The following article is from the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation’s bi-monthly Foundation Action Newsletter, January/February 2023 edition. To view other editions of Foundation Action or to sign up for a free subscription, click here.
Case asks if Teamsters are immune from liability for property destruction during strike
Rod Carter sought Foundation help after he was stabbed and beaten by Teamsters militants in 1997. The Foundation still fights union violence and opposes union bosses’ attempts to dodge property damage lawsuits.
WASHINGTON, DC – Unions and union officials already have an enormous number of special privileges under the law enjoyed by no other private organization or individual. Yet those special powers — including forcing workers under monopoly “representation” and union dues payments they oppose — haven’t stopped union lawyers from arguing for even more special exemptions.
In a case now before the U.S. Supreme Court, the Justices are set to decide whether the Washington State Supreme Court was correct when it granted Teamsters union officials immunity from lawsuits filed under state law. The lawsuit in this case concerned vandalism and property damage against an employer that occurred during a union boss-ordered strike.
Union Chiefs Want Blank Check to Target Workers with Property Damage
In Glacier Northwest Inc. v. International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 174, a construction company sued the Teamsters union over property damage deliberately caused as part of a strike, only to see the Washington Supreme Court overturn the lower court and agree with union bosses’ argument that unions were exempt from such lawsuits.
With the issue now before the nation’s highest court, the National Right to Work Foundation filed a brief in the case arguing that creating such a carve-out is wrong under the law. The Foundation brief says this exemption is dangerous not only to businesses but first and foremost to independent-minded workers, and that union officials’ abundance of government-granted powers should be pared back, not extended. Oral arguments are set for January 10, 2023.
The Foundation explains in the amicus brief that “states’ interest in protecting life, limb, and private property must be respected under principles of federalism” because federal courts usually don’t offer relief for crimes like vandalism and property damage, making state courts the only place where lawsuits can be filed for such behavior. Far from being a concern only for employers who face union strike efforts, the Foundation argues, employees are often targeted by hostile or violent strike behavior and state courts often are the only forum in which they can receive justice.
“For example, in Clegg v. Powers, employees sought damages in state court for union violence and property damage during a strike,” the brief says. “Cases like Clegg demonstrate that the Court should limit” unions’ ability to dodge being sued in state court, it continues.
Foundation: Union Officials’ Special Legal Privileges Shouldn’t Be Expanded
The Foundation’s brief then points out that the Teamsters bosses’ attempt to gain this new legal privilege should be shut down given “the extraordinary privileges and exemptions already granted to unions” by Congress and courts all over the country.
These include, but are not limited to, an exemption from federal law prohibiting extortionate violence, the power to force employees in non-Right to Work states to pay union dues or fees just to stay employed, and the privilege to foist monopoly “representation” over workers against their will — powers no other private entity or individual has.
“This Court should treat unions like all other citizens or entities, clarifying that they can be liable for damages in state courts under ‘the common law rule that a man is held to intend the foreseeable consequences of his conduct,’” the brief concludes.
Unions Shouldn’t Get More Rights Than Regular Citizens
“Union officials’ theory that they should be off the hook in state court for damaging or vandalizing property is outrageous on its face. The law already has plenty of carve-outs and privileges for union hierarchies that no other private organization or citizen gets to enjoy, least of all the workers union bosses claim to ‘represent,'”” commented National Right to Work Foundation Vice President Patrick Semmens.
“Union officials regularly force millions of workers to pay union fees or be fired, and force their ‘representation’ on millions of workers who bitterly oppose it. The Supreme Court should reject this new ploy seeking another union-only exemption to regular laws, and begin to scrutinize and ultimately roll back the many existing union boss special powers.”