Friday, November 15, 2013

The Most Significant Labor Case in a Generation

Labor leaders and businesses have been closely watching a Supreme Court case that was argued last Wednesday that involved a popular strategy used by unions to successfully organize hundreds of thousands of workers.

The New York Times reports that the union's enlistment strategy "involves pressuring an employer into signing a so-called neutrality agreement in which the employer promises not to oppose a unionization drive. By some estimates, more than half of the recent successful unionization campaigns involve such agreements, which sometimes allow union organizers onto company property to talk with workers."

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Unite Here Local 355 v. Mulhall that will decide whether labor unions can reach agreements with employers to recognize labor unions upon a presentation of recognition cards signed by a majority of employees. These neutrality agreements date back decades. 

The anti-union National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, whose stated mission is to "eliminate coercive union power and compulsory unionism abuses" also supports "right to work" laws. The "foundation" helped the Mardi Gras employee, Martin Mulhall, bring the case and said another prevalent union tactic — in which unions get employers to agree to use “card check” rather than a secret ballot election to determine whether a majority of workers want a union — should be considered an illegal "thing of value". With card check, union organizers ask workers to sign cards saying they support a union and if a majority of workers sign them, the union presents the cards to the employer so the employer will recognize the union.

From the oral argument:

CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: Well, will you concede that [card check agreements are] more coercive than a secret ballot? The union organizer comes up to you and says, 'Well, here’s a card. You can check I want to join the union, or two, I don’t want a union. Which will it be?' And there’s a bunch of your fellow workers gathered around as you fill out the card.

JUSTICE SCALIA: And he’s a big guy. (Laughter.) [Editor's Note: This asshole judge deliberately conjured up old visions of union thugs; mafia bosses with their hired guns and bulky henchmen with clubs, brutally policing the docks. I thought only Hollywood and Fox News did that this days. There are several petitions online to impeach this Tea Party Judge.]

According to Reuters, Martin Mulhall, the employee, said his employer violated the Labor Management Relations Act when it agreed to allow the union, Unite Here Local 355, onto its property to organize workers and when the company agreed to give the union contact information for employees in exchange for the union's support on a ballot initiative.

Benjamin Sachs, a professor of labor law at Harvard Law School, said "Thus could be the most significant labor case in a generation."

A ruling is expected by the end of June.

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