Wyatt Employment Law Report


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Supreme Court in Noel Canning Invalidates NLRB Recess Appointments

By Edwin S. Hopson

On June 26, 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court in NLRB v. Noel Canning et al., 573 U.S. ___ (2014), held in a unanimous decision that President Obama’s purported recess appointment of three members (Richard Griffin, Sharon Block and Terence Flynn) to the National Labor Relations Board in January 2012 was invalid. The opinion written by Justice Breyer was joined in by Justices Kennedy, Ginsburg, Sotomayor and Kagan. Justice Scalia wrote a concurring opinion in which Chief Justice Roberts, and Justices Thomas and Alito joined.

Some of Justice Breyer’s key points in his analysis were:

“Accordingly, we conclude that when the Senate declares that it is in session and possesses the capacity, under its own rules, to conduct business, it is in session for purposes of the [recess appointment] Clause.

“Applying this standard, we find that the pro forma sessions were sessions for purposes of the Clause. First, the Senate said it was in session. The Journal of the Senate and the Congressional Record indicate that the Senate convened for a series of twice-weekly “sessions” from December 20 through January 20. 2011 S. J. 923– 924; 158 Cong. Rec. S1–S11. (The Journal of the Senate for 2012 has not yet been published.) And these reports of the Senate “must be assumed to speak the truth.” Ballin, supra, at 4.

“Second, the Senate’s rules make clear that during its pro forma sessions, despite its resolution that it would conduct no business, the Senate retained the power to conduct business.

“Senate has enacted legislation during pro forma sessions even when it has said that no business will be transacted. Indeed, the Senate passed a bill by unanimous consent during the second pro forma session after its December 17 adjournment. 2011 S. J. 924. And that bill quickly became law. Pub. L. 112–78, 125 Stat. 1280.

“We thus hold that the Constitution empowers the President to fill any existing vacancy during any recess—intra-session or inter-session—of sufficient length.”

The justices split only over the question of whether the vacancy to be filled had to itself have occurred during the recess or whether it could have occurred prior to the recess. The majority held that the vacancy could occur prior to the recess, based on historical practice.

Justice Scalia, in his concurring opinion, argued that the vacancy to be filled by a recess appointment by the President had to occur during the recess and relied upon the following language contained in the Constitutional provision at issue:

“The President shall have Power to fill up all Vacancies that may happen during the Recess of the Senate, by granting Commissions which shall expire at the End of their next Session.”

Thus this more restrictive view did not carry the day. However, the NLRB is now left with scores of cases which will have to decided again by the newly constituted Board, which was confirmed by the Senate.


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Supreme Court Hears Arguments in NLRB Recess Appointments Case

By Edwin S. Hopson

The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in NLRB v. Noel Canning earlier this week.  This case, involved the recess appointment of three members to the National Labor Relations Board in early January 2102 by President Obama. The several issues to be resolved, as specified by the High Court are:

“1. Whether the President’s recess-appointment power may be exercised during a recess that occurs within a session of the Senate, or is instead limited to recesses that occur between enumerated sessions of the Senate.”

“2. Whether the President’s recess-appointment power may be exercised to fill vacancies that exist during a recess, or is instead limited to vacancies that first arose during that recess.”

The Court also stated:  “In addition to the questions presented by the Petition, the parties are directed to brief and argue the following question:  whether the President’s recess appointment power may be exercised when the Senate is convening every three days in pro forma sessions.”

According to various news reports, many of the Justices appeared skeptical of the government’s position during oral argument.

It may be several months before the Court issues its decision.


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NLRB Announces Case Statistics for Fiscal Yeal 2012

By Edwin S. Hopson

On October 16, 2012, the National Labor Relations Board announced that in the fiscal year just ended on September 30, 2012, it had issued 341 decisions in contested cases.  Of that total, 277 were unfair labor practice cases and 64 were representation cases.  It also stated that the median age of pending cases was reduced from 219 days to 108 days.

It was also noted that there was considerable turnover in board members during this past fiscal year:  the recess appointment of Member Craig Becker expired on Jan. 3, 2012; three new members – Richard F. Griffin, Jr., Sharon Block and Terence Flynn – were recess-appointed by the President and took office in early January, 2012; and Member Flynn resigned his position effective July 24, 2012. The Board currently has four of the five board member positions filled by Chairman Mark Pearce, and Members Hayes, Griffin and Block.  Hayes’ term expires on December 16, 2012.

In its October 16 press release, the Board listed a number of cases of significance that were decided this past fiscal year:

“Mandatory arbitration: In D.R. Horton, the Board ruled that it is a violation of federal labor law to require employees to sign arbitration agreements that prohibit them from joining together in any forum to bring legal claims against the employer.

Lawsuits as unfair labor practices: A number of decisions, including two issued by the full Board, found that lawsuits filed by employers or unions may be unfair labor practices in certain circumstances. Federal Security Inc.; J.A. Croson Co.; Operative Plasterers and Cement Masons (Standard Drywall); Sheet Metal Workers (EP Donnelly); and Allied Mechanical Services.

Symphony musicians: In three cases, set in Cape Cod, MA, Lancaster, PA, and Plano, TX, the Board found that symphony musicians are employees, not independent contractors, and so are eligible to join a union.

Facebook firings: In its first look at a case involving a discharge for Facebook posts, the Board found that the particular postings that led to the discharge were not protected. More such cases are pending.

Immigration status and backpay: In Flaum Appetizing, the Board found that employers must have good reason to raise the immigration status of employees during procedures to determine backpay awards, and cannot raise the question as a ‘fishing expedition’ to avoid payment. 

Successor employer obligations: In Massey Energy Company, the Board found that the company unlawfully refused to hire former unionized employees in order to avoid union obligations at a coal mine. The Board also found the company to be a single employer with its subsidiary, Mammoth Coal Company.

Specialty Healthcare standards: The Board applied the standards for unit determination that were clarified in its August 2011 opinion in Specialty Healthcare to several cases, including DTG Operations, Northrop Grumman Shipyard, and Odwalla, Inc.”


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President Obama Sends NLRB Nominations to the Senate

By Edwin S. Hopson

On February 13, 2012, President Obama formally sent to the U.S. Senate the nominations of Sharon Block, Richard Griffin, and Terence Flynn to be members of the National Labor Relations Board.  He had recess-appointed them on January 4, 2012.  Assuming Senate confirmation, which is not likely to occur this year, Block’s term would expire December 16, 2014, Griffin’s term would expire August 27, 2016, andFlynn’s term would expire August 27, 2015.  Block and Griffin are Democrats and Flynn is a Republican.

The controversy continues over the validity of these recess appointments to the NLRB with critics claiming that the President lacked authority to make the appointments because the Senate had been in “pro forma” sessions.  The issue may ultimately have to be resolved by the courts.

Should the President lose the court fight, all decisions issued by the NLRB since January 4, 2012, would be invalid for lack of a quorum on the Board.


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Republican Senators Block GPO Nominee Over Senate’s Failure to Confirm NLRB Nominee

By Edwin S. Hopson

In an article by Josiah Ryan posted on www.thehill.com on October 19, 2011, it was reported that Senators Orrin Hatch (R) and Johnny Isakson (R) have prevented confirmation of William J. Boarman, the President’s nominee for head of the U.S. Government Printing Office, because the Democratically-controlled Senate has not scheduled a vote on the nomination of Terence Flynn, a Republican, to be a Member of the National Labor Relations Board. Mr.Flynn was nominated by President Obama on January 5, 2011, but to-date the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee has not approved the nomination, the first step in the Senate’s process.

Currently, there are three Members on the five-member Board:  Chairman Mark Pearce (D), Member Craig Becker (D) and Member Brian Hayes (R).  It appears that on December 31, 2011, the recess appointment of Member Becker will expire.  Should Mr.Flynn be confirmed by the Senate, then after December 31, 2011, the Republican Members would be in the majority.  If Mr. Flynn (or another nominee) is not confirmed this year, then the NLRB would likely be reduced to just two Members and be unable after December 31, 2011, to issue decisions or take other actions under the recent Supreme Court decision in New Process Steel v. NLRB, 30 S. Ct. 635 (2010).


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President Obama to Nominate Solomon to be General Counsel and Flynn to be a Member of the NLRB

By Edwin S. Hopson

The White House recently announced that President Obama plans to nominate Lafe E. Solomon, currently the Acting General Counsel of the National Labor Relations Board, to be the permanent General Counsel at the Board.  Solomon has been the Acting GC since June 21, 2010.  The President also intends to nominate Terence F. Flynn, a Republican, to be a Board Member of the National Labor Relations Board.

 Terence F. Flynn is currently serving as Chief Counsel to Republican Board Member Brian Hayes. Flynn had been Chief Counsel to former Board Member Peter Schaumber whose term expired at the end of August, 2010.  Prior to working at the NLRB, Flynn was in private law practice with a number of firms including Crowell & Moring, LLP and David, Hager, Kuney & Krupin, where he worked on labor and employment law matters.  He received a B.A. degree from University of Maryland, College Park and a J.D. from Washington & Lee University School of Law.