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When Bystanders Become Collateral: NLRB rules in favor of letting unions intimidate neutral businesses

Labor unions are allowed to “pressure” businesses with which they have a direct dispute. But what about companies that are completely neutral? Keith Eastland, a labor lawyer in Grand Rapids, wrote an op-ed explaining an unfortunate decision by the National Labor Relations Board.

Employers can expect the new board to grant much broader protections to union-related activity. An Aug. 27 board decision on “bannering” highlights this point. Bannering refers to the display of large signs, often containing misleading claims, at job sites belonging to neutral parties. It is a union tactic often designed to threaten and coerce neutral businesses to avoid dealing with non-union contractors or suppliers.

Although the law expressly prohibits unions from engaging in coercive or threatening actions toward neutral businesses, the new board has ruled that bannering is protected. Under this new rule, unions can now target your business or job sites with large banners — or use giant inflatable rats signifying the presence of “scabs” — even when you have no labor dispute with that union.

The case before the NLRB began in Arizona where representatives of the Carpenters Local 1506 (consisting of non-union temp workers  being paid to play the part of “picketer”) held 16-foot-long signs outside two medical centers and a restaurant. The signs read “Shame on…(the name of the establishment)” with the words “Labor Dispute” nearby. The catch? The establishments had no conflict with the union. The dispute was with construction companies doing work for the establishments’ owners.

This should have been a no-brainer for the NLRB. The National Labor Relations Act forbids conduct found to “threaten, coerce, or restrain” secondary businesses not involved in the primary dispute. But chalk one up to the labor-stacked NLRB, i.e. Craig Becker and Co.: They found a way to rule in the union’s favor.

To what extreme’s will unions take this new rule?

Recently the [United Brotherhood of Carpenters in Salt Lake City] has taken its bannering a step further by targeting companies that don’t do business with the Contractors. The banners are the same. But the handbills reveal that the company named is a potential tenant in a building where one of the Contractors is slated to perform work. According to the Union, the company being bannered is guilty of “thinking about profiting from unfair labor practices.” By this measure, most of the population might be subject to bannering.

A “potential tenant” where a company “is slated to perform work”? How far will bannering go? Could a union pressure the company that employs the aunt of the owner of a plumbing company that services an office building that houses a paper company that sells supplies to another company with which the union has a dispute? Or perhaps just thinking about selling supplies is enough to put a company in the unions crosshairs. Thanks to Craig Becker’s NLRB, it’s certainly possible.

This video drives home the point. Despite being about NFCW, not the Carpenters, it’s the same practice of creating a deceptive union picket line.

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