On Monday, a federal district court struck down a new National Labor Relations Board rule that would have accelerated the pace of union certification elections. According to the court’s opinion the NLRB lacked a quorum when it adopted the rule. The opinion begins:
According to Woody Allen, eighty percent of life is just showing up. When it comes to satisfying a quorum requirement, though, showing up is even more important than that. Indeed, it is the only thing that matters – even when the quorum is constituted electronically. In this case, because no quorum ever existed for the pivotal vote in question, the Court must hold that the challenged rule is invalid.
On December 22, 2011, the National Labor Relations Board published a rule that amended the procedures for determining whether a majority of employees wish to be represented by a labor organization for purposes of collective bargaining. Two of the Board’s three members voted in favor of adopting the final rule. The third member of the Board, Brian Hayes, did not cast a vote. Because Hayes had previously voted against initiating the rulemaking and against proceeding with the drafting and publication of the final rule, the Board nevertheless determined that he had “effectively indicated his opposition.”
In this suit, Plaintiffs – the Chamber of Commerce of the United States of America and the Coalition for a Democratic Workforce – challenge the final rule on myriad grounds. The Court, however, reaches only their first contention: that the rule was adopted without the statutorily required quorum. Absent limited circumstances not present here, the Board must muster a quorum of three members in order to act. Because Member Hayes did not participate in the decision to adopt the final rule, Plaintiffs argue, the other two members of the Board lacked the authority to effect its promulgation. The NLRB, on the other hand, maintains that all three members participated in the rulemaking in the relevant sense and, accordingly, that the quorum requirement was satisfied. The agency has now filed a Motion for Summary Judgment and an Alternative Partial Motion to Dismiss, and Plaintiffs have filed a Motion for Summary Judgment.
Plaintiffs are correct. Two members of the Board participated in the decision to adopt the final rule, and two is simply not enough. Member Hayes cannot be counted toward the quorum merely because he held office, and his participation in earlier decisions relating to the drafting of the rule does not suffice. He need not necessarily have voted, but he had to at least show up. At the end of the day, while the Court’s decision may seem unduly technical, the quorum requirement, as the Supreme Court has made clear, is no trifle. Regardless of whether the final rule otherwise complies with the Constitution and the governing statute – let alone whether the amendments it contains are desirable from a policy perspective – the Board lacked the authority to issue it, and, therefore, it cannot stand. The Court, consequently, will grant Plaintiffs’ Motion and deny Defendant’s.