The Supreme Court will hear a case in November that could drastically curtail the ability of unions to collect personal information of workers they are trying to organize.
Martin Mulhall, a groundkeeper for Mardi Gras Gaming, alleged that the Florida casino traded the personal information of non-union employees to UNITE-HERE, a hospitality union, in exchange for the union’s endorsement of a bill that would expand gambling in the state.
Mulhall said that the union used the personal information, as well as access to casino grounds, to wage a 2004 card-check campaign, which would allow the organization of the casino without a secret ballot election.
Employees were pressured to join the union and misled by UNITE HERE officials about the negative aspects of union membership, such as forced dues and political expenditures that violate employees’ personal beliefs, according to Mulhall.
The groundskeeper and his attorney argue that the casino, in giving the union the personal information of employees, violated federal labor law.
Companies are prevented from giving unions "money or other things of value" during card check campaigns.
The time saved by having received the personal information gave the union a speedier path to organizing and constitutes a "thing of value," according to Mulhall and his attorneys.
Federal labor law was designed "to protect employees from union self-dealing and employers from extortion. … Anything that a union values from an employer can lead to these harms."
"Mardi Gras and Unite satisfied their respective self-interests—Mardi Gras gained political clout and labor peace, and Unite gained assistance in organizing more dues- paying members—at the expense of Mulhall and his co-workers, who bear the negative aspects of the organizing agreement," his attorneys argued in a Supreme Court filing.
UNITE HERE Local 355 spent more than $100,000 to unionize the casino, but the costs would have been higher if the company had not handed over the contact information of its employees, according to the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, which launched the case.
The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed that argument in 2012, leading the union to appeal to the Supreme Court.
The case could alter the tactics available to unions in organization drives.
UNITE HERE’s attorney’s acknowledged the potential upheaval Mulhall could have on union organizing, arguing in court filings that "there "is a long, unbroken line of cases … enforcing neutrality agreements like the one at issue here." (FACT CHECK NOTE QUOTE PULLED FROM NRTW BRIEF)
The National Labor Relations Board under the Obama administration has issued several decisions aimed at aiding big labor’s organizing efforts.
The NLRB expanded the amount of personal information that unions could extract from companies in 2011, ruling that unions could also obtain employee telephone numbers and email addresses, in addition to the home addresses they’re allowed to collect under current federal labor law.
Those decisions could be overturned if the Supreme Court upholds or expands the appeals court’s decision. Labor watchdogs say that the case would protect workers labor and privacy rights.
"We hope the Supreme Court will … ensure that union organizers can’t cut backroom deals that harm the very people they claim they want to represent," said Mark Mix, president of the National Right to Work Foundation. "Companies shouldn’t be allowed to turn over employees’ personal information to unscrupulous Big Labor organizers as a negotiating tactic."
The court will hear the case on Nov. 13.