1. Federal Preemption

The National Labor Relations Act, 29 U.S.C. § 151, et seq. (NLRA), covers employers engaged in interstate commerce and, therefore, generally preempts any state labor relations law. However, Section 2(2) of the NLRA specifically excludes states and other “political subdivisions” from coverage. Federal law determines whether an entity is a political subdivision.[108]

Section 14(c)(1) of the NLRA permits the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to decline to assert jurisdiction over any class or category of employers "where, in the opinion of the [NLRB], the effect of such labor dispute on commerce is not sufficiently substantial to warrant the exercise of its jurisdiction." In these cases, the DLR may assert jurisdiction under Chapter 150A.[109] Examples of this include:

  • Horse and dog racing industries.[110]
  • Day care centers with less than $250,000 in gross annual revenues.[111]


[108] NLRB v. Natural Gas Utility District of Hawkins County, Tennessee, 402 U.S. 600 (1971).

[109] M.G.L. c. 150A, § 10(b); Operations and Maintenance Service Westover Jobs Corps. Center/G.E. v. Labor Relations Commission, 405 Mass. 214 (1989).

[110] NLRB Rules and Regulations, Part 103.3; Plainridge Race Course 28 MLC 185 (2001).

[111] Salt & Pepper Nursery School & Kindergarten No. 2, 222 NLRB 1295, 91 LRRM 1338 (1976); Greater New Bedford Infant Toddler Center, 12 MLC 1131 (H.O. 1985), aff’d, 13 MLC 1620 (1987)

2. Parallel Jurisdiction

The DLR has parallel jurisdiction with the Civil Service Commission (CSC) in certain limited areas. For example, the Supreme Judicial Court has held that the CSC vindicates a private right of a complaining employee, while the DLR acts as a public prosecutor to test a public right [112]. Therefore, even if the CSC had previously found that a public employer had just cause for disciplining an employee, the DLR may examine the facts to determine whether the discipline was imposed in retaliation for the employee's participation in protected activities.[113]


[112] Town of Dedham v. Labor Relations Commission, 365 Mass. 392 (1974).

[113] Board of Selectmen of Natick v. Labor Relations Commission, 16 Mass. App. Ct. 972 (1983).

3. Primary Jurisdiction/Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies

Generally, courts defer action on cases in which the subject matter is within the jurisdiction and expertise of an administrative agency, such as the DLR, to permit the agency to first decide the case.[114]


[114] Leahy v. Local 1526, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, 399 Mass. 341 (1987) (duty of fair representation cases should ordinarily be decided by the DLR in the first instance); School Committee of Greenfield v. Greenfield Education Association, 385 Mass. 70 (1982) (challenges to a union’s assessment of an agency service fee are within the DLR’s primary jurisdiction).

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