrying out union elections and protecting workers’ rights, bringing the agency’s total budget shy of $300 million for next year. This will be the first budget increase for the agency in nine years.
The NLRB union says that this funding boost will help stave off budgetary disaster for the agency, but points out that it is still far from enough to fix the agency’s current staffing needs and deficits.
“After nine long years, our national nightmare is over: a $25 million budget increase for the National Labor Relations Board has been included in the omnibus bill. If passed by both chambers, the funding Armageddon we warned of has been avoided — for at least this year,” the union wrote.
“To be clear, we were hoping for more funds,” the union continued. “As we have documented, the NLRB has been left dramatically understaffed after nearly a decade of flat funding, and this is not enough to replenish the agency. But breaking the streak is a tremendous accomplishment for Board advocates.”
NLRB leaders and union members have been warning for months that the agency is underfunded and has been for many years, thanks to conservative cuts and anti-labor backlash.
Due to inflation, the real cuts to the agency’s budget amount to 25 percent since fiscal year 2014. This has forced the agency to cut its staff by 39 percent, including a 50 percent cut in field staffing.
The NLRB union warned lawmakers in November that Democrats may not have another chance to boost the agency’s budget for several years if it isn’t increased before Republicans take control of the House in January. This would cause further problems for an agency already facing several funding crises, and almost certainly lead to furloughs that would severely impair the agency’s ability to carry out work that is crucial to supporting the rapidly growing labor movement in the U.S.
Earlier this year, President Joe Biden requested an NLRB budget of $319 million, an amount which the NLRB has backed with evidence; Democrats and progressives in Congress have pushed for a budget of $368 million, which they say would fully fund the agency and come much closer to meeting its administrative needs.
And even the Democrats’ proposal still falls short of what the budget would be if it kept pace with inflation over the past decade or so; according to NLRB union legislative director and NLRB lawyer Mike Bilik, if the budget had tracked with inflation since Fiscal Year 2010, it would be $374 million this year.
“Don’t get me wrong we are relieved, but it was quite literally the least they could do to keep the lights on,” Bilik wrote on Twitter.
Labor advocates have also pointed out that such a boost to the NLRB budget would be absolutely miniscule compared to the defense budget — a $368 million budget would be about 0.004 percent of this year’s defense budget ($858 billion).
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