This week the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear an appeal in New Process Steel v. NLRB and determine whether the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB or "the Board") has the authority to decide cases with only two sitting members.
The NLRB is the independent federal agency that administers the National Labor Relations Act, the primary law governing relations between unions and employers in the private sector. Typically, the NLRB is made up of five members, appointed by the President. There are currently three vacancies on the Board, leaving only two sitting members. The statute governing the NLRB’s powers (29 U.S.C. § 153(b), if you really care) provides that "three members of the Board shall, at all times, constitute a quorum of the Board." Nevertheless, the two remaining Board members have decided a number of cases, under the theory that as long as those two members agree, they would have formed the majority of any three-member quorum anyway.
The Court will resolve a split between the federal appellate courts. In New Process Steel v. NLRB, (the case on appeal) the Seventh Circuit held that the current two-member NLRB does have the power to decide cases. The First Circuit agreed in in Northeastern Land Services v. NLRB. However, the D.C. Circuit disagreed in Laurel Baye Healthcare of Lake Lanier v. NLRB and rejected the power of a two-member Board to do anything. If you want to read more about this dispute, click here to read New Process Steel’s Petition for Writ of Certiorari to the Court.
For most employers, New Process Steel will have little relevance–none of the cases decided by the two-member Board were particularly controversial, and none represented a significant departure from existing NLRB law. The only employers with a significant stake in the outcome of New Process Steel will be those employers whose cases were ruled on by the two-member Board. If the Court reverses New Process Steel, those cases will be reheard by a future three-member panel, and will likely be upheld.