Court Invalidates Ambush Election Regulation

May 15, 2012Articles
On May 14, 2012, the United States District Court for the District of Columbia invalidated the controversial regulation of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) that would have dramatically reduced the time frame of union organizing campaigns from the filing of a representation petition to the representational election. Chamber of Commerce, et al. v. NLRB. The “ambush election” regulation, which was implemented on April 30, 2012, was roundly criticized because it limited the ability of employers to exercise their right under §8(c) of the National Labor Relations Act to communicate with employees regarding the impact of selecting a collective bargaining representative.

In an 18 page opinion, Judge James E. Boasberg granted summary judgment to the United States Chamber of Commerce (US Chamber) and the Coalition for a Democratic Workforce (CDW), agreeing that the NLRB did not have statutory authority to implement the regulation because the NLRB was not possessed of a quorum when the regulation was voted on. On December 16, 2011 the vote on the regulation was conducted by e-mail. While Chairman Mark Pearce and former Member Craig Becker both voted to implement the regulation, Member Brian Hayes did not vote. The US Chamber and the CDW argued that as Member Hayes did not “participate” in the vote, there was not a quorum of three NLRB members on the vote, and as such, the implementation was invalid. The NLRB argued that as Hayes had an “opportunity” to vote, the NLRB did have a quorum and, therefore, the regulation was validly implemented as a quorum existed.

The Court disagreed, citing a Woody Allen observation that “eighty percent of life is just showing up.” The Court held that the statutory mandate of a quorum for an administrative agency to implement a regulation was a foundational requirement. In the e-mail era, that mandate was not fulfilled simply because a Board Member received an opportunity to vote. Rather, active participation in the vote is required. The Court noted that while it was unnecessary to treat the issue of whether the failure to participate in the vote was “intentional,” the parties were well served to acknowledge that “such things happen all the time.” (citing a New York Times story reporting on the Wisconsin legislators who fled the state in an effort to deny Republican legislators the ability to form a quorum to vote on legislation limiting the rights of public unions in that state)

The Court concluded that the “ambush election” regulation was invalid, granting judgment against the NLRB, and directing that “representation elections will have to continue under the old procedures.” While the Court did not enter an injunction prohibiting the NLRB from enforcing the final rule, this opinion is a final adjudication on the merits of the case in the district where the NLRB is headquartered and willful disobedience of the Court’s judgment is unlikely. An appeal of the decision by the NLRB is likely.