Emory Law Journal

Volume 64Issue : Special
Panel I: Assessing the NLRB's Impact and Political Effectiveness

Toward Politically Stable NLRB Lawmaking: Rulemaking vs. Adjudication

Charlotte Garden | 64 Emory L.J. 1469 (2015)

For the last several decades, there have been two constants with respect to the National Labor Relations Board. First, the modern Board has been notoriously reluctant to use its rulemaking authority; until recently, it had made only one significant substantive rule via the notice-and-comment process. Second, commentators—academics, lawyers, judges, and politicians—have issued a steady stream of calls for the Board to make law via rulemaking rather than through adjudications, arguing for the rulemaking process on both pragmatic and normative grounds. In recent years, however, the first of these has changed: the Board has engaged in two significant rulemaking processes. Each of these processes was both time intensive and politically and judicially fraught, calling into question whether the Board can achieve the process benefits of rulemaking in the current contentious political environment. This Symposium Essay explores the extent to which the Obama Board has been able to achieve the purported benefits of rulemaking, and therefore whether the benefits of making labor law through the rulemaking process exceed the costs, especially where the Board could alternatively make law via adjudication.

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The NLRB: What Went Wrong and Should We Try to Fix It?

Julius G. Getman | 64 Emory L.J. 1495 (2015)

For eighty years, national labor policy as set forth in the National Labor Relations Act has been committed to overcoming the “inequality of bargaining power between employees . . . and employers” by “encouraging the practice and procedure of collective bargaining” and by “protecting the exercise by workers of full freedom of association, self-organization, and designation of representatives.” The basic tenants of national policy may be restated in terms of a series of commands directed at the National Labor Relations Board and the courts. These may be stated as follows: (1) Promote and protect the right of workers to organize for the purposes of collective bargaining. (2) Prevent employers from using their economic power to inhibit free choice by workers. (3) Leave the parties free to negotiate their own agreements. (4) Recognize and protect the right to strike. The key to turning these commands into a living reality was the establishment of the NLRB, an expert agency that was to use its understanding of labor relations reality to establish national labor policy by defining more precisely the general terms of the NLRA subject to minor and supportive review by the courts. When the law was first enacted, its drafters probably assumed that the Court would be instructed in the realities of labor relations by the newly established NLRB and its presumed expertise. That has failed to happen, in part because the expertise of the Board is largely fictional and because the Court regularly ignores and overrides even sensible Board opinions.

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Politics and the Effect on the National Labor Relations Board’s Adjudicative and Rulemaking Processes

William B. Gould IV | 64 Emory L.J. 1501 (2015)

The National Labor Relations Act has never explicitly required political balance in the National Labor Relations Board’s (NLRB or Board) appointment process. But the Eisenhower administration demonstrated that policy shifts could be initiated through changes in NLRB composition. The Kennedy Board shifted gears again, prompting critics to say that the Board was on a “seesaw.” More pronounced polarization began to emerge in the 1980s as political party divisiveness and union decline created more adversarial relationships. In the 1990s, divided government produced a “batching” of appointees (in contrast to annual Senate confirmation votes on each appointment as their term expired), horse trading of “interchangeable elites engaged in an insider’s game” as Professor Calvin McKenzie said. Ultimately, the consequences of impasse through this process twice resulted in Supreme Court decisions interpreting the Act and the Constitution so as to alter the relationship between the President and the Senate. But the Senate, under Senator Reid, was to trump the practical effect of these holdings by eliminating the filibuster, which frequently stalled or stopped NLRB appointments. Paradoxically, however, through both oversight hearings and the Congressional Review Act of 1996, legislative interference with the work of the NLRB has never been more extensive.

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The NLRB, the Courts, the Administrative Procedure Act, and Chevron: Now and Then

Theodore J. St. Antoine | 64 Emory L.J. 1529 (2015)

Decisions of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), like those of other administrative agencies, are subject to review by the federal judiciary. Standards of review have evolved over time. The Administrative Procedure Act of 1946 provides that administrative decisions must be in accord with law and required procedure, not arbitrary or capricious, not contrary to constitutional rights, within an agency’s statutory jurisdiction, and supported by substantial evidence. In practice, more attention is paid to two Supreme Court decisions, Skidmore (1944) and Chevron (1984). For many years Chevron seemed the definitive test. A court must follow a clear intent of Congress, but if a statute is silent or ambiguous on the precise issue, then the court will defer to an agency’s determination that is a permissible construction of the statute. More recently there has been a revival of interest in the earlier, more flexible Skidmore approach. That would call for considering a variety of factors, including whether the issue was one of “pure law” or the application of law to facts and the formality or informality of the agency’s decisional process. It has even been suggested that these deference tests could be reduced to a single inquiry: was the agency’s decision “reasonable”? Empirical studies have indicated not only that the political backgrounds of NLRB members substantially affect its decisions but also that the political backgrounds of judges substantially affect the decisions of reviewing courts.

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