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NLRB General Counsel Abruzzo Touts Work Strengthening Workers’ Rights, Calls for Limits on Workplace Surveillance

Andy O’Brien
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PHOTO: Jennifer Abruzzo

National Labor Relations General Counsel Jennifer Abruzzo zoomed into our biennial convention from Washington last week to discuss some recent pro-worker victories at the NLRB and her priorities as the Biden administration’s lead labor prosecutor. 

Abruzzo applauded an NLRB ruling in October known as the “joint employer rule”that prohibits companies from hiding behind subcontractors and staffing agencies to deny employees the right to collectively bargain. She also touted recent NLRB decisions that speed up the union election process, strengthen workers freedom to organize, protect workers engaging in concerted activity and strongly discourage employers from breaking the law during union drives.

Abruzzo is also seeking to ban anti-union captive audience meetings through the NLRB, though the board has yet to rule on that issue. In addition, she said she is working on cracking down on worker misclassification and reigning in the practice of forcing workers to sign non-compete agreements that make it difficult for workers to change jobs. Abruzzo said it’s “crucial” to address “intrusive surveillance and abusive breakneck paces of work set by automated management” that prevents workers from engaging with one another.

“I believe that our statute has to be broadly construed,” said Abruzzo. “We have to protect as many workers as possible because [non-union] workers have no recourse except to come to our agency when they feel their rights have been violated …They can’t go into court on their own.”

However, she noted that NLRB staffing levels remain “dire” and the agency needs another $100 million to handle the dramatic increase in unfair labor practices and union election petitions. Congress appropriatedsome money for the NLRB last yearafter it was flat-funded for a decade, but Abruzzo said it was only enough money to “keep the lights on.” She said her staff is working extremely hard, but the staffing shortage has delayed case processing.

“We are doing the best we can with the funding and resources that we have,” she added, “so you make be frustrated with the delays in processing, but please don’t take your frustrations out on the board agents.”