New deals from the US Supreme Court are a blow to organized labor

Adeyemi Adeyemi
Adeyemi Adeyemi

Global Courant

The case of Glacier Northwest Inc v Teamsters is seen as the final test of union rights to go to court.

A ruling by the United States Supreme Court has lowered the threshold for companies to sue unions for property damage incurred during strikes.

In Thursday’s 8-1 ruling, the nation’s highest court reversed a lower court ruling that blocked a lawsuit brought by a concrete salesman in Washington state’s Glacier Northwest against the local branch of a union.

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The lawsuit argued that Glacier Northwest suffered losses during a 2017 strike that forced the company to throw out unused product: wet concrete that could have damaged the trucks carrying it.

The lower court had ruled that workers’ right to strike was guaranteed by the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). But Justice Amy Coney Barrett, writing for the Supreme Court majority, said there were limits to the NLRA’s protections.

“Because the union has taken positive steps to put Glacier’s property at risk rather than taking reasonable precautions to mitigate that risk, the NLRA is unlikely to protect its conduct,” she wrote in the ruling.

The ruling is the latest in a series of cases in which the court has ruled in favor of companies and against organized labour.

For example, the Supreme Court has previously ruled that regulations that allow union organizers to recruit from farmland violate employers’ rights and that unions should not charge “brokerage fees” to workers who profit from their work.

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Trade union organizing has seen a resurgence in the US, but membership remains well below previous highs.

“The opportunity to strike has been on the books for nearly 100 years,” said Sean O’Brien, general chairman of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, who represented workers in Thursday’s case. “And it is no coincidence that this ruling comes at a time when workers across the country are fed up and are increasingly exercising their rights.”

Thursday’s ruling stems from a 2017 incident when a group of truckers working for Glacier Northwest participated in a work stoppage while their trucks were filled with concrete.

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They kept the mixing drums running to prevent the concrete from setting and damaging the vehicles, but the company still had to dispose of the unused product.

Glacier Northwest, a part of Japan-based Taiheiyo Cement Corp, argued that cement must be used quickly or it could damage the equipment it carries. It claimed the strike was timed to facilitate the deliberate destruction of company property.

Noel Francisco, the attorney representing Glacier Northwest, said the ruling “justifies the longstanding principle that federal law does not protect unions from tort liability when they willfully destroy an employer’s property.”

The Washington State Supreme Court ruled in 2021 that the loss of concrete was incidental to the strike and therefore preempted the company’s claims under the NLRA, which upholds workers’ rights to form unions and engage in collective bargaining. to go.

The U.S. Supreme Court, encouraged by President Joe Biden’s administration, reversed that decision Thursday.

In a 27-page dissent, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson said the ruling could create “considerable confusion” about the application of the NLRA in future cases and “jeopardizes the right to strike.”

New deals from the US Supreme Court are a blow to organized labor

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