Thursday, October 6, 2022

Is a labor union liable for damages caused by its members during a strike

Suppose your employees walk off the job in protest of stalled negotiations over a new collective bargaining agreement. Further suppose that their union (allegedly) coordinates the strike with the precise time your concrete is being mixed and delivered for the day, causing the destruction of your product.

Can you hold the union liable under state law for their alleged tortious conduct?

According to the State of Washington's Supreme Court, the answer is "no."

Because the National Labor Relations Act is the exclusive remedy for strike-related misconduct, it preempts state law claims for property damage or other harm; if federal law protects the strike, it also must necessarily provide the only remedies related to strike-related misconduct.

The employer is now asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review that decision, arguing that the NLRA provides an inadequate remedy (or, more accurately, no remedy at all) for the union's misconduct since it does not provide recovery for property damage. Without a remedy, there is nothing to deter unions from engaging in this unlawful conduct. Indeed, the employer argues, with no legal deterrent to hold unions accountable for strike-related misconduct, this decision actually encourages vandalism and other torts that would be unlawful in any other circumstance.

The union is opposing the petition, arguing that the employer could have saved its concrete if it had just arranged for replacement workers or management employees to handle the deliveries during the strike.

It offends me (and should offend you) that unions can get away with sabotage by hiding behind federal preemption of state law tort remedies. SCOTUS needs to take up this case to fix this mess, re-balance the scales, and hold a union accountable for its misconduct just like any other business.