Why do unions seek exemption from anti-stalking laws?
Valentine’s Day is a time when couples go out for romantic dinners and exchange gifts, while singles meet up in bars, hoping to make some bad decisions. Valentine’s Day is also a day when people with crazy ex-boyfriends or -girlfriends are reminded of how thankful they are for anti-stalking laws.
Every state has made stalking a crime. These laws help protect people who might otherwise live in fear. Yet labor unions have successfully, and disconcertingly, lobbied to be exempt from anti-stalking laws in at least four states – California, Pennsylvania, Illinois and Nevada.
“The most glaring examples of union favoritism under state laws,” notes a 2012 U.S. Chamber of Commerce report, “tend to occur in criminal statutes and allow individuals who engage in truly objectionable behavior to avoid prosecution solely because they are participating in some form of labor activity.”
Pennsylvania unions now enjoy a loophole that the state’s anti-stalking law “shall not apply to conduct by a party to a labor dispute.” In Illinois, anti-stalking laws exempt “any controversy concerning wages, salaries, hours, working conditions or benefits … the making of collective bargaining agreements.”
These exemptions prove that organizing tactics used by unions can have something in common with those of stalkers – and can perhaps inflict similar emotional distress.
While a number of states have exemptions that have allowed union members to intimidate and harass, California is by far the worst actor. As in other states, it is a crime in California to interfere with a lawful business through physical obstruction or intimidation of workers or customers.
Yet California has exempted unions from this law. The negative effects were clear in 2008, when United Food and Commercial Workers Union members picketed a new Ralph’s grocery store in Fresno. They went beyond traditional picketing, harassing customers and instigating confrontations with employees on store property. When store workers finally called the police, authorities refused to come and put a stop to the union’s disruptive behavior.
With the nation’s highest income and sales tax rates, in addition to many costly regulations, California is already one of the most difficult places to do business. Its exemptions permitting such behavior on the part of unions – which would be considered criminal for you or me – makes the state an even more inhospitable place to do business.
California also has a host of exemptions that allow union members to violate the property rights of private citizens. The 2008 Researcher Protection Act makes entering the residences of academic researchers to interfere with their work a crime. Sounds reasonable. Yet this doesn’t apply to union members. They can invade a professor’s home in California and it’s not a crime – so long as the invader is “engaged in labor union activities.”
You might wonder why unions have lobbied to be exempt from laws against trespassing. The fact is that they have a long history of targeting private residences. In 2010 roughly 500 protesters from the Service Employees International Union showed up outside the home of a Bank of America deputy general counsel to protest the company’s policies. That bank official wasn’t home, but his teenage son was – and felt forced to barricade himself in a bathroom as union demonstrators surrounded his house and even came onto the front porch.
Unions can also invade your personal space if you’re riding public transit in California. The California Penal Code states “willfully blocking the free movement of another person” in a public transit system is a crime subject to up to 90 days in jail and a $400 fine. However, California legislators have passed a provision exempting unions. This means that union protesters can block the movement of people on public transit so long as it is related to collective bargaining efforts – something to keep in mind before getting on BART during your next visit to San Francisco.
Labor bosses have even deemed it necessary to get legislators to grant unions exemptions from laws against sabotage. Wisconsin’s state law against sabotage exempts unions, so as to not curtail their organizing activities. The fact that anti-sabotage laws might be construed as an impediment to union organizing says more about union organizing efforts than anything else.
Yet, in 2011, union members were alleged to have sabotaged equipment belonging to supporters of Governor Scott Walker’s labor reforms. In New York and New Jersey, during a labor dispute between Verizon and the Communications Workers of America, the telephone company contacted the FBI to investigate allegations of sabotage. The company reported equipment being stolen, fiber-optic lines cut and an office heating system tampered with.
During a union organizing effort in Ohio, the owner of one non-union electrical services company had his tires slashed and rocks thrown at his windows. One of his employees was assaulted. The owner was himself shot in the arm while confronting a person who was vandalizing his car on his property. Other owners of non-union shops experienced similar harassment and intimidation. When the Associated Builders and Contractors called on unions to halt such odious behavior, the unions responded that their actions were perfectly legal.
State lawmakers should oppose efforts to exempt unions from anti-stalking and anti-trespassing laws. Where such laws are already on the books, they should be repealed. For union bosses can be like those scary exes who insist they aren’t letting you break up with them.
Workers and employers deserve the freedom to tell unions, “I’m just not that into you.”
PHOTO: Striking Vons worker talks to a potential customer outside a supermarket in San Diego, California, on November 26, 2003. Southern California supermarket workers from Vons, Albertson’s and Ralph’s were supported by the Teamsters Union. REUTERS/Fred Greaves