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Supreme Court: Unions must take precautions to protect company property

The U.S. Supreme Court, in an 8-1 decision, has held that the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) does not prevent a company from filing a lawsuit in state court alleging intentional destruction of property by a union during a labor dispute.

The court ruled that the act does not protect a union’s failure to take reasonable precautions to protect company property from “foreseeable, aggravated, and imminent danger” during a strike.

Background

In the case of Glacier Northwest v. International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local Union No. 174, the court found that the union coordinated the strike at a time when perishable concrete was being loaded on trucks without taking steps to prevent damage to the trucks or the concrete. As such, their actions fell outside protections under the NLRA.

Per the court’s synopsis: “By reporting for duty and pretending as if they would deliver the concrete, the drivers prompted the creation of the perishable product. Then, they waited to walk off the job until the concrete was mixed and poured in the trucks. In so doing, they not only destroyed the concrete but also put Glacier’s trucks in harm’s way.”

The union argued that the NLRA preempted the state court’s jurisdiction, but the Supreme Court disagreed. The court emphasized that the right to strike has limitations, and workers are required to take reasonable precautions to protect their employer’s property during a strike.

In the case of Glacier, the company took emergency measures to protect the trucks, but the batched concrete hardened and had to be destroyed.

Takeaways

This decision has implications for employers seeking damages in state court for intentional destruction of property during a labor dispute. Unions must take reasonable precautions during a strike to minimize the risk of harm to property. Conduct that intentionally endangers property may not be protected by the NLRA.

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