Thursday, August 21, 2014
- The Nation reports on attempts by workers of a major packing company to highlight poor working conditions and union busting to improve their plight appeal to the good-employer image of Costco, which stocks many products of the company. In addition to quotes from Michael Duff, the story provides another example of how hard it is for unions to maintain support in the face of relentless anti-union tactics by employers--highlighting the push for less delay in NLRB elections.
- The NLRB's Macy's decision shows the Specialty Healthcare rule in action. Employers fear the potential for so-called "micro-unions." Although note that the unit in dispute in Macy's consisted of 41 employees, which is not exactly "micro."
- The White House recently enacted an Executive Order that requires federal contractors to disclose labor law violations that occurred during the previous three years and order agencies to have compliance advisers to oversee the selection of contractors. The contractors are not happy.
Hat Tip: Patrick Kavanagh
Saturday, August 9, 2014
A California federal district court judge has just ruled against the NCAA in the O'Bannon case. The bottom-line is that the judge held that the NCAA's prohibtion against paying collegiate athletes violated antitrust laws. This doesn't mean that schools must pay players; rather, it means that the NCAA can not stop schools from doing so. That said, the devil will be in the details, as the judge also held that the NCAA could cap such payments (although where the limits, if any, are is unclear). On the heels of the NCAA giving the big 5 conferences more autonomy, I suspect that those conferences will fairly quickly move ahead with additional payments to players, creating a divide with schools that have fewer financial resources (keeping in mind, of course, that the NCAA will likely appeal). I also think that this indirectly helps players who are arguing for employee status, whether under the NLRA or other statutes.
It's going to be an interesting time in collegiate athletics over the next few years.
Tuesday, August 5, 2014
Are unpaid interns protected by American employment law? The latest chapters in this ongoing story come to us from Wisconsin and New York.
In a July 22 decision, Masri v. State of Wisconsin Labor and Industry Review Commission, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled that it was reasonable for Wisconsin’s Labor and Industry Review Commission to conclude that uncompensated interns are not entitled to the anti-retaliation protections of that State’s health care worker protection statute. The plaintiff was a doctoral student who worked as an unpaid intern at a medical college and, she alleged, was fired for reporting “clinical/ethical concerns.” The statute bans certain health care employers from taking “disciplinary action against . . . any person” who in good faith reports violations of state or federal law, and further defines “disciplinary action” as "any action taken with respect to an employee," but does not define the term “employee.” The Court discussed the text of the statute and related provisions, their purpose, and public policy arguments raised by both sides. The Court’s upshot: The statute applies only to employees, and “the ordinary meaning of ‘employee’ is someone who works for compensation or tangible benefits.”
Meanwhile, also on July 22, New York’s Governor signed into law a bill that amends New York’s employment-discrimination statute to expressly cover unpaid interns. Back in October 2013, a federal district court, in Wang v. Phoenix Satellite Television, Inc., No. 13 Civ. 218 (S.D.N.Y. Oct. 3, 2013), had dismissed an unpaid intern’s sexual harassment claim under that statute. That claim required her to be an “employee.” Although she had argued that, though unpaid, she was still an “employee” under the statute. The district judge concluded, however, that remuneration was a necessary condition for an employment relationship.
The newly-amended New York statute—now in effect—defines a new category of worker—an “intern”—and then separately declares “unlawful employment practices” with respect to interns that parallel the “unlawful employment practices” already identified by the statute. This drafting strategy slightly differs from Oregon’s law, Or. Stat. § 659A.350. Passed last year, Oregon’s law similarly defines “intern” but provides that an intern “is considered to be in an employment relationship with an employer for the purposes of the employee protections provided under” certain specified employment protections in Oregon’s code.
Two Ohio State researchers, David Jacobs and Lindsey Meyers, have a study that suggests that declining union density has contributed to increasing income inequality more than previously believed. From an OSU press release:
According to Jacobs, other research has shown that firms with unionized employees have diminished differences in pay – such that the gap in the earnings of the highest-paid worker and the lowest-paid workers was reduced in firms organized by unions.
“Unions were also the most effective political advocates forthe less affluent before Congress, the president and other elected officials,”Jacobs said. “They ended up helping less prosperous families even if they weren’t union members.”
The researchers appeared to have controlled for most factors that could possibly contribute to income inequality--some of which were, of course, factors. But they find that unionism was still quite significant. Probably not too surprising for many readers (heck, even with low union density rates, there's still a significant union wage premium), but it's useful to have that message spread more broadly.
Hat Tip: Thomas Cochrane
Thursday, July 31, 2014
It a 5-2 decision today, the Wisconsin Supreme Court held that the state's Act 10 was constitutional. As we reported earlier, the statute's validity was in doubt in earlier litigation, so this result wasn't a given. But unions certainly hadn't been counting on the court overturning the statute. At base, the decision held that Act 10's significant restrictions on public-sector bargaining did not infringe workers' First Amendment rights. Not a surprise for those of us in states with no collective bargaining. The next step for union supporters in Wisconsin, of course, is the upcoming vote on Gov. Walker's reelection.
Hat Tip: Patrick Kavanagh
Tuesday, July 29, 2014
UPDATE: Harris Freeman and Patrick Kavanagh wrote to remind me that in April, the NLRB invited briefing on whether to alter its current joint-employer standard. The GC's action in the McDonald's case could be part of the move in Browning-Ferris. (Harris' amicus brief on the case is here.)
Richard Griffin, the NLRB's General Counsel, has decided to pursue unfair labor practice charges against both McDonald's and several of its franchise owners. The ULPs allege retaliation--such as firings and other punishments--because of employees' labor activities. But the headline issue is that the GC has determined that McDonald's is a joint employer, along with the franchise owners. The is a big deal for corporate McDonald's, as the vast majority of restaurants are franchise owned, meaning that McDonald's will have to take more of a central role in monitoring restaurants' workplace practices. In turn, it would give labor organizations more opportunity to pressure McDonald's for improvements or possibly organize bigger units.
According to the GC's news release:
The National Labor Relations Board Office of the General Counsel has had 181 cases involving McDonald’s filed since November 2012. Of those cases, 68 were found to have no merit. 64 cases are currently pending investigation and 43 cases have been found to have merit. In the 43 cases where complaint has been authorized, McDonald’s franchisees and/or McDonald’s, USA, LLC will be named as a respondent if parties are unable to reach settlement.
Until we see evidence from both sides, it's hard to take a position on the joint employer issue. But this is an interesting development on the heels of Harris v. Quinn. I was just noting at a Supreme Court review this morning that the biggest impact of Harris may be the joint employment issue. In that case, the Supreme Court avoided the union agency clause question by finding a lack of joint employment status. There were arguments on both sides of that issue, but I expect courts to use Harris to narrow corporate liability under the joint employer classification. It's possible we'll see this in McDonald's if the case ends up in court.
Speaking of developments in this case, I feel obligated to make a note for non-labor law readers, especially after all the Boeing craziness a few years ago: the NLRB has not decided anything here. All that has happened is that the GC has decided to pursue a case against McDonalg's and some franchise owners (it's comparable to a district attorney filing charges in a criminal case). If there's no settlement, the case will first go to an administrative law judge and, after the ALJ decision, the case will go to the NLRB.
Hat Tip: Patrick Kavanagh
Following up on my last post regarding the latest ruling in Fisher, I’d like to continue the dialogue on the issue of public-sector affirmative action, and its relevance for the public workplace and other public domains, in light of the Supreme Court’s decision in Shuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Integration and Immigrant Rights and Fight for Equality By Any Means Necessary (BAMN) this past Term. Shuette concerned whether an amendment to a state’s Constitution, prohibiting the consideration of race in all state decisionmaking, including in public employment, public education, and public contracting, violated the federal Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Because the Court held that such an amendment is valid, as a practical matter this case should alert public universities and public employers in other states to keep in mind how they would justify their use of race-conscious programs—potentially both in the public voting arena and in the courtroom. In addition, the Court’s splintered decision in this case, and the differing interpretations of the relevant case law presented in this case, suggests the difficulty of resolving questions regarding how the courts should review state voter actions that affect the ability of state entities to use or not use race-conscious processes in various areas of public decisionmaking.
Shuette is part of the larger story of affirmative action in Michigan. In 2003, the Supreme Court decided two cases involving the University of Michigan, Gratz v. Bollinger and Grutter v. Bollinger. In Gratz, the Court held that the school’s use of race in its undergraduate admissions policy was invalid under the Equal Protection Clause, while in Grutter, the Court held that the Law School’s more confined use of race was constitutionally valid. After these rulings, the University modified its college admissions program so that an applicant’s race would be considered in a more restricted manner. After failing to dismantle affirmative action through the courts, anti-affirmative action citizens and groups next turned to the state ballot box. The State of Michigan then engaged in a public debate and vote on whether to prohibit state actors from using race in any manner in their decisions and actions. A ballot proposal on this question, referred to as Proposal 2, passed by a 58 to 42 percent vote, resulting in a broad amendment to the State Constitution. This amendment, now found in Article I, Section 26 of the Michigan Constitution, prohibits all state entities from “grant[ing] preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting.”
Various interest groups and individuals in support of affirmative action challenged the validity of Section 26 under the Equal Protection Clause in Shuette. Justice Kennedy wrote the controlling opinion in the case, in which Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito joined. Justice Kennedy very clearly stated in Shuette that the Court’s decision in Fisher is not at all affected by this case, so that race-conscious decisionmaking in university admissions remains constitutionally permissible if strict scrutiny is satisfied. The different question in Shuette involved whether and in what manner a state’s voters may adopt a prohibition against all consideration of racial preferences in state decisions, with the focus specifically on public university admissions. Justice Kennedy viewed this case as one that primarily concerned the right of a state’s voters to exercise their electoral power to ban race-conscious affirmative action in the public realm, and upheld the amendment to the Michigan Constitution. Chief Justice Roberts filed a concurring opinion, as did Justice Breyer, who concurred for narrower reasons. Justice Scalia also wrote a separate concurrence, in which Justice Thomas joined. Justice Kagan took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.
Justice Sotomayor wrote in dissent, joined by Justice Ginsburg. Justice Sotomayor expressed hearty support for democratic voter action, but nonetheless argued that the voters in Michigan restructured the political process in the state so as to burden racial minorities, who would have to amend the State Constitution to pursue their diversity goals in public university admissions. She pointed out that Michigan citizens who want to pursue non-race-related interests would face less of a hurdle by only needing to influence the governing boards of each state school, who retain the authority to make all other admissions decisions not prohibited by Section 26. As a result, Justice Sotomayor contended that the electoral majority’s action in this case required strict scrutiny review by the courts under the “political process doctrine” established in the Court’s earlier cases, the last of which was Washington v. Seattle School District No. 1.
Justice Kennedy, however, disagreed with language in Seattle that he believed created an unnecessarily broad rationale, and also rejected the interpretation of Seattle by the court below (the Sixth Circuit en banc), which relied on Seattle to invalidate the amendment in Shuette. As Justice Kennedy put it in Shuette:
… Seattle stated that where a government policy “inures primarily to the benefit of the minority” and “minorities … consider” the policy to be “ ‘in their interest,’ ” then any state action that “place[s] effective decisionmaking authority over” that policy “at a different level of government” must be reviewed under strict scrutiny … In essence, according to the broad reading of Seattle, any state action with a “racial focus” that makes it “more difficult for certain racial minorities than for other groups” to “achieve legislation that is in their interest” is subject to strict scrutiny. It is this reading of Seattle that the Court of Appeals found to be controlling here. And that reading must be rejected.
… To the extent Seattle is read to require the Court to determine and declare which political policies serve the “interest” of a group defined in racial terms, that rationale was unnecessary to the decision in Seattle; it has no support in precedent; and it raises serious constitutional concerns. That expansive language does not provide a proper guide for decisions and should not be deemed authoritative or controlling.
Justice Kennedy in Shuette thus stated that the Court was not required to make a racial determination regarding the public university admissions policy changed through the amendment to the Michigan Constitution, and also found that this amendment was not subject to strict scrutiny.
On the other hand, Justice Sotomayor in her dissent asserted that under stare decisis, Seattle along with an earlier case, Hunter v. Erickson, are the proper precedents, and as such, strict scrutiny was required in Shuette:
Section 26 has a “racial focus”…That is clear from its text … Like desegregation of public schools, race-sensitive admissions policies “inur[e] primarily to the benefit of the minority,” … as they are designed to increase minorities’ access to institutions of higher education.
Justice Sotomayor, in directly applying the language from Seattle and agreeing with the Sixth Circuit’s reading of Seattle, found that the amendment in Shuette focused on race and inured primarily to the benefit of racial minorities, thus triggering strict scrutiny.
But the plurality, as well as Justices Scalia and Thomas, disagreed that the Court can or should properly decide when state action actually inures primarily to the benefit of a racial minority group, and asserted that the judiciary should avoid trying to determine such racial interests and classifications. They posited that such inquiries would contribute to racial divisiveness, and entrench racial stereotypes. But, perhaps somewhat ironically, the plurality’s position prompted Justices Sotomayor and Ginsburg to respond with a vigorous and lengthy dissent, maintaining that the Court cannot avoid such questions in the face of a restructured political process that operates to disadvantage racial minorities.
Shuette produced marked divergences on the Court. But under the plurality’s decision, state employers and universities ought to be prepared to make their case for affirmative action in response to any possible public or legislative challenge, as I point out in a forthcoming paper further examining Shuette.
Tuesday, July 22, 2014
On Remand from the Supreme Court, Fisher Decided in the Fifth Circuit in Support of Affirmative Action Plan
Thanks so much to the bloggers at the Workplace Prof Blog for inviting me. I am excited to join such a great group as a guest blogger.
For my initial post, I’d like to discuss Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin and its analysis of race-conscious affirmative action under strict scrutiny, in light of the Fifth Circuit’s ruling in the case last Tuesday (following the Supreme Court’s remand order last year). My goal is to provide a starting point for dialogue on the continuing vitality of Fisher in supporting race-conscious affirmative action in various settings, including in the public workplace.
First, to provide some procedural background on the case, it was an open question as to whether the Fifth Circuit would send the case back down to the federal district court for further factfinding on the constitutional question under the Equal Protection Clause. After additional briefing and oral argument, the federal appellate court denied the University’s motion for remand, stating that while it had the discretion to remand the case to the district court, it found the existing record sufficient since no new factual issues needed to be addressed, and the mistake identified by the Supreme Court was made by the appellate court and the district court alike and in the same fashion. The Supreme Court, after hearing the case last year, remanded it for proper judicial assessment of the narrow tailoring requirement under strict scrutiny. Although the Supreme Court found the state university’s use of race in admissions decisions in order to achieve student body diversity a compelling governmental interest, in line with the Court’s decisions in Bakke and Grutter, the Court nonetheless remanded the case, stating that the reviewing court must independently assess whether UT-Austin’s plan was narrowly tailored to meet its diversity objective rather than defer to the University’s claims on this point.
On the merits of the case, the Fifth Circuit noted that under the correct strict scrutiny standard, it had to evaluate, without deference to the University, whether the school’s method of achieving student body diversity was narrowly tailored to meet its diversity goal based on the evidence presented. To satisfy the narrow tailoring requirement, the reviewing court must find that it is necessary for a university to use race for it to achieve the pedagogical benefits that flow from student diversity, and that no workable race-neutral alternatives would bring about these benefits. In conducting its independent assessment, the appellate court carefully reviewed the record concerning UT-Austin’s use of its race-neutral Top Ten Percent Plan to select over 80% of its Texas students, and the school’s additional use of an individualized, race-conscious holistic review process to select the small remaining percentage of students. The court noted that UT-Austin also engaged in various race-neutral outreach and scholarship programs to reach under-represented student populations. In its evaluation, the court of appeals found that the school used a range of race-neutral methods to try to boost minority enrollment and selected the vast majority of its students through the race-neutral Top Ten Percent Plan. Further, the court explained that the University’s use of a holistic review that took into account the race of the applicants served to complement the pool of students admitted through the Top Ten Percent Plan by bringing in students who have much to contribute to the school’s diversity based on their various skills, achievements, and perspectives but who were overlooked using the Percent Plan alone. The court determined that this holistic review was a highly individualized and highly competitive process, and not a quota system. In attentively examining all of these facets of UT-Austin’s admissions program, the court held that the narrow tailoring requirement under strict scrutiny for race-conscious decisionmaking was satisfied, and affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of UT.
This was a 2-1 decision, with Judge Carolyn King joining Judge Patrick Higginbotham in the majority decision, and Judge Emilio Garza dissenting. Judge Garza in his dissent took issue with the meaning of a “critical mass” of student diversity, stating that the University framed its diversity objective as achieving a critical mass but was unable to objectively define this term. Because Judge Garza found that the school failed to clearly explain its goal and what “critical mass” requires, he did not think the court could make an independent determination on whether the school met its narrow tailoring burden.
The Fifth Circuit’s latest decision in Fisher is an important win for UT-Austin, and for affirmative action. Although Fisher concerns the constitutionality of affirmative action plans using race in the higher education setting, its analysis would apply to affirmative efforts involving race by other state actors and thus has implications for public employers who wish to use race-conscious affirmative action plans to attain a diverse workforce. As I discussed in a talk I gave at a symposium this past spring and further discuss in a forthcoming piece, the Supreme Court’s decision in Fisher, and now along with the Fifth Circuit’s recent decision on remand, can be used to help demonstrate the constitutional validity of race-conscious affirmative efforts in the public workplace to achieve workforce diversity.
Monday, July 21, 2014
Illinois is the latest State to enact “ban the box” legislation, i.e., legislation that restricts when an employer can ask a job applicant about his or her criminal history. (The “box” is the one on a job application to answer the question “Have you ever been convicted of a crime?”) Twelve States now have such legislation on the books, as will over sixty counties and cities.
The Illinois legislation—which takes effect next year—provides that, absent certain exceptions, an employer “may not inquire about or into, consider, or require disclosure of the criminal record or criminal history of an applicant until the applicant has been determined qualified for the position” and the employer either has told the applicant that it has selected her for an interview or has made her a conditional offer of employment. The Illinois Department of Labor is the enforcer here—there’s no provision in the bill for a private right of action.
Meanwhile, the District of Columbia’s city council has also passed a “ban the box” bill and sent it to the mayor for his signature. That bill prohibits employers from asking about, or asking a job applicant to reveal, "any arrest or criminal accusation made against the applicant, which is not then pending against the applicant and or which did not result in a conviction." Employers can ask about criminal convictions but only after making a conditional offer of employment. Like the Illinois legislation, the D.C. bill makes the D.C. Office of Human Rights the exclusive enforcer here—there’s no private right action.
Among its other features, the D.C. bill provides that if the employer extends a conditional offer, checks the applicant’s criminal history, and then rescinds that offer, and if the applicant believes that the employer did that “on the basis of a criminal conviction,” the applicant can, upon request, get from the employer, within thirty days, “a copy of “any and all records procured by the employer in consideration of the applicant or employee, including criminal records.” In June, the bill had also required that employer to give the applicant a written “statement of denial” that identified the employer’s “legitimate business reason” for its action. Failing to provide that statement would have triggered a rebuttable presumption that the employer had no “legitimate business reason” for its action. The D.C. Chamber of Commerce opposed this provision, and in mid-July, the bill was amended to remove it.
Since 2012, the EEOC has opined that, under some circumstances, employer use of a job applicant’s criminal history may violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. For an entry point into the research on how much a job applicant’s criminal history matters, see, for example, Devah Pager, Bruce Western, and Naomi Sugie, “Sequencing Disadvantage: Barriers to Employment Facing Young Black and White Men with Criminal Records,” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Sciences 623 (May 2009): 195-213.
The next puzzle on the horizon: Figuring out how and how much these “ban the box” statutes actually affect employer hiring.
Hat tip: R. Michael Fischl
Friday, July 11, 2014
The White House announced today that it intends to nominate Sharon Block to the NLRB, probably to replace Nancy Schiffer, whose appointment expires on December 12, 2014. Much of the news will play up the fact that she was one of the Noel Canning recess appointees, which the Supreme Court help to be unconstitutional last week. Given that timing, one might interpret this announcment as a White House attempt to show its displeasure with the decision and Republican opposition that led to the initital recess appointments.
Not to be lost in this political story line is that Block really knows her stuff and already served admirably, albeit in vain, on the NLRB (full disclosure: I used to work with her on the NLRB). I think, despite that personal connection, that it's fair to say that she got a bit of a raw deal in the nuclear option aftermath when the Senate Democrats and White House threw Republicans a bone by refusing to renominate her (and RIchard Griffin, although he was soon nominated as GC). So, it's nice to see her finally back to the NLRB, assuming her nomination is acted on before any potential changes in the Senate majority.
One final thought. As the above link shows, much of the supposed criticism of Block was that she stayed on the Board while her nomination was being challenged. I've written before that I think it's silly for a political appointee to resign in a situation like that. However, I'll also mention that it's even more silly when you consider what the D.C. Circuit held and the conservative four Justices would've held in Noel Canning--that virtually all recess appointments over the last 150 years were unconstitutional. Until conservatives, who supported that view, start demanding that all the Republican judges and other recess appointees over the years should've never accepted their appointments and should give back the salaries they received, I'm not going to take their objections to Block seriously.
Hat Tip: Patrick Kavanagh
The UAW just announced that it will continue to organize VW's Chattanooga plant by opening up a nearby office. This makes perfect sense. Given VW's support for the union and the interest from a large number of VW employees (note that although the UAW lost the election, they still got remarkably close given the geography and political pressure against them), maintaining a presence in the area could be helpful. This also allows the union to assist employees, thereby possibly showing holdouts how the union might benefit them.
One side note: many articles, including the one linked above, still have headlines stating that the union office will be inside the VW plant. I saw this in some early, pre-announcement stories, which made me scratch my head due to the potential 8(a)(2) problems. It was no surprise that these early reports were not accurate, but beware of headlines that seem to be picking up these early, erroneous rumors.
Monday, July 7, 2014
AALS Section on Labor Relations and Employment Law
"Emotions at Work: The Employment Relationship During an Age of Anxiety"
2015 AALS Annual Meeting
January 2-5, 2015
The Executive Committee of the AALS Labor Relations and Employment Law Section is seeking abstracts for papers to be presented at the 2015 Annual Meeting in Washington, DC. The section program is entitled Emotions at Work: The Employment Relationship During an Age of Anxiety. The papers will be published in the Employee Rights and Employment Policy Journal, a multidisciplinary peer-reviewed journal published by ITT Chicago-Kent College of Law.
The program will focus on the emotional aspects of the employment relationship during uncertain economic times. Many individuals are currently experiencing a greater range and intensity of emotions at work, both as employees and as employers, due to heightened anxiety and pressures. Are these emotions in the workplace openly recognized and managed, and if so, how? In what ways should employment law or workplace policy address these concerns?
A panel of leading scholars already committed to present will provide a multidisciplinary perspective on these questions. We are seeking one additional speaker who will present on a relevant topic, and we particularly encourage new voices to submit a paper abstract.
The Labor Relations and Employment Law Section program will take place on Monday, January 5, 2015 from 10:30am to 12:15pm. The program is co-sponsored by the Section on Socio-Economics.
Please submit an abstract of no more than 400 words and a resume to Section Chair Rebecca Lee at email@example.com by September 1, 2014. Authors of selected abstracts will be notified before October 1, 2014.
Looks like a great opportunity and a good program.
Thursday, July 3, 2014
Cesar Rosado (Chicago-Kent) writes to let us know that he's writing an amicus brief in the NLRB's Northwestern case. In case you've been in a cave for the year, that's the case in which a Regional Director concluded that collegiate football players on scholarship at Northwestern were employees under the NLRA and could seek to unionize.
Monday, June 30, 2014
The Supreme Court just announced in Harris v. Quinn that it will not apply Abood to the employees at issue. In other words, the dissenting employees cannot be required to pay any dues. Interestingly, although the Court has lots of strong language questioning Abood, it refuses to overrule it. The key is that the employees here are "partial public employees," to whom Abood doesn't apply. Very odd distinction.
My guess is that the four Justices couldn't get Kennedy to join in overruling Abood. In fact, the language attacking Abood sounds a lot like a majority decision that was set to overrule it but was undercut by a change of heart by one Justice. Of course, it's impossible to know for sure (indeed, no Justices wrote a concurrence to overturn Abood), but it's possible that the ramifications of overruling Abood gave Kennedy (or others) pause. Among those, think about what would've been raised had Adood been overruled:
- The holding would liekly have been applied in the private sector. If opt-in was constitutionally required, it would almost certainly have applied to private workplaces, as long as the NLRB's enforcement of union security clauses is considered state action. However, the majority does briefly note that the issue is more troublesome in the public sector than in the private sector.
- Would overruling Abood open the door to minority (or "members only") collective-bargaining? This question goes to the heart of the exclusivity regime that, up to now at least, has been the foundation of modern American labor law. The NLRB has been reluctant to act on the arguments of Charlie Morris and others that the NLRA imposes on employers a duty to bargain with minority unions. If opt-in was the new regime, the Board might well have finally acted.
- Bye, bye duty of fair representation? If the Court held that is unconstitutional to require dissenting employees to pay for representation, would it also be unconstitutional to make unions provide services to those employees for free? Now that unions--like corporations--are basically people for First Amendment purposes (see also Hobby Lobby from today), the logical answer would be that the duty of fair representation to dissenters falls away.
- Building on the concept of stronger First Amendment protection for unions, there are several limitations on union expressive conduct/speech that would be open to challenge. The 8(b) restrictions on secondary boycotts and picketing are particularly vulnerable. Up to now, they have been upheld because they supposedly involve more conduct than speech and have economic impact. But those arguments seem to have lost their luster over the last few years in other contexts. Will unions finally be moved to go on the offensive with these arguments? (It would seem they have little to lose.) If so, will the Court be receptive?
All in all, public-sector (and probably private-sector) unions dodged a huge bullet today. Honestly, this is as good an outcome as unions could've realistically hoped for.
Thursday, June 26, 2014
The Supreme Court today affirmed the D.C. Circuit's opinion in Noel Canning (Breyer wrote the unanimous decision, with Scalia writing a concurrence, joined by Roberts, Thomas, and Alito). However, the Court did not limit the President's recess appointment power as much as the appellate court, which had defined "recess" as only a forma inter-session recess and an opening that occured during the recess (not surprisingly, given that it was supported by a strict originalist reading of the recess clause, the concurrence agreed with the D.C. Circuit opinion). Instead, relying on historical practice extending over 150 years, the Court held that both inter- and intra-session recess appointments are valid as long as the recess was of "sufficient length." That length, according to the Court, is presumptively at least ten days. Moreover, the vacancy doesn't have to occur during the recess. The Board ultimately loses in Noel Canning because the pro forma recess at issue was only three days.
In sum, this is about as good as the NLRB could expect. The pro forma recess was always iffy and the NLRB can reconsider the now-invalidated decisions, as it did after New Process Steel (although the earlier invalidated cases were easier because two, ideologically different, members had agreed on them). As for the future, there are a couple of practical considerations. First, the President's recess appointment power is now largely determined by the houses of Congress, which can both control when, or if, there is a sufficient recess for appointment purposes. However, that control isn't absolute; the Court emphasized that if the Senate simply says it is in session isn't enough. That statement is given great deference, but if it "is without the capacity to act, under its own rules, it is not in session even if it so declares." Second, control over recesses doesn't matter as much as it did when the Court granted cert. in Noel Canning. Under the Senate's new filibuster rules, the President's power to appoint depends less on whether there is a recess and more on which party controls the Senate. If it's the President's party, there is no need for a recess appoinment, assuing no defections that change the outcome. If it's the other party, then the appoint is dead without getting agreement between both sides. All in all, this was a very interesting constitutional case that will waste a lot of hours of work at the NLRB, but is unlikely to have a big impact on appointments in the future, as long as the current Senate rules remain--no matter what many reports have been saying.
Monday, June 23, 2014
Some recent news items:
- The New York Times looks at what me the new Taylorism: the use of workplace surveillance to monitor workers and quantify their effectiveness.
- Serious allegations of illegal actions at popular Kum Gang San restaurant in New York. It's almost like someone wanted to see how many different ways they could violate FLSA.
- Union drive at Bloomberg Law fails. Also brings up possible tension between unions' willingness to press NLRB charges and the allegations of retaliation from employees.
- OSHA and NLRB enter into agreement to share information about charges that pass the OSHA statute of limitations, but may raise NLRA issues.
Hat Tips: Michael Duff, Alan Hyde, Patrick Kanvanagh
Thursday, June 19, 2014
The Supreme Court just announced its decision in Lane v. Franks this morning. In a unanimous decision, the Court held an employee's sworn testimony is not part of his job duties under Garcetti and, therfore, is protected by the First Amendment. According to the decision of the Court,
Sworn testimony in judicial proceedings is a quintessential example of citizen speech for the simple reason that anyone who testifies in court bears an obligation, to the court and society at large, to tell the truth.That obligation is distinct and independent from any separate obligations a testifying public employee might have to his employer.
The Court then went on to find that the employee should win under the Pickering/Connick balancing test (although one defendent was held to have qualified immunity).
The three concurring Justices (Thomas, joined by Scalia and Alito), stressed that this case was easy under Garcetti. However, they noted that Lane says nothing about the harder set of cases in which employees regularly testify as part of their job. Another case we can look forward to in the future.
Monday, June 16, 2014
Talk has been swirling for months that, while ENDA stalls in Congress, the President would sign an executive order barring LGBT discrimination for federal contractors. Today, the White House announced that he will sign the order. No word on when it will occur.
One interesting aspect of this is that the majority of the biggest federal contractors already ban such discrimination. Of course, the order is important for workers of the other contractors. It also has major symbolic significance and, hopefully, is a step towards ENDA's passage. It seems inevitable that it will pass at some point, but unclear how long it will take.
Hat Tip: Patrick Kavanagh
Friday, June 6, 2014
The Department of Labor released its May employment data today. The unemployment rate stayed the same at 6.3%, with 217,000 jobs added last month. Many of the other measures were stable, with the labor participation rate staying at 62.8%, workweeks at 34.5 hours, and long-term unemployed at 3.4 million (although that number has declined by almost 1 million over the past 12 months). Average hourly earnings ticked up 5 cents to $24.38/hour.
Thursday, May 15, 2014
On the heels of its invitation for briefs on electronic communications and college athletes status as employees, the NLRB has also extended an invitation for briefs on its joint-employer standard. According to the invitation in Leadpoint Business, the Board is considering the following questions:
1. Under the Board’s current joint-employer standard, as articulated in TLI, Inc., 271 NLRB 798 (1984), enfd. mem. 772 F.2d 894 (3d Cir. 1985), and Laerco Transportation, 269 NLRB 324 (1984), is Leadpoint Business Services the sole employer of the petitioned-for employees?
2. Should the Board adhere to its existing joint-employer standard or adopt a new standard? What considerations should influence the Board’s decision in this regard?
3. If the Board adopts a new standard for determining joint-employer status, whatshould that standard be? If it involves the application of a multifactor test, what factors should be examined? What should be the basis or rationale for such a standard?
Amicus briefs are due on June 26, 2014.