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A fake "wanted" sign for Howard Schultz

A photo of Starbucks interim CEO Howard Schultz is posted on a tree as striking Starbucks workers picket outside of a Starbucks coffee shop during a national strike on November 17, 2022 in San Francisco, California. (Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Amid Rampant Union-Busting, NLRB Warns Congress Its Funds Nearly Dry

"The agency has already implemented a hiring freeze and, without additional funding, will likely be forced to pursue furloughs," the NLRB wrote in a letter to Congress.

Jake Johnson

The National Labor Relations Board issued a dire warning Friday about the state of its long-starved budget, warning members of Congress that it does not have enough funding and staff to "keep up with an increasing workload" as the agency fights back against aggressive union-busting by some of the most powerful and deep-pocketed corporations in the world.

"The agency's current funding level is impairing our ability to maintain staff capacity, both in headquarters and across 48 field offices," NLRB chair Lauren McFerran and general counsel Jennifer Abruzzo wrote in a letter to the heads of labor panels in the House and Senate. "At this point, the agency has exhausted its ability to absorb cost increases through staff attrition and operational efficiencies."

"The agency has already implemented a hiring freeze and, without additional funding, will likely be forced to pursue furloughs," the letter adds.

"Only Congress can prevent this catastrophe from happening by increasing the agency's budget."

A major problem for the NLRB—and for workers pursuing legal recourse through the agency tasked with enforcing U.S. labor law—is that the party set to take over the House of Representatives is openly hostile to unions and the board, potentially imperiling any effort to secure a desperately needed funding increase.

Earlier this year, Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), the top Republican on the House Committee on Education and Labor, dismissed the Biden administration's request for a $319 million NLRB budget for Fiscal Year 2023 as a "stupid idea."

"Under this administration," Foxx said, "the NLRB has become the errand boy for labor unions."

Thanks to Republican opposition, the NLRB hasn't seen a funding increase in nearly a decade. Since 2014, its annual budget has been frozen at $274 million.

Union leaders lobbied aggressively for an NLRB budget boost in the recently approved Inflation Reduction Act, but their efforts were unsuccessful. It's not clear whether Democrats will push for more NLRB funding before they relinquish control of the House to the GOP.

The agency's latest warning about its deteriorating financial state comes as it is seeing an increase in union representation petitions as workers at Starbucks, Amazon, Apple, Trader Joe's, Chipotle, and other companies attempt to organize in the face of relentless—and often illegal—employer opposition.

The NLRB is currently pushing for a nationwide cease-and-desist order to stop Starbucks from terminating workers for engaging in lawful union activity. The agency also recently filed a complaint accusing Amazon CEO Andy Jassy of violating labor law by making anti-union comments during television interviews.

"More and more workers are fighting to have their voices heard, so this independent agency must have the resources it needs to give people a fair shake. Plain and simple," Rep. Donald Norcross (D-N.J.), co-chair of the Congressional Labor Caucus, tweeted Friday. In April, Norcross and 148 other House Democrats sent a letter to appropriators calling for a $368 million NLRB budget for Fiscal Year 2023.

The NLRB's letter comes days after the union that represents labor board employees warned on Twitter that the agency is "facing budgetary Armageddon."

"The agency is already in a hiring freeze, and for the first time in a decade we are hearing rumblings of employee furloughs," the NLRB Union wrote. "We are DESPERATELY asking Congress to increase our budget in the coming weeks."

"It is increasingly possible that the NLRB will have to furlough employees at a time while our caseloads are skyrocketing. This is the crisis in labor law enforcement we have warned of," the union added. "Only Congress can prevent this catastrophe from happening by increasing the agency's budget."

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