May 23, 2005 Labor Relations

Judge Rules New York Labor Neutrality Law Preempted by NLRA

On May 17, 2005 Senior Judge Neal P. McCurn of the federal District Court for the Northern District of New York ruled that a September 2002 amendment to Section 211-a of New York’s Labor Law was preempted by Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). Healthcare Association of New York State, Inc. v. Pataki, No. 1:03cv413, 2005 WL 1155687 (N.D.N.Y. May 17, 2005). New York Labor Law Section 211-a, referred to as a “labor neutrality law” by its supporters and an “employer gag law” by opponents, prohibits the use of State funds and property to encourage or discourage union organizing, as previously reported on this website. 

In holding that Section 211-a was preempted by federal labor law, Judge McCurn found the Ninth Circuit’s decision in Chamber of Commerce v. Lockyer, 364 F.3d 1154 (9th Cir. 2004), “particularly instructive.”, the Ninth Circuit in Lockyer held that a California statute which was very similar to Section 211-a was preempted by the NLRA. Judge McCurn agreed that, like the California statute, Section 211-a was not narrowly tailored to protect the State’s proprietary interest in ensuring that State funds are not misdirected, but rather that Section 211-a was a regulatory statute “designed to have a broad social impact, by altering the ability of a wide range of recipients of state money to advocate about union issues.” (quoting Lockyer). Judge McCurn concluded that N.Y. Labor Law Section 211-a was preempted by Section 7 of the NLRA because, like the California statute in Lockyer, Section 211-a, by “plainly hindering an employer’s ability to disseminate information opposing unionization [the statute] interferes directly with the union organizing process which the NLRA recognizes.” Judge McCurn specifically noted that “[i]t is difficult, if not impossible to see, however, how an employee could intelligently exercise such rights [granted by Section 7 of the NLRA], especially the right to decline union representation, if the employee only hears one side of the story — the union’s.” The Court therefore permanently enjoined the State from implementing or enforcing N.Y. Labor Law Section 211-a.