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Key NLRB Ally Wins Top Job on Appropriations Committee
A longtime defender of the civil service becomes Chair of the House's main budgeting body.
Few outlets will connect the two, but early Thursday afternoon brought with it the best news for the future effectiveness of the National Labor Relations Board since Joe Biden was announced as winner of the 2020 presidential election (concession still pending). In a landslide vote, Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) was elected as Chair of the House Appropriations Committee by the Democratic Caucus.
The Appropriations Committee controls government spending and thus the funding of federal agencies, making its chairmanship one of the more coveted positions in Congress. DeLauro comes to the Committee with almost 30 years of experience in the House and a previous role as the head of the Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies, making her a logical fit to ascend up the ladder.
What separates DeLauro from a typical House Democrat in leadership is her rare dedication to the civil service, specifically the rank-and-file personnel of the National Labor Relations Board. DeLauro has been at the forefront of every congressional pushback against General Counsel Peter Robb’s attacks against the agency, even making speeches on the picket lines of the NLRB’s labor unions. DeLauro also initiated the first House hearing in years regarding the Labor Board’s operations. Her opening remarks in that hearing—which skewer Robb and NLRB Chairman John Ring for requesting a cut to the Labor Board’s budget—may as well have been written by the agency unions themselves.
In short, DeLauro “gets it.” Enforcing the National Labor Relations Act is not simply a matter of reversing bad precedent and adhering to a more faithful interpretation of the law’s pro-collective bargaining principles; it requires a strong commitment to adequately funding and staffing the agency. The NLRB’s unions have, since their earliest days, pled to Congress for the resources necessary to carry out the NLRA as intended. The call has gone unanswered for much of the last half-century, resulting in excessive belt-tightening again and again and again. Labor law enforcement is a simple numbers game that the vast majority of politicians have chosen to ignore so long as they can claim that they kept the lights on.
So for those of us who care about the Labor Board and its tenuous place within the political ecosystem, it is encouraging to see someone like DeLauro—who proudly boasts receiving the first endorsement in the National Labor Relations Board Union’s (NLRBU) history—stepping into one of the most powerful budgetary positions in Congress. She will almost certainly not agree to any funding decrease for the agency, and instead will likely push valiantly for a long-overdue increase. DeLauro can also work with future Biden-appointed officials (acting or confirmed) to secure language which commits the Labor Board to maintaining certain staffing or training levels that can buttress the agency against future Republican cutbacks.
As an aside, DeLauro’s win pushes back against some common political tropes we see in Hill coverage. DeLauro is a longtime Pelosi ally and is 23 years older than her main competitor for the chairmanship, Debbie Wasserman Schultz. While the race could have been portrayed as another example of a generational split in the Democratic Party that ended up favoring the establishment pick, the reality is that DeLauro is well to Wasserman Schultz’s left on fiscal policy and has been less ensconced within the national party apparatus. It is thus not surprising that the labor movement overwhelmingly backed DeLauro in her bid for the gavel.
The NLRB awaits its most important decisions from the Biden administration, including the potential firing of Robb. But the post-Trump era has gotten off to a good start with DeLauro’s victory.