Labor Board Staff Unhappy with Working Conditions

The National Labor Relations Board is supposed to safeguard worker's rights. But staff lawyers are unhappy about their pay and claim that the NLRB isn't being worker-friendly with its own employees.

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The agency that investigates unfair labor practices is in a labor dispute with its own employees.

Lawyers at the National Labor Relations Board took to the streets recently to accuse the NLRB of trying to slash their bonuses. Officials at the agency say they are bargaining over the issue in good faith.

NPR's Frank Langfitt reports.


For an agency focused on labor management relations, it was an awkward scene. Dozens of NLRB attorneys picketed an agency luncheon last week. They wore signs that read, NLRB Unfair to Its Employees.

Leslie Rossen heads the attorney's union.

Ms. LESLIE ROSSEN (President, The National Labor Relations Board Professional Association): The irony here is that you would think that this agency would be a model of labor relations in its own backyard.

LANGFITT: Rossen says the NLRB has frozen performance bonuses worth $3,000 a year, while spending more money on BlackBerrys for senior officials and new chairs for its boardroom.

At NLRB headquarters in Washington, Rossen showed off the offending high-backed chairs, which cost $700 bucks each.

Ms. ROSSEN: As you can see, we have these very substantial new leather chairs. This was a pretty penny. It might not pay for too many people's awards, but it would pay for a few.

LANGFITT: How much was it?

Ms. ROSSEN: It was $23,000.

Mr. DAVE PARKER (Deputy Executive Secretary, National Labor Relations Board): Um, they're vinyl chairs.

LANGFITT: That's Dave Parker, the Board's Deputy Executive Secretary. He says the chairs are a red herring. They were purchased last year to replace ones that broke.

Parker says the agency hasn't given performance awards this year because its budget is frozen. Agency officials say they're trying to control costs and hope to pay awards this fall.

Last week's demonstration, Parker says, was just a publicity stunt.

Mr. PARKER: The picketing is intended more as an embarrassment factor than anything else, in trying to get, perhaps, an upper hand in negotiations.

LANGFITT: Rossen, the union president, admits she is trying to embarrass the NLRB. But she says that, under federal labor law, she doesn't have many other options.

Federal workers can't negotiate pay, which is set by Congress, and they aren't allowed to strike. Given those limits, Rossen says public demonstrations are one of the few weapons the union has.

Frank Langfitt, NPR News, Washington.

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