U.S. District Court Invalidates "Quickie" Election Rule

May 14, 2012

By: Tyler T. Hendry

On May 14, 2012, a federal district court judge invalidated new regulations intended to streamline union representation elections, finding that the National Labor Relations Board lacked a proper three-member quorum when it voted on the controversial final rule in December of 2011.  The final rule, which has commonly been referred to as the "ambush" or ""quickie" election rule, went into effect on April 30, 2012.  The same federal district court judge had previously denied a request for a stay of the final rule, stating that he intended to issue a decision on the merits of the case by May 15.

Judge James Boasberg of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia found that the required three members necessary to establish a quorum were not present when the rule was adopted on December 16, 2011 because Member Hayes failed to participate in the final vote.  Hayes had previously voted against initiating the rulemaking process and against proceeding with the final rule.  Because of this prior opposition, the two other members issued the final rule without Member Hayes' participation.

Judge Boasberg rejected the Board's argument that Member Hayes had "effectively indicated his opposition" and that his participation in the final vote was not necessary.  In rejecting this argument, Judge Boasberg cited to an unlikely source:

According to Woody Allen, eighty percent of life is just showing up.  When it comes to 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 the challenged rule is invalid.

 Judge Boasberg further reasoned that Member Hayes could not be counted toward a quorum particularly because no one on the Board reached out to him to ask for a response, as is the agency's usual practice where a member has failed to vote.  Judge Boasberg stated that if Hayes had affirmatively expressed his intent to abstain or acknowledged receiving notification that the final rule had been circulated, he may have been counted in the quorum; however, because none of those things happened, Judge Boasberg found that Member Hayes failed to "show up -- in any literal or even metaphoric sense."  Because the Board failed to meet the quorum requirement, Judge Boasberg refused to address the plaintiffs' challenge to the final rule on various procedural and substantive grounds.

It remains to be seen whether the newly constituted Board -- complete with three controversial and challenged recess appointees -- will be assembled to take final action on the "quickie" election rule.  In his decision, Judge Boasberg noted that nothing appears to prevent a properly constituted quorum of the Board from voting to adopt the rule if the Board desires to do so.  In addition, an appeal of Judge Boasberg's decision is likely.  If a new vote on the rule is held, it is likely that the rule will once again be challenged.

The Board has announced that, at least for now, all union representation elections based on petitions filed on or after April 30, 2012 will proceed under the old rules.