SCOTUS Dismisses Union Effort to Preserve Deals with Management

UNITE-HERE local had made deal with management to obtain worker info in exchange for labor peace

UNITE HERE casino workers picketing
UNITE HERE workers picketing / AP
December 10, 2013

The Supreme Court threw out a union’s attempt to preserve backroom deals with employers on Tuesday.

The court dismissed the writ of cert for Unite Here Local 355 v. Martin Mulhall as having been "improvidently granted." The court had granted writ following an 11th Circuit Appeals Court ruling that found employers cannot exchange personal employee information for labor peace during organizing elections.

The case was filed after Florida’s Mardi Gras Entertainment agreed to hand over personal information to UNITE-HERE Local 355 and allow union organizers onto its grounds if the union pledged to stop picketing the company. The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation filed suit on behalf of Martin Mulhall, a groundskeeper at the casino who was subject to union intimidation and harassment.

"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 their Supreme Court filing.

The dismissal came less than one month after justices heard oral arguments from the union and lawyers from the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation.

Mulhall’s attorneys successfully argued that the information and access helped unions to avoid a costly organizing campaign.

Federal law prohibits companies from providing any "thing of value" to unions during organizing efforts. This has traditionally been understood to be money, in order to prevent companies from bribing union officials for sweetheart deals. The 11th Circuit decision upheld by the Supreme Court expanded that definition to include time and cost-saving measures, such as those provided by the casino.

Justice Stephen Breyer dissented from the decision to dismiss the writ of certiorari.

"In considering the briefs and argument, we became aware of two logically antecedent questions that could prevent us from reaching the question of the correct interpretation," Breyer wrote.

At question was whether or not the contract under dispute expired before the 11th Circuit handed down its decision and whether plaintiff Martin Mulhall had standing to file the suit.

Rather than dismiss the case altogether, Breyer—along with Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, who signed his dissent—wrote, "The Court should simply ask for additional briefs."

Mark Mix, president of the National Right to Work Foundation celebrated the ruling as a victory for workers against "backroom deals" reached between labor organizations and employers.

"Management shouldn’t be allowed to turn over employees’ personal information to aggressive Big Labor organizers as a negotiating tactic, which is why the Eleventh Circuit’s precedent is a vital protection for independent-minded workers," Mix said. 
"Union bosses and employers who use workers’ rights as a bargaining chip will now enter into these agreements at their own risk."

UNITE-HERE could not be reached for comment as of press time.

Published under: Supreme Court , Unions