Labor Union Crushed By Supreme Court

United States Supreme Court

( – In a major blow to labor unions, late yesterday, the United States Supreme Court sided with a Washington-based concrete company, Glacier Northwest Inc., in an 8-1 ruling that slammed union workers.

The decision allows the company to proceed with a lawsuit against the International Brotherhood of Teamsters union, alleging that a strike in August 2017 led to significant damage to its product. The company argues that the union intentionally caused damage to the company’s equipment during the strike.

Justice Amy Coney Barrett, a conservative member of the court, penned the ruling, arguing that a previous dismissal of the company’s lawsuit by a state court was premature. The court had expressed concern that the lawsuit could conflict with the National Labor Relations Act, a federal law safeguarding union activity. Barrett argued that because the union’s actions threatened Glacier’s property instead of taking reasonable steps to mitigate that risk, its conduct is not protected by the NLRA.

Labor advocates fear this ruling may dampen future strikes, as it could expose unions to damage claims for any potential losses employers might face due to such actions.

Liberal Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson was the lone dissenter, arguing that the ruling potentially undermines the right to strike. Despite her objection, the two other liberal justices, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor, sided with their conservative counterparts.

The lawsuit was sparked by a strike by Teamsters Local 174, which caused drivers to abandon their jobs and return trucks filled with wet concrete to the company’s facility. The company claims this rendered the concrete useless, causing substantial financial loss. However, the union argues that when the workers returned the trucks, the cement was still wet and would not immediately harden. They insist that the decision to remove and break up the hardened concrete was the company’s alone.

This ruling overturns a December 2021 decision by the Washington Supreme Court, which sided with the union, ruling that any loss of concrete was merely a side effect of a strike protected by federal law.

Critics of the decision, like the general president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Sean O’Brien, claim that the ruling prioritizes corporations over workers, undermining long-standing precedents. However, others, like Charlotte Garden, a professor specializing in labor law, believe the ruling is not as damaging to organized labor as it could have been. Yet, she points out that this decision may create liability risks for unions in future strikes.

Business groups often in conflict with organized labor, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, supported the company. They argued that the state court’s initial ruling contradicted U.S. Supreme Court precedent. Meanwhile, various labor groups and unions stood with the Teamsters in opposition.