Last week, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit upheld the dismissal of a suit filed by construction-industry employers and their trade associations seeking to block enforcement of the Massachusetts Earned Sick Time Law in settings where collective bargaining agreements are in place.
The employers claimed that Section 301 of the Federal Labor-Management Relations Act, 29 U.S.C. § 185(a), preempts any claim that might be brought by an employee or the Massachusetts Attorney General under the Massachusetts Earned Sick Time Law. The employers argued that, since the Labor-Management Relations Act preempts state-law suits alleging violations of CBAs, it would bar claims brought under the Massachusetts Earned Sick Time Law in union settings because the determination of any such suit would require analysis and interpretation of the applicable CBA.
The trial court dismissed the employers’ suit, finding that it was not ripe because no earned sick time claim had yet been filed by any union employee or by the Massachusetts Attorney General on behalf of unionized workers. Therefore, the trial court found that the employers’ claims were “at best hypothetical.” On appeal, the First Circuit upheld the dismissal, agreeing that the employers’ request was not yet ripe because it was “too contingent,” and based on “as-yet-unknown features of as-yet-unspecified claims.”
While the First Circuit’s decision leaves open the question of whether the Labor-Management Relations Act preempts the Massachusetts Earned Sick Time Law, the opinion does provide some insight into how the issue might be resolved when it arises again. The First Circuit noted that the Labor-Management Relations Act does not necessarily preempt state laws that establish rights and obligations independent of a labor contract. Moreover, the fact that a court might need to refer to a CBA to determine an employee’s damages in a state-law claim (such as to calculate the employee’s hourly rate of pay), does not mean that the claim arises under the CBA and should therefore be preempted.
Employers with unionized workforces will want to keep a close eye on this issue as it continues to develop.
The case is Labor Relations Division of Construction Industries of Massachusetts, Inc., et al. v. Healey, No. 15-1906 (Dec. 16, 2016).