Again, Federal Judges Reject NLRB ‘Poster Rule’

Griffin Bur

The laminated placards explaining your union rights on the job—a familiar sight to many American workers—are on the verge of disappearing. On Friday, a federal appeals court ruled that the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) cannot require employers to display such signs in the workplace. The court battle began brewing almost as soon as the NLRB issued the poster rule in 2011 to combat growing ignorance of union rights among workers. The Chamber of Commerce immediately challenged the rule, and in early 2012, federal judges offered contradictory rulings. Since then, appeals courts have twice taken the side of business lobbies over the NLRB in legal challenges to the rule requiring signs. Friday’s decision, handed down in Richmond by a panel of the Fourth Circuit of Appeals, reinforces a ruling by the DC Circuit Court in May. The DC court “cast the NLRB as a purely ‘reactive’ agency [and] said that it could not take a ‘proactive’ approach to its mandate,” explained labor attorney Moshe Marvit in an e-mail to In These Times. This is despite the fact that “the NLRA is clear in stating that [the NLRB’s] role is to ‘prevent’ unfair labor practices,” Marvit said. “That sounds proactive to me.” As Brooklyn College political scientist Corey Robin wrote in a blog post about last week’s decision, the rule requiring signs was fairly mild in that it didn’t “impose costs on employers, restrict their profits [or] regulate their operations.” Even for a country with relatively hostile laws governing union activity, overturning such a law seems strikingly anti-labor. To be sure, the “poster ruling” is just another small step in the long and multifactorial decline of unions in America. So this ruling is much more of a victory lap for business lobbies than a fatal blow for labor. At the same time, it’s indicative of our deeply reactionary political climate that our courts continue to issue decisions that will surely make Americans less aware of our constitutional rights. 

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Griffin Bur is a Summer 2013 editorial intern at In These Times.
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