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SCOTUS accepts Indiana steel plant case

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The nation's highest court has agreed to take on a labor dispute issue involving a northern Indiana steel plant. The high court will consider whether the National Labor Relations Act allows the governing board to act when only two of its five positions are present to vote on labor disputes.

At its private conference late last week, justices granted certiorari in the case of New Process Steel, L.P. v. National Labor Relations Board, No. 08-1457, which comes from the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago following a National Labor Relations Board ruling.

In its May 1 ruling, the 7th Circuit affirmed the national board's decision that a steel company in Butler must recognize a collective-bargaining agreement between the company and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, AFL-CIO.

After a voting dispute about the agreement, an administrative law judge found the company had to accept the union contract; the National Labor Relations Board agreed. But a key issue arose because the NLRB had only two of five board seats filled to vote on the issue at the time. Statute allows a smaller, three-member panel to have authority to rule on issues and allows for two members to constitute a quorum if the third person isn't available. That's what happened in this case.

Deciding the two-person vote was legitimate, the 7th Circuit noted that the issue is one pending in several Circuits throughout the country. The plain meaning of the statute supports the board's delegation procedure and it had authority to hear the labor dispute in this case and to issue orders regarding the unfair labor practices claim and New Process' withdrawal of recognition of the union, authoring Judge Joel Flaum wrote.

In a petition for writ of certiorari, attorneys for New Process Steel asked the justices to accept transfer and side with a decision from the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals in Laurel Baye Healthcare of Lake Lanier v. NLRB, No. 08-1162, which held the national act explicitly requires the board to have three members "at all times" in order to function.

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