‘Surge’ in union elections prompts call to bolster NLRB staffing

As the number of workers forming unions across the country surges, U.S. Rep. Angie Craig joined 148 other House members in calling for a significant boost in funding for the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and reforms that would modernize the unionization process.

In an April 27 letter to ranking members of a House subcommittee that oversees funding for federal agencies, Craig and other representatives requested a $94 million increase in the next fiscal year to help the NLRB conduct most private-sector union elections and resolve unfair-labor disputes.

Members of Congress also asked that the increased funding be used to address a staffing shortage in NLRB regional offices, and that the legislation remove limits on the agency’s ability to conduct union elections electronically.

Minnesota Senators Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith signed onto a similar letter May 10.

The request comes at a time when American workers are joining together to form unions in numbers not seen for a decade – and in the wake of a public appeal from the agency’s general counsel for more resources to prevent a backlog of cases.

The NLRB received 1,174 petitions for election between Oct. 1, 2021, and March 31, 2002, up from 748 petitions during the same period a year earlier, a 57% increase. Unfair-labor-practice charges are up 14%.

But the increase in petitions comes amid staffing shortages at the NLRB, which has received the same congressional appropriation of $274.2 million for nine consecutive years. Agency staffing levels have dropped 39% since 2002, and field staffing has shrunk by 50%.

As a result, it’s not uncommon for workers to wait months for union elections after filing petitions with the NLRB – time employers often fill with captive-audience meetings and related union-busting tactics. Starbucks workers in St. Anthony, for example, a potential bargaining unit of 29 employees, filed their petition for a union election March 22, but won’t know the results until a June 6 vote count.

President Biden’s proposed 2023 budget seeks $319 million for the NLRB next fiscal year, but General Counsel Jennifer Abruzzo has said that level of funding will help the NLRB “start modernizing the agency’s technology infrastructure, but will not fully address staffing needs.”

“Right now, there is a surge in labor activity nationwide, with workers organizing and filing petitions for more union elections than they have in the last ten years. This has caused a significant increase in the NLRB’s caseload, and the Agency urgently needs more staff and resources to effectively comply with our Congressional mandate,” Abruzzo added.

That’s why Craig, who represents Minnesota’s 2nd Congressional District, and others who signed the letter want to see an appropriation of $368 million, with funding directed to field offices where personnel “efficiently and effectively process petitions and resolve disputes on the ground, while minimizing cost, maximizing public access and promoting favorable resolution of labor disputes.”

The letter also notes the surge of union petitions may be just the beginning of a larger, forthcoming wave.

“Additionally, with 60 million non-union workers saying they would join a union if given the chance (including nearly 75% of young workers age 18-24), we only expect union election petitions to further increase,” Craig and other members of Congress wrote. “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.”

Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District also signed onto the House version of the letter.

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