California State Supreme Court reaffirms Labor’s right to picket/leaflet on private property
April 2, 2013 by Dale Brodsky
An important decision in the private sector overturned an appellate court decision that California’s statute protecting labor’s right to picket was unconstitutional. The California Supreme Court has squarely and strongly upheld the right of Unions to publicize their disputes by picketing or leafleting on private property. The case involved Ralph’s Grocery’s newly opened non-union location in a shopping center and the UFCW’s picketing at the entrance to the store, on store property. Ralph’s sought an injunction to stop the picketing. The Supreme Court overturned an appellate court’s decision that an injunction was proper. The decision means that Unions can continue to peacefully picket and handbill on the privately-owned sidewalks outside retail stores and on other private property that is generally open to the public.
The appellate court had held that the Moscone Act – the state law that protects labor picketing from being enjoined except under very narrow circumstances – was unconstitutional because its special protection for labor speech resulted in discrimination against non-labor speech. The state Supreme Court rejected the lower court’s analysis, finding that there was no unconstitutional discrimination because there was no governmental restriction of speech. Instead, the statute only provides special treatment for labor speech. The Court notes that labor speech has been treated differently from other speech historically. This special treatment has been grounded in the long-recognized public interest in promoting the rights of workers to engage in concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining, picketing or other mutual aid or protection.
The Supreme Court also rejected arguments that existing state law that permits labor picketing on private property is unconstitutional.
This Supreme Court decision is an unqualified victory for workers, despite that it simply ratifies the same Union rights and protections that existed before the appellate court decision. In short, courts are prohibited from enjoining labor picketing or hand-billing – even on private property that is open to the public – unless there is unlawful activity such as disorderly conduct or blocking of access or egress. Note, however, that the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals has previously ruled unconstitutional – under the federal Constitution – California’s laws favoring labor picketing; so we may not yet have seen the end of this story.
Beeson, Tayer and Bodine (BT&B) keeps up to-date with decisions relevant to their practice areas to help inform and educate unions and employees on legal issues facing them. Please check the summary of the noteworthy private sector cases BT&B has litigated. We advise unions in labor issues and provide expertise in internal governance and administration as well.
*Ralphs Grocery Co. v. United Food and Commercial Workers, Local 8 (2012) 55 Cal.4th 1083 [summary provided by B&TB]
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