In response to new National Labor Relations Board General Counsel Peter Robb’s proposed changes to case processing and regional office structure, two groups of senior managers and organizations representing the Board’s front-line staff deemed Robb’s ideas an “existential threat” aimed to destroy the NLRB from the inside. A group of NLRB associate regional directors indicated the potential moves have caused general anxiety Agency-wide and have noticeably hurt morale in the field.

To increase efficiency due to possible budget cuts and a decline in the number of cases handled by the NLRB, Robb proposed eliminating or combining certain field offices, eliminating the senior executive status of the regional managers, and shifting more decision-making to the Board’s office in Washington, D.C., among other changes. Further, Robb has proposed for review by NLRB employees 59 ideas to overhaul how unfair labor practice complaints are processed and how union elections are handled. Some of the ideas include: shorter investigation times, strict time limits on responses before dismissal, and entrusting investigators with authority to dismiss cases, approve settlements, or withdraw a union’s complaint without regional director approval.

The groups responding to Robb agree with some of his proposals (including placing an emphasis on early resolution of unfair labor practice complaints through settlement), but fear the majority of Robb’s ideas will “contravene” the mission of the NLRB. The regional directors stressed Robb “reread” the opening section of the National Labor Relations Act. The NLRA establishes that the mission of the NLRB is to protect workers’ rights and encourage collective action by overseeing union elections and adjudicating unfair labor practice complaints.

While the business and management community has supported Robb’s proposals, NLRB employees have sought congressional intervention over concerns about a hiring freeze and other cost-saving measures introduced by Robb and NLRB Chairman Marvin Kaplan. The union representing NLRB workers has indicated Robb and Kaplan incorrectly based their cost-cutting measures on White House budget requests, instead of actual funding provided by Congress. As expected, Robb’s proposed changes have been met with opposition from Democratic lawmakers and worker advocates. A recent letter from 56 retired regional directors also opposed Robb’s reorganization proposals for field offices.

Employers should keep an eye on these developments, as they may significantly impact how NLRB matters are going to be handled. The emphasis on settlement could result in NLRB agents applying earlier and greater pressure on charged parties to settle or being more willing to be flexible in settlement discussions.