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Yakima Labor Dispute Leads To U.S. High Court's Presidential Powers Ruling

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In a noteworthy decision issued Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court narrowed the president's power to make recess appointments when the Senate is not in session. 

The unanimous decision held that three appointments President Obama made to the National Labor Relations Board in 2012 were invalid because the Senate was not technically in recess. The ruling stemmed from a labor dispute in Yakima, Washington.

It all started over 40 cents — the hourly pay raise Teamsters Local 760 in Yakima claims a Pepsi bottling plant agreed to, then backed away from.

In 2012, the National Labor Relations Board upheld the union's position that it had a ratified contract. But that's when the local parties became pawns in a much larger game between national business interests and the labor-friendly Obama administration.

Teamsters negotiator Bob Koerner said approximately 40 workers remain in limbo, working without a contract.

“[It is] unfortunate for the employees. It is not fair for them,” he said.

Koerner said the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on presidential appointments during Senate recesses does not directly address the contract dispute in Yakima. The underlying case will now be reheard by the NLRB, with members who've been duly confirmed.

NLRB chairman Mark Gaston Pearce released a short statement in response to the ruling: "Today, the National Labor Relations Board has a full contingent of five Senate-confirmed members who are prepared to fulfill our responsibility to enforce the National Labor Relations Act."

The Pepsi bottling franchise involved in this contract dispute, the Noel Canning Corporation, referred inquiries to its attorney, Gary Lofland. He proposes an alternate next step.

"We're certainly hoping that the Teamsters will come back to the table to bargain," said Lofland.

Asked how a labor contract dispute involving a family-run bottling company evolved into a lofty ruling on precepts of Constitutional law, Lofland said, "It was happenstance and timing. It could just as well have been another case."

Correspondent Tom Banse is an Olympia-based reporter with more than three decades of experience covering Washington and Oregon state government, public policy, business and breaking news stories. Most of his career was spent with public radio's Northwest News Network, but now in semi-retirement his work is appearing on other outlets.