Monthly Archives: January 2014

January 30, 2014

Firing for Off-Duty Medical Marijuana Use to be Reviewed by Colorado Supreme Court

By Emily Hobbs-Wright 

The Colorado Supreme Court announced that it will review last year’s lower court decision that upheld the termination of an employee who tested positive for marijuana but was unimpaired at work following his off-duty marijuana use for medical reasons.  As we previously wrote on this blog (see this post), last April, the Colorado Court of Appeals ruled that using pot during non-working hours is not a “lawful activity” under the state’s lawful off-duty activity statute (C.R.S. §24-34-402.5).  Coats v. Dish Network LLC, 2013 COA 62. The Court of Appeals reached its decision by relying on the fact that marijuana use remains illegal under federal law and therefore, medical marijuana use, though legal in Colorado, was not “lawful” for purposes of the Colorado lawful off-duty activity statute. 

The Colorado Supreme Court will review two questions: 

1. Whether the Lawful Activities Statute protects employees from discretionary discharge for lawful use of medical marijuana outside the job where the use does not affect job performance; and 

2. Whether Colorado’s Medical Marijuana Amendment makes the use of medical marijuana “lawful” and confers a right to use medical marijuana to persons lawfully registered with the state.  

Over the next few months, the parties will submit written briefs to the Court presenting their positions on these two questions.  With the importance of this case for both Colorado businesses and the marijuana industry, watch for additional groups to ask permission to submit briefs advocating their respective viewpoints.   Though the case before the Colorado Supreme Court deals with medical marijuana, the Court’s decision could establish precedent that would apply to the legal use of recreational marijuana.  We will watch this case very closely and will report on any new developments as they occur.

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January 27, 2014

Union Membership: By the Numbers – 2013

By Jeffrey T. Johnson 

The results are in.  For 2013, the percentage of union members in the private sector ticked up slightly, to 6.7%.  The percentage for 2012 was 6.6%.  The total number of union members working in the private sector rose from 7.0 million in 2012 to 7.3 million in 2013. 

Numbers for the public sector dipped slightly from 2012, with 35.9 percent of public sector employees reported to be union members in 2012 and 35.3 percent in 2013. The total number of public sector union members remained relatively flat, with 7.2 million union members in 2013, down just over 100,000 members from 2012. 

In analyzing the data provided by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the trend in both percentage and total number of union members has been a steady downward one.  For example, in 2005, 7.8% of private sector employees were union members.  In 2005, 15.7 million workers (private and public) were union members; in 2013, only 14.5 million. 

The BLS report breaks down the union membership data by many categories, including by state, gender, age, industry, and occupation.  It also provides comparative earnings information.  Here are some highlights: 

  • Men had a higher union membership rate (11.9%) than women (10.5%).
  • The age category with the highest percentage of union members was age 55-64 (14.3%).
  • The occupations with the highest percentage of private sector union members were protective service occupations (35.3%), utilities (25.6%), and transportation and warehousing (19.6%)
  • New York continues to have the highest union membership rate (24.4%), while North Carolina had the lowest rate (3.0%).  

Statistics for 2013 union membership in the primary states served by Holland & Hart’s offices were as follows: 

  • Nevada – 14.6% unionized, total of 169,000 members
  • Montana – 13.0% unionized, total of 52,000 members
  • Colorado – 7.6% unionized, total of 171,000 members
  • New Mexico – 6.2% unionized, total of 751,000 members
  • Wyoming – 5.7% unionized, total of 15,000 members
  • Idaho – 4.7% unionized, total of 29,000 members
  • Utah – 3.9% unionized, total of 49,000 members 

Note:  Above figures are private and public sectors combined

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January 16, 2014

(Un)Happy New Year for NLRB

National_Labor_Relations_Board_logo_-_colorBy Brad Williams 

The National Labor Relations Board began 2014 on a sour note, conceding defeat on its controversial “Poster Rule” and facing skeptical Supreme Court justices in the blockbuster Noel Canning case testing the president’s power to appoint NLRB members under the Constitution’s so-called “Recess Appointments Clause.” 

“Poster Rule” Challenge Dropped 

On January 6, 2014, the NLRB announced that it would not appeal two federal circuit court decisions that had rejected the Board’s controversial “Poster Rule.” The rule, originally issued in 2011 under the NLRB’s long-neglected rulemaking power, required 6 million private employers to post a government-issued notice advising employees of their rights under the National Labor Relations Act. Business groups excoriated the rule as requiring posting of unbalanced information, and as violative of their free speech rights. Two federal circuit courts broadly agreed, holding that the Board lacked authority to issue the rule, and that its enforcement mechanisms were incompatible with the NLRA. 

Although the Board obtained extensions of time in which to appeal these decisions to the Supreme Court, it announced on January 6th that it had “decided not to seek Supreme Court review.” The Board urged that the poster could still be displayed “voluntarily,” but effectively conceded defeat in the litigation. A similar rule issued by the Department of Labor in 2010, and applicable only to federal contractors, remains on the books. However, one of the parties behind the successful challenge to the NLRB’s “Poster Rule” recently filed a lawsuit challenging the DOL’s rule on similar grounds. The DOL has not yet responded in that litigation. 

Skeptical Questioning in Noel Canning  

On January 13, 2014, the NLRB faced skeptical Supreme Court justices in oral argument in the blockbuster Noel Canning case. The case arose from a Board order finding that an employer had violated the NLRA by refusing to sign a collective bargaining agreement after orally agreeing to the contract. The employer, Noel Canning, appealed the Board’s decision to a federal circuit court on the basis that three of the Board’s members had been improperly appointed by President Obama, and that the Board’s unfair labor practice decision was accordingly void. 

The federal circuit court agreed, holding that the Board appointments had violated the Constitution’s so-called “Recess Appointments Clause.” That clause, which has never before been interpreted by the Supreme Court, provides that the president may “fill up all Vacancies that may happen during the Recess of the Senate.” President Obama had appointed the three Board members during a 2012 intra-session break in which the Senate had been convening every three days in pro forma sessions, but had been conducting no business. The federal circuit court held that the Recess Appointments Clause only permits presidential appointments between the Senate’s annual official “sessions,” and only for vacancies that have arisen during these inter-session breaks, not before. Because the federal circuit court found that the Board members’ appointments had been improper, it vacated the NLRB’s decision against Noel Canning. 

On January 13th, the Supreme Court held oral argument in the case which implicates such technical questions as whether presidential recess appointments are only permitted during inter- (as opposed to intra-) session breaks; whether the vacancies must arise during Senate recesses, not before; and whether the Senate is in recess when it conducts pro forma sessions every three days. Practically, these questions address the political struggle between presidents and the Senate over appointments, and threaten to eliminate a workaround presidents have increasingly used to place officials in top positions where their appointments would otherwise be delayed or rejected by the Senate.  

During the oral argument, the justices seemed broadly skeptical of the NLRB’s position that a robust recess appointment power is needed as a “safety valve” to deal with Senate intransigence; that the president (as opposed to the Senate) may decide when the Senate is actually in “recess;” and that a long history of presidential appointments seemingly at odds with the plain text of the Recess Appointments Clause justifies President Obama’s appointments in 2012. In particular, some justices seemed unpersuaded that there was an intelligible “limiting principle” that would permit a president to decide, on his own, whether the Senate was actually in “recess.” For instance, Justice Kennedy raised the prospect of “lunch break” appointments given the NLRB’s position. 

A decision in the Noel Canning case is expected by this June. The Supreme Court might avoid some of the case’s stickier questions, including whether the legal acts of improperly appointed officials dating back to the Washington administration are somehow void, by deciding the case on the narrow question of whether recess appointments are proper when the Senate is convening every three days in pro forma sessions. Curtailment of the president’s recess appointment power will have limited short-term effects following the Senate’s elimination of the filibuster for most presidential appointments last November. That change made President Obama’s need for the power far less pressing because Democrats currently control the Senate. However, any curtailment of the power is likely to have significant longer-term effects, particularly when different parties once again control the Senate and the presidency. 

Of course, should the recess appointment power be significantly curtailed come this June, future presidents may still always fall back on that old constitutional standby: “Advice and Consent of the Senate.”

Disclaimer: This article is designed to provide general information on pertinent legal topics. The statements made are provided for educational purposes only. They do not constitute legal advice and are not intended to create an attorney-client relationship between you and Holland & Hart LLP. If you have specific questions as to the application of the law to your activities, you should seek the advice of your legal counsel.

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