The federal government’s top labor arbiter has seen its budget skyrocket even as its caseload plummeted to record lows over the past three decades, according to a new study.
The National Labor Relations Board, which oversees workplace disputes and union elections, is issuing fewer decisions and handling fewer cases than it ever has before thanks to plummeting union membership numbers. However, that decline in work has coincided with an ever-increasing budget, according to an analysis published by the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation.
"Since 1980, fiscal year total case intake (representation cases and unfair labor practice cases) is down 58%; published decisions are down 85%; appropriations in 2014 dollars are up 98%," the report says.
Staffing levels no longer reflect the workload that the agency handles, according to study author and former NLRB board member John Raudabaugh.
The agency spends four times more on its workforce per decision issued than it historically did and it continues to maintain local offices across the country even as right to work laws have spread and union membership has been reduced from a peak of 30 percent in the 1950s to about 10 percent today.
"They’ve made no serious effort to consolidate local and regional offices," Raudabaugh said in phone interview. "The board needs to be encouraged just like any other government agency to be run efficiently and held accountable to the taxpayer."
The NLRB declined to comment for this story.
A 2013 agency report said the NLRB reduced local offices from 32 to 26, according to the report. It plans to streamline its operations through more video conferencing and digitized case management files. The report concluded that the NLRB was effectively streamlining its caseload and efficiently clearing its docket.
"The NLRB established two performance measures. In particular, the timeliness and quality of case processing, from the filing of an ULP charge to the closing of a case upon compliance with a litigated or agreed-to remedy, are the focus of those performance measures," the report said.
Raudabuagh said that the agency’s measures do not give an accurate picture of efficiency. The board should base its standards on how much money is used per case, rather than simply measuring how fast cases are handled. A lower caseload has led to increased trips and redundant activity designed to "educate people about a statute [the National Labor Relations Act] that has been around since 1935," Raudabaugh said.
The decline in caseload has not stopped the agency from complaining about the "severe austerity" that occurred in 2013 when its budget was reduced by 5 percent to about $264 million.
"The reduction in Agency funding combined with an increase in caseload, wages, and other non-discretionary costs, such as rent and security, along with required spending on essential programs, initiatives and resources that have been deferred or curtailed and those that must be renewed … will cause drastic measures to be undertaken," the report said.
Raudabaugh said that the agency’s handling of its budget demonstrates that it is not serious about being a good steward of taxpayer dollars.
"Their work is slowly going down and yet the board is not adjusting to lower intake," Raudabaugh said. "We need to cut through all the ridiculousness and focus on how many people do we really need to appropriately handle the NLRB’s mission."