Monday, June 28, 2010

The dominos start to fall – some clarity on New Process Steel

On June 17, the Supreme Court held that the NLRB needs at least three members to have the authority to act. At the time, I wrote that with the stroke of their pens, the Supreme Court invalidated the nearly 600 decisions issued by the two-member NLRB over the prior 26 months. In truth, I was merely hypothesizing based on the practical meaning of that holding. Now, though, the circuit courts are beginning to weigh in. While the decisions issued by the two-member Board are invalid, the mechanics of what to do with them are very much up in the air.

In Galicks, Inc. v. NLRB (6th Cir. 6/24/10) (unpublished) [pdf], the 6th Circuit was presented with the review of an NLRB decision that had been issued by the two-member Board. The court refused to hear the case, and, in a terse eight-line opinion, remanded it back to the NLRB “for proceedings consistent with [New Process Steel].” The remand means that the now full five-member NLRB will be able to reconsider its prior decision.

The 6th Circuit’s approach, however, is not universal. As the GT LE Blog reported last week, the 2nd Circuit, facing the same issue, simply denied enforcement of the NLRB’s order, foreclosing any further proceedings by the five-member Board. In other words, because the Supreme Court provided no guidance to the circuit courts on what to do in light of its holding in New Process Steel, we are going to see a circuit-by-circuit approach. Some will remand, some will deny enforcement, and some may do something else. We may be left with a fragmented review of the last 26 months of federal labor law, with the reopening of these old decisions left up to the geographical whim of which part of the county from which they happen to hail. In other words, labor law is going to be a mess for a little while.

According to a footnote in Galicks, the NLRB intend to file motions to remand in all pending cases affected by New Process Steel. We’ll see if the NLRB’s proactive measures lead to a more uniform approach to the handling of these cases.

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