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National Labor Relations Board v. Committee of Interns and Residents

decided: September 21, 1977.

NATIONAL LABOR RELATIONS BOARD, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
COMMITTEE OF INTERNS AND RESIDENTS, AND NEW YORK STATE LABOR RELATIONS BOARD, DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES



In this action, the National Labor Relations Board sought an injunction in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York against the holding of a representation election under the auspices of the New York State Labor Relations Board. The NLRB moved for a preliminary injunction, and the defendant cross-moved for summary judgment. The district court, Charles E. Stewart, Jr., J., granted the defendant's motion and the plaintiff appealed.

Meskill, Circuit Judge, and Edward R. Neaher*fn** and Albert W. Coffrin,**fn** District Judges.

Author: Meskill

MESKILL, Circuit Judge:

Prior to 1974, workers in voluntary, non-profit hospitals were excluded from coverage under federal labor law. In that year, Congress amended the National Labor Relations Act ("NLRA") to include the labor-management relations of all non-profit health care institutions. Pub. L. No. 93-360, 88 Stat. 395 (1974) (amending 29 U.S.C. §§ 151 et seq. (1970)) ("the Health Care Amendments"). This case requires us to consider the preemptive effect of that change.

The Committee of Interns and Residents ("CIR") is a union of housestaff personnel. Its membership consists of doctors receiving post-graduate training in various hospitals. The three categories of its membership are interns, who have just completed medical school and are generally involved in a one-year program; residents, who are in a longer training program leading to certification in a medical specialty; and clinical fellows, who have completed residencies and are being trained in medical sub-specialties. From 1957 to 1974, CIR represented the housestaff at a number of hospitals in New York City under the jurisdiction of the New York State Labor Relations Board ("SLRB").

After the passage of the Health Care Amendments in 1974, a number of housestaff organizations similar to CIR filed election petitions with the NLRB. In March, 1976, the NLRB issued its first decision on these petitions, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, 223 N.L.R.B. 251 (1976). That case held that while housestaff "possess[ed] certain employee characteristics," they are "primarily engaged in graduate educational training," and thus were students rather than employees. On this basis, the NLRB concluded that housestaff should not be given collective bargaining rights, and dismissed the petition.

Several weeks later, CIR filed an election petition with the SLRB. In July, 1976, the SLRB dismissed the petition on the ground that federal labor law, as expressed in Cedars-Sinai, had preempted the field. In re Misericordia Hospital Medical Center, 39 S.L.R.B. No. 32 (1976).

The CIR then brought suit in New York State Supreme Court to compel the SLRB to accept jurisdiction. That court ruled that the SLRB was free to accept jurisdiction over the labor relations of housestaff. Committee of Interns and Residents v. New York State Labor Relations Board, 88 Misc.2d 502, 388 N.Y.S.2d 509 (Sup. Ct. N.Y. County 1976). The following month, the NLRB issued an opinion concerning a housestaff union in which it explained that its intention in Cedars-Sinai had been to preempt the field. Kansas City General Hospital, 225 N.L.R.B. No. 14A, 93 LRRM 1362 (1976) ("Kansas City II"). In light of that decision, the state court vacated its prior decision. Committee of Interns and Residents v. New York State Labor Relations Board, 89 Misc. 2d 424, 391 N.Y.S.2d 503, 505 (Sup. Ct. N.Y. County 1977).

In the interval between the two state court decisions, the NLRB began the action involved in the instant appeal. It sought to enjoin the holding of elections for housestaff officers under the aegis of the SLRB. See NLRB v. Nash-Finch Co., 404 U.S. 138, 30 L. Ed. 2d 328, 92 S. Ct. 373 (1971). The Board moved for a preliminary injunction, and the CIR cross-moved for summary judgment. Judge Stewart granted the CIR's motion, and denied any relief to the NLRB. 426 F. Supp. 438 (S.D.N.Y. 1977). We reverse and remand.

I.

Federal preemption in the labor field is particularly broad. See Motor Coach Employees v. Lockridge, 403 U.S. 274, 91 S. Ct. 1909, 29 L. Ed. 2d 473 (1971); COX, Labor Law Preemption Revisited, 85 Harv. L. Rev. 1337 (1972). As the Supreme Court stated in Garner v. Teamsters Union, 346 U.S. 485, 98 L. Ed. 228, 74 S. Ct. 161 (1953):

Congress did not merely lay down a substantive rule of law to be enforced by any tribunal competent to apply law generally to the parties. It went on to confide primary interpretation and application of its rules to a specific and specially constituted tribunal and prescribed a particular procedure for investigation, complaint and notice, and hearing and decision, including judicial relief pending a final administrative order. Congress evidently considered that centralized administration of specially designed procedures was necessary to obtain uniform application of its substantive rules and to avoid these diversities and conflicts likely to result from a variety of local procedures and attitudes towards labor controversies.

Id. at 490. The few exceptions to this pervasive federal regulation fall into a small number of categories. Congress has explicitly given the states jurisdiction over some labor matters, such as damage suits for unfair labor practices. 29 U.S.C. § 187(b). Suits for state-law torts committed during a labor dispute are traditionally matters of state concern, with only a peripheral federal interest. Farmer v. United Brotherhood of Carpenters, 430 U.S. 290, 296, 97 S. Ct. 1056, 51 L. Ed. 2d 338, 45 U.S.L.W. 4263 (1977). Finally, Congress has established clear procedures by which the NLRB may cede jurisdiction over labor disputes to appropriate state authorities. 29 U.S.C. §§ 160(a), 164(c). As discussed below, this case does not fall within any of these exceptions.*fn1

II.

In Cedars-Sinai, the NLRB concluded that housestaff, "although they possess certain employee characteristics, are primarily students." 223 N.L.R.B. at 251. Accordingly, the Board concluded that collective bargaining was not mandated by the NLRA or the Health Care Amendments, and that the extension of such ...


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