06.17.10

Comment On The Supreme Court’s Decision In New Process Steel v. National Labor Relations Board

[The Supreme Court issued a decision today in New Process Steel v. National Labor Relations Board. In a 5-4 decision, the Court reversed the Seventh Circuit and held the National Labor Relations Board (the Board), the leading federal agency that referees disputes between labor and management, may not make decisions without at least three members of its five-member board.  The Board has operated with only two Senate confirmed members for the last two years; three nominations are awaiting confirmation.]

“Today, a divided Supreme Court interpreted the National Labor Relations Act in a way that will result in the overturning of hundreds of disputes resolved by the National Labor Relations Board.  That administrative Board has experienced a vacancy crisis because continuing obstruction in the Senate has stalled confirmation of President Obama’s nominations.  The Board, when fully staffed, should be comprised of five, Senate confirmed members, and the question before the Court was whether it could continue to operate with only two members.  The Seventh Circuit had upheld the Board’s actions, but, as with many cases in recent years, five justices overturned that decision, ignoring the statute’s clear purpose and text.  Justice Kennedy noted in his dissent, ‘it is hard to make the case that the Court’s interpretation of the statute either furthers its most evident purposes or leads to the more sensible outcome. . . . the objectives of the statute, which must be to ensure orderly operations when the Board is not at full strength as well as efficient operations when it is, are better respected by a statutory interpretation that dictates a result opposite to the one reached by the Court. . . . and here the text of the statute, which must control, does not support the holding of the Court.’

“More than 500 disputes resolved by the Board are now called into question, including disputes involving allegations of unfair labor practices, secret ballot elections relating to union representation and challenges to requiring workers to pay union dues.  It is unfortunate that there has long been a vacancy crisis in the National Labor Relations Board, but it was never the intent of Congress that the Board cease operating entirely when three vacancies arise.  Today’s ruling will no doubt call into question many important issues recently resolved by the Board.  I am glad that President Obama recently appointed two new members; while they await confirmation by the Senate, the Board can again resolve these important workplace disputes.”

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