Thursday, May 7, 2015
District Judge Rejects Challenges to Requirement that Government Contractors Post Employee Rights Notice
In an opinion today in National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) v. Perez, Judge Amit Mehta of the District of Columbia District Court rejected various challenges to the Department of Labor's so-called "Posting Rule," a regulation requiring, as a condition of nearly all federal contracts, that contractors post workplace notices informing their employees of their rights under the National Labor Relations Act. The "Posting Rule" is derived from President Obama's Executive Order 13496, promulgated in January 2009 pursuant to the Procurement Act.
The central constitutional challenge is that the "Posting Rule" is compelled speech and violates the First Amendment as an unconstitutional condition. The court's first task was to determine the relevance of a NAM v. NLRB, 717 F.3d 947 (D.C. Cir. 2013), overruled in part by Am. Meat Inst. v. U.S. Dep’t of Agric., 760 F.3d 18 (D.C. Cir. 2014). The judge concluded that while the posting at issue in NAM was "nearly identical," that case was not a First Amendment one - - - although it drew on some First Amendment principles - - - but an interpretation of §8(c) of the NLRA which prohibits the expression of views, argument, or opinions as constituting an unfair labor practice.
Instead, the challenge here was analogous to the Supreme Court's decision in Rumsfeld v. FAIR involving the Solomon Amendment directed at law schools.
There is little material distinction between FAIR and this case. The facts differ, but the First Amendment analysis and outcome are the same. Like the Solomon Amendment, the Posting Rule is a “far cry” from the government-mandated speech deemed unconstitutional in Barnette and Wooley. Requiring an employer to post government speech about labor rights is “simply not the same as forcing a student to pledge allegiance, or forcing a Jehovah’s Witness to display the motto ‘Live Free or Die,’ and it trivializes the freedom protected in Barnette and Wooley to suggest that it is.”
Moreover, the Posting Rule does not require a contractor to speak at all. Rather, the contractor is required to host government speech as a condition of receipt of a federal contract. That, of course, presents a contractor with a choice—agree to post the Notice or forgo federal contracting. But that choice is no different than the one presented by the Solomon Amendment— either accommodate a military recruiter or forgo federal funds.
Additionally, the Posting Rule does not interfere with the contractor’s ability to convey a different message. A contractor can still express its own views or engage in lawful activities to discourage unionization. Indeed, nothing in the rule prevents a contractor from creating its own posting and placing it next to the Department of Labor-drafted Notice, so as to make clear that the Notice does not reflect the contractor’s own views and its display is government mandated. *** A contractor’s speech is thus not “affected by the speech it [is] forced to accommodate.”
Nor are employees likely to believe that the Notice is their employer’s speech.
[citations omitted]. The court rejected NAM's attempt to distinguish FAIR because the speech here is a “slanted list of rights that unfairly promotes unionization while pointedly omitting a host of other critical employee rights,” noting even if the court could determine the meaning of "slanted," it is well settled that the government may make content-based choices about its own speech.
The court rejected NAM's arguments regarding preemption, as well as its statutory and administrative law arguments. It therefore entered summary judgment in favor of the government.Given the vigor with which NAM has litigated similar issues, it will most likely appeal. However, recently appointed Judge Mehta has authored a closely reasoned opinion that should withstand review.