U.S. Supreme Court

SCOTUS dismisses 'under the radar' case on agreements that aid union organizing

The U.S. Supreme Court won’t consider a case on the validity of union-employer “neutrality agreements” after hearing oral arguments on Nov. 13.

Salon had called Unite Here Local 355 v. Mulhall an “under-the-radar case that could deal a major blow to already embattled U.S. unions.” Unions seek to entice companies to help them in the type of agreement before the court, promising labor peace or other concessions in exchange for an employer’s help. The employer may agree in exchange to remain neutral, for example, or may help the union by providing access to employee lists.

At issue is whether such agreements violate the Labor Management Relations Act, which bars companies from paying money or “any other thing of value” to a labor union trying to organize workers.

Justice Stephen G. Breyer dissented from the court’s dismissal of the case as improvidently granted in an opinion (PDF) on Tuesday joined by Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

Breyer’s dissent acknowledges that the case could be moot, either because the agreement at issue expired before a federal appeals court issued a decision, or because the employee who challenged the agreement lacked standing. He said the Supreme Court should have asked for additional briefing on the questions, rather than dismiss the case. He also said the court should have sought further briefing on a third question: whether the federal law authorizes a private right of action.

If the case were found to be moot, the court would likely vacate the decision finding a labor violation by the Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, “thereby removing its precedential effect and leaving the merits question open to be resolved in a later case,” Breyer said.

Hat tip to SCOTUSblog.

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