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Consider trespass suit if union steps over line

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in Employment Law,Human Resources

Don’t assume that, just because your employees seem happy with your wages and benefits, you won’t be targeted by a union.

In fact, sometimes unions engage in “ambulatory picketing” and other practices aimed at publicly exposing allegedly bad employers. This can include following your company vehicles to work sites and picketing outside your business locations. The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) permits all these practices.

However, union reps can’t trespass on your property. As the following case shows, trespass is something covered by state law, and you can go to court to get union picketers off your private property.

Recent case: Friedges Drywall is a family-owned light-construction company. A carpenters union began picketing Friedges’ work sites to protest the wages and benefits that Friedges pays its workers, claiming that they are lower than area standards.

The union placed picketers at work sites to march back and forth, carrying signs and chanting. The picketers also followed company trucks and picketed at job sites where the trucks parked.

Friedges sued in state court, alleging that the union’s activities amounted to a threat to public safety, an unfair labor practice and trespass.

The court said the NLRA pre-empted state law. The NLRA allows employers to challenge what they consider unfair labor practices, but Friedges had already tried that tack, discovering that the NLRA allows picketing.

But Friedges didn’t go home empty-handed. The court ruled that the NLRA didn’t pre-empt Minnesota trespass laws. It allowed that claim to go forward. (Friedges Drywall v. NCSRCC, No. A09-427, Minnesota Court of Appeals, 2009)

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