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Ruling wipes out some NLRB decisions

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Bob Moon: The Supreme Court gave the National Labor Relations Board a lot of extra work today. The board mediates disputes between companies and labor unions. It’s supposed to have five members from both political parties. But it had just two members between 2008 and this year, because of partisan bickering. Today’s Supreme Court’s decision throws out nearly 600 of the NLRB’s decisions from that period.

As Marketplace’s Brett Neely reports, the board will now have to revisit those decisions.

Brett Neely: The Supreme Court said the board needs at least three members for its decisions to be legal. The board’s membership dwindled to just two, because Congress and both the Bush and Obama White Houses could never agree on nominees.

Nothing new, says William Gould, who used to chair the board during the Clinton administration.

William Gould: This has produced, for at least two decades, paralysis and gridlock.

When the board was down to two members — one from each party — they agreed to take only the easiest and least controversial cases. Now, those cases may have to be decided again.

Meanwhile, in the spring, President Obama appointed two more members during a congressional recess to avoid Senate confirmation. Now, the four members will have to take up some meaty cases. They include whether graduate students at universities have a right to join a union.

It will be a hard slog, says Gould, who’s now at Stanford Law School.

Gould: The board is faced with a formidable crunch and expanding caseload, and that caseload of course is going to be made much worse now by virtue of what the Supreme Court has done today.

All of this dysfunction benefits industry, says Michael Harper, a labor law professor at Boston University.

Michael Harper: I think employers would not be unhappy if the labor board didn’t exist and didn’t function.

President Obama’s recess appointments expire in January. If Congress doesn’t get its act together by then, the board will be paralyzed.

In Washington, I’m Brett Neely for Marketplace.

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