Hastings Law Journal


Tod A. Cochran


The doctrine of preemption is widely considered to be the most confusing area in labor law. In 1986, the Supreme Court changed the preemption playing field with its holding in Golden State Transit Corporation v. City of Los Angeles. Golden State and the circuit court interpretations of it expand the degree to which state and local actions are preempted by the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). This Note argues that many of the circuit decisions have misinterpreted the Golden State doctrine in ways that expressly disadvantage workers and frustrate the principles of the NLRA.

A coherent analytical framework has yet to be established to determine when a state act will be preempted. This Note is intended to offer that framework. It develops a three-prong analysis to clarify the Court's holding in Golden State. A state act is preempted if it falls within any of the prongs of this analysis: direct interference with the bargaining process; impermissible conditioning of benefits on conforming labor relations behavior; or discouraging a party from exercising its NLRA-protected rights.

This framework is then applied to several circuit court decisions. The Note examines three decisions that demonstrate an accurate interpretation of the Supreme Court's holding, and five decisions that misinterpret that holding. The Note concludes that if circuit decisions correctly apply this framework, they will render decisions that are fairer, more consistent, and more predictable.

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