Courts agree: Union’s latest tactics are illegal

This week Walmart shareholders and employees will once again gather in Bentonville, Ark. for the company’s annual meeting. However, one group that’s had a notable presence at previous meetings will not be there. Last year the state’s Benton County Circuit Court issued a restraining order prohibiting the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) and its “subsidiary” OUR Walmart from any actions on company property or at Walmart events. As a result, labor activists will be unable to disrupt the company’s annual meeting like the protests recently led by the Service Employees International Union against McDonald’s in Oak Brook, Ill.

While the Benton Circuit Court’s order may seem like home-team favoritism, courts and authorizes in at least five other states have similarly recognized the need to rein in union-led demonstrations. Last year a Maryland judge barred OUR Walmart and the UFCW from trespassing on company property as part of the union’s Black Friday campaign. The judge further upheld the injunction by declaring that activists taking part in the anti-Walmart campaign had to post a $10,000 bond forfeited “for the payment of any damage” if they refused to obey the order. The company has also sued to keep labor activists out of its Florida locations after the UFCW continued to illegally trespass in stores, disruptcustomers, and even such low-brow tactics as handing “a rotten pumpkin painted in support of OUR Walmart” to a store manager in Orlando.

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More recently, a Texas appeals court ruled that labor unions and protesters behind mass demonstrations at Walmart must face trespass allegations. The company filed suit last year after the UFCW and OUR Walmart repeatedly entered stores, ignored no-solicitation signs, blocked access to parking lots, screamed through bullhorns and staged flash mobs. As a result of protests last year in Michigan, the National Labor Relations Board ordered the UFCW to stop “restraining and coercing employees” while protesting.  According to an NRLB complaint released on March 29, two UFCW officials stormed into a Dearborn store’s electronics department with “50 to 80 unknown individuals” and interfered with shoppers while intimidating employees. Eight other protesters, including one man, then barged into the women’s rest room and “coercively interrogated an employee regarding her wages, hours and working conditions.

Federal labor law prohibits unions from interfering in business operations directly during strikes and protests, but those have been common tactics used by the UFCW and SEIU against Walmart and fast food brands over the last several years. Protesters have gone largely unpunished because unions tap non-profit worker centers like OUR Walmart and Fight for 15 to serve as front groups for the rallies. Worker centers are not subject to the laws that limit unions, despite the millions of dollars the groups receive from organized labor.

But the tide may be turning against the UFCW’s use of OUR Walmart. Recent court rulings (and findings by the NLRB) have forced the union to issue a public disclaimer pledging to abandon its organizing campaigns in Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Maryland and Texas. In other words, courts across the country agree that the UFCW’s newest method for organizing via OUR Walmart is illegal. What remains to be seen is however is when – if ever – other companies will call Big Labor’s bluff and take legal action to stop the use of worker centers to attack corporate brands and dodge federal laws restricting union campaigns.

Williams is an adviser to Worker Center Watch, a group dedicated to exposing Big Labor's abuse of the worker center organizational model. He formerly served as a spokesman for Govs. Mitt Romney (R-Mass.) and John Sununu (R-N.H.).

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