Since earlier this year, reports have circulated that National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB” or “Board”) General Counsel Peter Robb planned to introduce changes in its case handling processes and organizational structure that would move certain authority away from the Regional Directors and transfer substantive decision making authority to Washington. While the General Counsel denied the specifics, he acknowledged that as the Board was faced with a reduced case load and budgetary pressures, some changes would be necessary and appropriate. It now appears safe to say that change is indeed coming to the NLRB and that more is likely.
Changes to NLRB Case Processing – Part 1
On July 30, 2018, the Division of Operations-Management in the General Counsel’s Office issued Memorandum ICG 018-06, addressed to the agency’s Regional Directors, Officers-In-Charge and Resident Officers, entitled Changes to Case Processing Part 1, outlining a series of steps intended to “streamline” certain aspects of the processing of representation petitions and the investigation and determination of unfair labor practice charges.
As the memo points out
Please note that this is not intended to be a final report with respect to the initial memo. Rather it focuses on a limited number of the 59 items, with the expectation that some of the other items in the January 29 memo will be addressed in one or more memos soon to follow.
The changes announced in the memo were effective immediately and fall in four main areas.
Representation Case Decision Making
While the number of representation cases in which hearings take place to resolve issues such as which employees share a community of interest, whether employees are supervisors and/or managers thus should or should not be included in a bargaining unit, and therefore eligible to vote in a representation election continues to be limited, the memorandum adopts changes in how decisions are written in those cases, with the goal of making the process “more efficient,” and addressing what the memorandum refers to as “wide disparities” in the length of time that passes between the close of a hearing and the issuance of a Decision and Direction of Election or a Decision dismissing a petition without ordering an election.
A new centralized approach will be followed in the drafting of post representation case hearing decisions, with the task delegated to regional and district teams. The new system provides for the designation of a limited number of attorneys and/or field examiners in each of four Districts who will be assigned to serve as the primary decision writers in each District for an initial term of one year, working under a manager of decision writing in that District.
The Memorandum notes that not all representation case decision writing will necessarily be assigned to the new teams, and that “Regions may decide to keep particular matters in-house.” No guidance is offered as to when and in what circumstances Regions may keep matters in-house.
Streamlining Advice Branch Submissions
The Memorandum also adopts a new and streamlined process for submission of cases to the Division of Advice in Washington for guidance. As noted on the Board’s website,
The Division of Advice provides guidance to the Agency’s Regional Offices regarding difficult and novel issues arising in the processing of unfair labor practice charges, and coordinates the initiation and litigation of injunction proceedings in federal court under Section 10(j) and (l) of the National Labor Relations Act.
The Memorandum points out that “Delays in processing cases submitted to Advice has been a cause of criticism” both within the NLRB and outside the agency. Often, until now, when a Region and/or the General Counsel’s Office in Washington have determined that an issue or matter warranted review and consideration by Advice, the Region would have to prepare and send to Washington a detailed legal and factual memorandum, preparation of which could be time consuming.
Under the Memorandum, the Regions are encouraged to adhere to following process instead:
- “Regions may submit short form memos to Advice.
- The form of that a short form memo may take will vary depending on the particular matter.
- In some cases, e.g. questions about work rules, the submission may be as simple as an e-mail, as explained in GC 18-04, the General Counsel’s June 6, 2018 Memorandum “Guidance on Handbook Rules Post-Boeing.
- In other cases, where all the necessary evidence can be found in the FIR (Final Investigative Report) or Agenda Minute, a memo incorporating those document, and emphasizing any factual or legal issues that the Region believes are important.
Streamlining Ethics Issues
The Memorandum describes certain steps that the General Counsel’s Office will be taking to make what it refers to as “ethics guidance memos that could be useful in other cases” part of an internal data base organized by subject matter for access by NLRB personnel.
Changes to Post Investigation Decision Making at the Regional Level
Perhaps the most significant change adopted in the Memorandum is the establishment of what it refers to as the delegation of “appropriate case-handling decision-making authority to supervisors” in the Regional Offices, a responsibility that has traditionally been vested almost exclusively with the Board’s Regional Directors. According to the Memorandum,
such decision-making authority may include approving dismissals, withdrawals, or settlements in appropriate situations.
The Memorandum explains that in those cases where the investigator and her or his supervisor “agree on the merit or lack thereof in a case, this is the final decision.” The Memorandum suggests that this will allow Regional Directors “to focus on higher priority, more complex case-handling matters.” All merit decisions, that is, cases in which there is a decision to issue an unfair labor practice complaint, “should be made by the Regional Director or his/her designee.
While the Memorandum states that “the extent of this delegation will be left to a Director’s discretion,” it makes clear that Regional Directors will be expected to regularly exercise their discretion to delegate such decision making authority, pointing out that doing so will be considered in the Regional Directors’ annual performance appraisals.
Early Retirement Buyout Program
The following week, on August 7, 2018, the Board announced it was creating a Voluntary Early Retirement Authority (“VERA”) program and a Voluntary Separation Incentive Payment (“VSIP”) program. The Board has described these programs as intended to “to better manage its caseload and workforce needs,” address what the Board has described as a “current staffing imbalance by allowing it to “realign Agency staffing with office caseload” and “reallocate its limited resources and to, among other things, provide employees with the tools they need, including training and improvements in technology.”
What Comes Next?
The Memorandum makes clear that this is but a first and indeed an interim step as the General Counsel continues to attempt to better utilize the agency’s limited resources while fulfilling the agency’s responsibilities to the public.
As is explained in footnote 1, the Memorandum “is not intended to be a final report” and that additional memoranda addressing some or all of the ideas identified in the January 29 memo January 29 memo are “soon to follow.”
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