ABC New Hampshire & Vermont News
Union "Area Standard" Campaign Loses Court Battle
A federal appeals court has upheld a $1.7 Million jury verdict for a small Atlanta drywall contractor that had been subject to what the Defendant Carpenters’ union called an “area standards” campaign. The union contended its extensive publicity campaign was only designed to publicize the alleged low wages paid by the “open shop” contractor, Fidelity Interior Construction. The union’s campaign consisted of picketing, bannering, and hand-billing activities. The union argued that its tactics were merely First Amendment “free speech”. However, a federal court jury in Atlanta, as well as the District Court judge, and now the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, have ruled to the contrary and found that the union campaign was designed to coerce innocent third parties to stop doing business with Fidelity.
Among other things, the Federal Appeals Court indicated that jurors may consider the entire course of conduct of the union to determine whether its actions are coercive, and examine things like warning letters, banners, and handbills, as well as threats to picket, to determine whether the union intended to involve innocent third parties in its dispute with their “target”, Fidelity Interior. The Carpenters’ union flunked this test. In addition, the wording on the picket signs and the chants of picketers confused by-standers as to which business the picketing was actually directed, a violation of secondary boycott laws. Additionally, and in breach of federal labor laws, the union did not seek to limit its activities to lessen disruption to third parties. Instead, the screams and chants of the picketers referring to “rats” had just the opposite effect. The Court stated: “this…go[es] beyond the Union’s alleged desire to…level the playing field; this is a blatant elimination of competition.”
This case shows that a union cannot hurt innocent third parties by improperly playing the “free speech card”. Fidelity’s owner said his company was reduced in size from about 55 employees to only 12 during the Carpenters’ picketing campaign and he wanted to bring this case to set a legal precedent; not just to right a wrong against his company, but to make sure that other innocent parties would not be treated in this manner