NATIONAL LABOR RELATIONS BOARD v. NOEL CANNING
The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) established the National Labor Relations Board (Board) to decide labor disputes among employers, unions, and employees. Parties first file unfair labor practice allegations to a Regional Office, which then conducts an investigation and, if necessary, files a complaint. An Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) presides over the hearing on the complaint and issues a recommendation to the Board. Unless a party to the dispute files a timely appeal, the ALJ’s recommendation becomes the final order of the Board. To hear a case and issue a ruling, the Board must have at least three of its five members present. The NLRA allows parties to appeal a Board ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the area where the alleged unfair labor practice occurred or to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Board members are appointed by the president and serve five-year terms.
In 2010, Noel Canning, a bottler and distributor of Pepsi-Cola products, was engaged in negotiations with its employee union, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 760 (Union). During the final bargaining session that December, Noel Canning agreed to submit two wage and pension plans to a vote by the Union membership. The membership approved the union’s preferred proposal. However, Noel Canning argued that the discussions did not amount to a binding agreement and refused to incorporate the changes into a new collective bargaining agreement. The Union filed a complaint with the Board alleging that Noel Canning’s actions constituted an unfair labor practice in violation of the NLRA. An ALJ determined that the agreement was binding and ordered Noel Canning to sign the collective bargaining agreement. The Board affirmed the ruling against Noel Canning.
Noel Canning appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which held that the Board’s ruling was invalid because not enough members of the Board were present. The panel that heard the Noel Canning case consisted of one member who was appointed by President Barack Obama and confirmed by the Senate in 2010 and two members whom President Obama appointed without Senate confirmation in January 2012. Although the Recess Appointments Clause allows the president to fill vacancies that occur while Congress is in recess, between December 2011 and the end of January 2012, the Senate met in pro forma meetings every three business days. Therefore, the Court of Appeals determined that the Senate was not in recess on the days the Senate did not meet because, for the purpose of the Recess Appointments Clause, recess is defined as the time in between sessions of Congress.
1. Was the Senate “ in recess” under the Recess Appointments Clause when President Obama appointed three people to the Board on January 4, 2012?
2. Does the Recess Appointments Clause grant the President the power to fill only vacancies that occur during the official recess of the Senate?