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Unions Liable for Intentional Property Damage Against Employers

In a recent ruling, the Supreme Court of the United States has held that labor unions may be held liable for “intentional property damage” against employers during a strike. The court ruled that the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) does not preempt tort claims made against the union for property that was intentionally damaged or destroyed during a strike. This is seen as a blow to many unions, who may now face legal liability from employers seeking to intimidate them into silence.

 

What Was This Case About? In Glacier Northwest, Inc. v. International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local Union No. 174, a labor union consisting of truck drivers working for a construction company decided to go on strike while cement trucks were loaded up with ready-mix concrete. As a result, their employer alleged that the union deliberately allowed the concrete in the trucks to harden, resulting in potential damage to the vehicles as well as lost property. The employer brought a lawsuit against the union for intentional property damage resulting from the wasted concrete. What Was the Legal Issue At Hand? The primary legal issue before the Supreme Court is whether the NLRA protected the union from being sued for the damage caused as a result of their decision to strike while there was concrete in the trucks. The union contended that the NLRA protected them from the lawsuit resulting from damage incidental to the strike. The employer, on the other hand, claimed that the union should need to pay them back for the “intentional property damage,” and that the NLRA did not offer any protection against such a suit. What Did the Court Rule? In an 8-1 ruling, the Court ruled that the NLRA did not preclude the lawsuit for intentional property damage. According to the ruling, written by Justice Amy Comey Barrett, the union has a legal duty to take “reasonable precautions” to prevent “foreseeable, aggravated, and imminent danger” to property that may result from a sudden cessation of work. Justice Barrett claims that the suit is appropriate in this case because not only did the union fail to take these reasonable precautions, they allegedly went on strike when they did, knowing well it would lead to the concrete being lost. What Impact Could This Have? Some labor advocates are concerned the decision could have a chilling effect on labor union efforts around the country. After all, if a union can be held liable for damage incidental to a strike, that can substantially increase the legal liability resulting from a strike. However, that is why it is important to get legal counsel with experience handling labor matters, especially if you intend to go on strike. That way, you can minimize your legal risks and avoid unnecessary litigation. Steven Mitchell Sack, the Employee’s Lawyer, is a New York employment lawyer with more than 42 years’ experience handling the many aspects of employment law. His new book, “Fired!: Protect Your Rights & FIGHT BACK If You’re Terminated, Laid Off, Downsized, Restructured, Forced to Resign or Quit,” is available in hardback, and contains valuable advice on dealing with employment and labor law issues. To purchase the book, feel free to contact Steven Sack at 917-371-8000 or visit the website at legalstratpub.com. To inquire about a legal matter, please feel free to contact attorney Steven Sack at 917-371-8000 or stevensackatty@hotmail.com.

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