(CBrief) – In what is a crushing blow to unions, a stronghold of the Democrat Party, the Supreme Court has ruled that companies can sue unions for financial damage from strikes.
On Thursday the court ruled in favor of a concrete company in Washington that wanted to revive a lawsuit against the International Brotherhood of Teamsters which it said damaged its product.
“The 8-1 decision written by Justice Amy Coney Barrett means the company, Glacier Northwest Inc., can pursue a lawsuit against the union in state court over an August 2017 strike in which drivers walked off the job, leaving wet concrete in their trucks. Barrett, one of the court’s six conservatives, wrote that a state court was wrong to dismiss the claims at such an early stage in proceedings based on its concern that the claims conflicted with the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), a federal law that protects union activity,” NBC News reported.
“Because the union took affirmative steps to endanger Glacier’s property rather than reasonable precautions to mitigate that risk, the NLRA does not arguably protect its conduct,” she said.
The only Justice to dissent was Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, who was nominated by President Joe Biden, who said the decision, “risks erosion of the right to strike.”
She said that by making the decision to side with the company the court “inserts itself into this conflict, proceeding to opine on the propriety of the union’s strike activity.”
“This case is Exhibit A as to why the board — and not the courts — should ordinarily take the first crack at resolving contentious, fact-bound labor disputes of this nature,” she said.
Constitutional scholar Jonathan Turley explained the decision in a thread on Twitter.
“The first decision is out. It is Glacier NW v. International Brotherhood,” he said. “The Washington Supreme Court is reversed in an opinion by Justice Barrett. Only Justice Jackson dissented with the court ruling that federal law does not preempt a company’s state law tort claims against a union when a strike causes damage to the company’s property.”
“Glacier was the big ticket case today. The ruling against unions could prove something of a game changer. The nearly unanimous court ruled that ‘the Union did not take reasonable precautions to protect Glacier’s property from imminent danger resulting from the drivers’ sudden cessation of work,’” he said in another thread.
“Here is the key holding from Justice Barrett (there were concurrences as well as a lone dissent from Justice Jackson): ‘The Union’s actions not only resulted in the destruction of all the concrete Glacier had prepared that day; they also posed a risk of foreseeable, aggravated, and imminent harm to Glacier’s trucks. Because the Union took affirmative steps to endanger Glacier’s property rather than reasonable precautions to mitigate that risk, the NLRA does not arguably protect its conduct,’” he said.
And while many speak of the “divided” court, the decision was joined by liberal Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.
“Given the implications of the ruling, and the uncertainty it will create for when striking workers can and can’t be sued for damage to their employers (as Justice Jackson stressed in her dissent), it may seem odd that Justices Sotomayor and Kagan joined Justice Barrett’s majority opinion,” CNN Supreme Court analyst Steve Vladeck, a professor at the University of Texas School of Law, said.
“But compared to completely revisiting the court’s 1959 decision holding that state law generally doesn’t apply in these circumstances, the fact that Justice Barrett’s analysis rests on the narrow facts of this case – including the workers’ intentional misconduct and lack of effort to mitigate the damage – likely was enough to attract two of the three Democratic appointees, and too narrow for some of her fellow conservatives,” he said.