In a blow to retail businesses in California, the California Supreme Court has held that labor unions have the right to picket in front of privately owned store entrances. In Ralphs Grocery Company v. United Food and Commercial Workers Union, Local 8, +2012 Cal. LEXIS 11911 (Cal. Dec. 27, 2012), the Court ruled that a union's ability to picket directly in front of a privately owned supermarket entrance was related to the state's interest in protecting collective bargaining to resolve labor disputes.
In this case, union members began picketing the Ralphs store in Sacramento in an attempt to organize the employees. The picketers marched back and forth in front of the store's entrance walkway, carrying picket signs, handing out flyers and talking to customers. Sacramento police refused to interfere without a court order. Ralphs filed for a preliminary injunction arguing that the union was trespassing on private property. However, the trial court found for the union, which argued that its picketing was protected by the state's Moscone Act, +Cal Code Civ Proc § 527.3, which provides that, in part, certain union activities such as peaceful picketing during a labor dispute are legal. The California Court of Appeals disagreed and ruled that the state law violated the Constitution because it favored speech related to labor disputes over other kinds of speech.
Although the California Supreme Court acknowledged that Ralphs' privately owned entrance area was not a public forum and, therefore, union activities on that location do not have constitutional protection, the Court held that the Moscone Act nevertheless granted unions the right to picket on private property. As a result, the Court stated, peaceful picketing on private property is legal and cannot be enjoined. Notably, the Court also ruled that storeowners and shopping centers are permitted to limit free speech from other groups, such as religious organizations and protesters.
It would not be surprising if Ralphs appeals this decision to the US Supreme Court, which has previously declared statutes similar to the Moscone Act unconstitutional because they extend greater protection to labor-related speech than to speech on other subjects. In the meantime, employers should continue to contact law enforcement in the event unions disrupt their business operations and access policies. While employers may still seek injunctive relief in the courts, the requirements are quite difficult to meet as only union activities that involve violence or the blocking of customers' ability to enter or exit store property are considered unlawful.
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Labor Relations > Strikes, Lockouts and Other "Economic Weapons
Labor Relations > Strikes, Lockouts and Other "Economic Weapons": California