The U.S. Supreme Court dismissed the case of UNITE HERE Local 355 v. Mulhall, which questioned whether a neutrality agreement in which the employer agreed to remain neutral on union organizing efforts violated the LaborRelations Act (LMRA). For now, the question remains unresolved.
In this case, the Mardi Gras Casino in Florida agreed to give UNITE HERE union representatives access to its premises to organize employees during nonworking hours. It provided a list of employees, their job classifications, departments and addresses. It also pledged to remain neutral as UNITE HERE attempted to organize employees.
In return, UNITE HERE ran advertisements in support of gambling ballot initiative backed by the casino.
An employee argued the practice violated the LMRA’s Section 302, which bars employers from providing a “thing of value” to labor unions attempting to organize workers. The resulting lawsuit accused the casino and union of collusion in violation of the LMRA.
The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the casino’s assistance to the union could be a “thing of value” as defined in the LMRA.
Last June, the Supreme Court agreed to address the question of “whether an employer and union may violate section 302 by entering into an agreement under which the employer exercises its freedom of speech by promising to remain neutral to union organizing, its property rights by granting union representatives limited access to the employer’s property and employees, and its freedom of contract by obtaining the union’s promise to forgo its rights to picket, boycott, or otherwise put pressure on the employer’s business.”
The Supreme Court in December ruled that the case was “improvidently granted”—essentially that it never should have taken the case because it was moot, since the union contract had expired by the time the 11th Circuit took the case and the employee may not have had standing to file his case.
Note: For now, the decision lets stand a precedent in the 11th Circuit: Alabama, Georgia and Florida. In those states, employees still may challenge the legality of neutrality agreements under the LMRA. No doubt these underlying issues will be hashed out in court. This case may ultimately reappear on the High Court’s docket.