[author: SCOTT T. SILVERMAN]
According to a D.C. federal court, another regulation issued by the National Labor Relations Board (the "Board") is unlawful. This time, the Board's so-called "quickie election" rule, which would shorten the time period between an union petition and the election, has been struck down. This is an important outcome for employers, because the new regulation, if it had been approved, would have resulted in a greater percentage of union victories and a consequential increase in union organizing. For the time being, at least, those outcomes have been avoided.
In Chamber of Commerce of the United States of America, et al. v. National Labor Relations Board, Civil Action No. 11-2262 (JEB) (D.D.C. May 14, 2012), Judge James Boasberg of the D.C. District Court held that the Board's regulation was invalid, because no quorum existed for the final vote in favor of its adoption. Although expressing no formal opinion on other challenges, Judge Boasberg strongly hinted that a properly constituted quorum of the Board could vote to adopt a final version of the regulation. Until then, however, Judge Boasberg held that the Board's prior procedures govern representation elections.
On June 22, 2011, the Board formally proposed to amend its procedures governing election disputes in a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking ("NPRM"), which was issued by a 3-1 vote. Member Brian Hayes ("Hayes") dissented. On November 30, 2011, the remaining three members of the Board voted to prepare a final rule containing certain of the amendments contained in the NPRM, which passed by a 2-1 vote, with Hayes again dissenting. Thereafter, a final rule was prepared and circulated in the Judicial Case Management System ("JCMS"). Both Chairman Mark Pearce and Member Craig Becker voted to approve the rule, and it was forwarded to the Solicitor for publication in the Federal Register on the same day. However, Hayes did not register a vote on the final version in JCMS.
The Board argued that, because Hayes had continually voted against the new regulation, he had sufficiently indicated his opposition to be counted toward the quorum. However, Judge Boasberg disagreed with the Board's position, reasoning that, under 29 U.S.C. §153(b), "three members of the Board shall, at all times, constitute a quorum," and, therefore, three members' participation was necessary for the vote on the final version of the rule. Judge Boasberg noted three (3) facts that led him to consider Hayes absent: (1) Hayes took no action whatsoever in response to the JCMS notice; (2) no one requested that Hayes provide a response; and (3) only a short amount of time passed between the circulation of the JCMS notice and the forwarding of the rule for publication. Hayes' mere Board membership was insufficient for a quorum.
In response to the decision, the Board announced that it has temporarily suspended the implementation of changes to its representation case process, which had taken effect April 30. Further, Acting General Counsel, Lafe Solomon, withdrew the guidance to regional offices that he had issued on the new procedures and advised regional directors to revert to previous practices governing election petitions. The Board stated that it is considering its options. However, it will likely seek a stay of the decision pending appeal, or may seek to revote, with its current composition of three Democrats and two Republicans. Still, consistent union avoidance strategies continue to be paramount in this ever-changing landscape.