The federal agency that oversees collective bargaining agreements and unfair labor practice complaints should be dismantled, argues a new report out Wednesday from a free-market think tank.
The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is an independent federal agency with responsibilities for enforcing national labor law. The agency has both been hailed as a guardian or worker freedom and condemned as dangerously biased. The Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) says it’s time to end the agency.
The CEI report highlights several reasons why the board should be dismantled. The Department of Labor and federal court system would then split the duties for which the board is currently responsible. The report argues the board is biased, flip-flops on its own case law, and is ineffective at ruling in labor dispute cases.
“The Board is composed of two Republican and two Democratic members, with a chairman from the president’s party,” the report argues. “This has caused case precedent to flip-flop depending on which party holds the White House.”
The report adds ending the agency could help stop the trend of activists using the board to change the law. A federal court system would presumably be more consistent with rulings since it’s less partisan. Businesses would then also have a clearer and more consistent legal framework to ensure they are following the law.
The report also argues that the agency is ineffective at ruling on labor dispute cases. It highlights an overall decline in decisions and an ever increasing budget. The report notes that the agency’s annual budget appropriations increased from $112 million to $274 million between 1980 to 2016.
“The NLRB has proven ineffective in its labor dispute resolution role, doing less work at greater cost to the taxpayer,” the report states. “From 1980 to 2016, the Board’s annual caseload fell by 58 percent, from more than 57,000 cases to 24,200, and its output of published decisions fell by 78 percent from 1,343 to 298.”
The NLRB was established in 1935 as part of a series of economic related reforms known as the New Deal. Former President Franklin D. Roosevelt pursued the economic changes in response to the Great Depression. The reforms included worker rights laws and support for the economically disadvantaged.
“The agency’s rulemaking authority and election duties should be transferred to the Department of Labor, which already has expertise in these areas,” the report states. “The Board’s adjudicatory authority should be transferred to federal district courts.”
The CEI report is part of an ongoing series of policy memos focused on ways to reduce the size of the federal bureaucracy. In congressional testimony and policy papers, the think tank has previously been highly critical of the NLRB for allegedly biased behavior.
Critics argue the board became overly activist during the Obama administration. The NLRB was able to implement changes to labor law by altering how it ruled on cases. The administration argued the changes were designed to better protect workers. The NLRB focused on how union elections are held, how companies can contract together, and how contract workers are classified. Critics of the changes argue they benefited unions at the expense of both employers and their workers.
House Republicans have introduced a bill to clarify a law that has been interrupted by the board multiple times. The joint-employer standard determines whether an employer is responsible for the employees of a company it contracts with. The law has allowed for multiple interpretations from courts and federal agencies.
The joint-employment standard is determined based on how much control one employer exerts over the employees of another company. Critics contest the patchwork of various interpretations makes it difficult to reasonably determine whether an employer is exerting too much control. The NLRB update was denounced for being overly vague, which created more uncertainty.
Marvin Kaplan was confirmed to fill one of two vacant seats August 2. William Emanuel was also nominated to fill the other vacant seat on the board. Philip Miscimarra has been serving as the new chairman. He was previously a member and served as the acting chairman when President Donald Trump started his term.