California Anti-Labor Injunction Law Held Invalid as Applied to Picketing on Private Property

In one of the first decisions interpreting the legal enforceability of California’s anti-labor injunction statute, a California appellate court held on July 19, 2010 that the law did not prevent a grocery store from obtaining an injunction against a union for picketing on its private property. The court specifically held that the statute, Labor Code section 1138.1, was unconstitutional as applied to that dispute because it conferred greater legal protection on picketing than other forms of speech, and declared labor protests on private property to be legal even though a similar protest concerning a different issue would constitute trespassing.

In Ralphs Grocery Co. v. U.F.C.W. Local 8, a union picketed a Ralphs Grocery store in Sacramento with 8 to 10 pickets for an extended period of time, after Ralphs opened the store using non-union employees in 2007. The picketing occurred at an “apron” leading into a parking lot, which the court found to constitute private property. When Ralphs went to court to seek an injunction against such picketing, a trial court denied it based on the anti-labor injunction statute, which placed onerous burdens on property owners to show entitlement to such relief including the need to establish that they would suffer “substantial irreparable injury” if it were not granted.

The Court of Appeal reversed the decision and held that an injunction should issue, on the ground that application of the statute in this instance would “effectively force Ralphs to provide a forum for speech with which it disagrees. . .” The court also stated that the Union’s continuing trespass constituted “irreparable harm” for injunction purposes because there was no way of knowing or quantifying how much business Ralphs lost by reason of the picketing.

The decision is welcome news to employers who face picketing by labor unions on private property such as malls and shopping centers.

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