Skinny Trump budget has fat omission: NLRB cuts

President Trump has released his “skinny budget” giving a blueprint of where the administration would like to see spending and cutbacks at federal agencies. It is a good sign that the president understands that the American people can no longer afford a rampaging federal government that’s gobbling up every tax dollar in sight. But it’s equally important to stop funding agency programs that abuse government power.

In that regard, one glaring omission in the budget blueprint is reform for one of the worst abusers of government power, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). That’s the agency that oversees private-sector labor relations. Unfortunately, it is a wasteful, highly partisan agency that does more harm than good.

For a small agency, the NLRB has an oversized, negative impact on the economy and worker freedom. The Trump administration and Congress should be taking a hard look at the NLRB’s budget in light of the agency’s unfair treatment of American employers and workers.

One of the worst NLRB offenses is its “joint employer” ruling, which will wreak havoc on franchise and contract businesses nationwide if it survives court scrutiny. The NLRB in 2015 abruptly changed the rules on when two companies are considered joint employers and liable for each other’s labor law violations.

Previously, a bright-line rule was in place that one company was a joint employer if it directly controlled the work conditions of employees at another company. Conversely, under that standard, a company and contractor — such as a hotel and landscaping business — would usually be considered two distinct entities. A landscaping company is an independent small-business owner who hires, fires, and sets schedules for employees and hires supervisors who direct those employees. The landscaping company in that example should be responsible for any labor violations.

But since the new standard muddles that responsibility, the hotel and the landscaping company could be jointly liable for labor violations — even if the hotel exercises only indirect control over the landscaper’s employees. It’s a fuzzy definition that presents big compliance and liability problems for all employers concerned and, worse, deters businesses away from such otherwise beneficial relationships.

Another big problem with the NLRB’s abuse of government power is its Obama era “ambush election rule.” That rule dramatically shortens the timeframe of how long a union election takes place, from 38 days to just 23 days. The short timeframe disadvantages workers because they do not receive adequate time to hear the pros and cons of unionization.

More troublesome, the ambush election rule requires employers to hand over employees’ private information — telephone number, email and work schedule — with or without the employee’s consent. Even the NLRB admits that workers’ private data could be used to “harass, coerce, or rob employees.”

Besides the NLRB’s misdeeds and extreme partisanship, there are other reasons to cut the agency’s budget. Since 1980, the Board’s caseload has fallen by 58 percent. In the same timeframe, the NLRB’s budget has increased by 98 percent, per a 2014 report by former NLRB member John Raudabaugh.

Other mismanagement at the NLRB includes employees that conduct union business instead of agency work. Under the practice called “official time,” tax dollars pay federal employees to lobby on behalf of a union, attend union conventions, and conduct other union business. So instead of processing labor law cases or handling union elections, NLRB employees are doing work for their union. According to the latest data available, in FY 2012, NLRB employees spent 12,374 hours on union business, paid for by taxpayers.

Since the NLRB’s workload has lightened over the years, and the agency has employees doing union business instead of government work, Congress should adjust the NLRB’s funding accordingly. We should not continue throwing money at regulators who abuse power, harm worker choice and economic opportunity, and waste taxpayer money.

Originally posted to The Hill