Two significant developments last week affect the functioning of the country’s federal agency in charge of overseeing union-management relations. The first is a decision by the US Supreme Court and the second is the resignation of the agency’s general counsel effective June 18th.
As a result of political disagreements over nominations to fill vacancies on the National labor Relations Board, the Board operated with only two of its five members during 2008, 2009 and into 2010. During that time, the two members decided almost 600 cases (though most were not particularly controversial from the standpoint of illuminating policy or setting precedent). On June 17, the Supreme Court ruled in New Process Steel v. National Labor Relations Board, No. 08-1457, that the two members did not have the authority to decide those cases because they did not constitute a proper quorum under the National Labor Relations Act. Instead, the Court ruled that at least three sitting Board members were required for the NLRB to act. The ruling nullifies the decisions made in all 600 cases and effectively remands the cases back to the Board for re-adjudication.
Currently, the NLRB has four sitting members. This number will reduce to three when Republican Member Schaumber’s term runs out in August, 2010. All three remaining Board members are Democratic appointees. Typically, a fully constituted Board decides 300 to 400 cases per year and there was already a backlog of several hundred cases to be decided prior to the re-arrival of the 600 cases affected by the Supreme Court’s decision. Thus, the log jam of cases at the Board may continue as the Members wrestle with re-deciding the remanded cases. It is unlikely that the current Board will overturn those decisions which favored unions or employees and there may be occasion for the new Board to change the law or Board’s policy in the reconsideration of some of the cases.
We previously predicted that the new Board will overturn a significant number of decisions rendered in favor of employers during the preceding administration. The agenda to consider those cases will be directed by the NLRB’s General Counsel who has the authority to prioritize the cases coming before the Board. With the departure of General Counsel Ron Meisburg, the President now has the opportunity to appoint his replacement. However, even with the appointment of a new general counsel, the remand of these 600 cases may affect the Board’s timetable in working through the predicted pro-labor agenda.