Photo credit: Geraldshields11 via Wikimedia Commons
The NLRB plans to hire contractors to do work that belongs to its unionized staff.  

Two members of Congress are pushing for answers about the National Labor Relations Board’s plans to contract out its unionized staff’s duties reviewing public comments on the controversial joint employer rule.

“By outsourcing to a private contractor the review of public comments in the joint employer rulemaking, the Board risks further fueling public concerns that it is tainting the rulemaking with conflicts of interest,” Reps. Bobby Scott and Frederica Wilson said in their March 14 letter.

Scott, chairman of the House Committee on Education and Labor, and Wilson, chairwoman of its Health, Education, Labor and Pensions subcommittee, said it would be “especially troubling” if the NLRB contracts with lawyers or consultants who represent parties with a vested interest in the decision.

A priority of the Trump administration, the rule would effectively let corporations off the hook when subcontractors or franchisees mistreat workers , while also making it harder for those workers to organize. It would undo an Obama-era rule protecting workers’ rights and safety by holding parent companies accountable.

Handling public comments in rulemaking is one of the traditional duties of NLRB employees, who were blindsided by the unilateral decision to take it away.

“All we have heard from our leadership for more than a year is that because of a budget crisis they have to cut employee compensation and downsize the agency,” said Karen Cook, president of the NLRB Professional Association, quoted in a Bloomberg story . “So it was particularly galling to find out that Chairman Ring is making plans to spend the agency’s limited funds to hire contractors.”

In a March 22 response to Scott and Wilson, Ring denied the scope of the outsourcing, saying it will be done on a “limited, short-term basis” during the sorting and coding period of comment review.

A management-side lawyer, Ring was appointed NLRB chairman one day after the U.S. Senate narrowly confirmed him as a board member last year.

Ring’s tenure and the White House’s anti-worker agenda “have combined to make the NLRB increasingly hostile to unions and workers’ rights,” International President Lonnie R. Stephenson said.

“We’re seeing this across federal departments and agencies that have roles in ensuring that employees are treated fairly and that they are safe at work,” he said. “It’s that much more disturbing when the board created to uphold the National Labor Relations Act is violating its own principles.”

Scott and Wilson raised both ethical and cost issues in their letter, which requests a detailed list of information and documents from the board.

They pointed out that the NLRB hasn’t finished an internal review of its ethics and recusal procedures, issues raised by Senators Kristen Gillibrand, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren in a May 2018 letter to Ring charging that his “public statements indicate that you have prejudged” the joint-employer standard.

The latest letter cautions the board to spend its tight budget wisely and let its own “seasoned professionals” do their jobs.

“We are concerned that this contract is not the best use of the Board’s resources when it already has the most qualified staff prepared to conduct this task,” Scott and Wilson said.