California Appellate Court Holds Anti-Labor Injunction Laws Unconstitutional

In another case brought by the Ralph’s grocery chain challenging the enforceability of California’s anti-labor injunction statutes, a California appellate court held on January 27, 2011 that Labor Code Sections 527.3 and 1138.1 are unconstitutional because they grant greater free speech rights in “public forums” to unions engaged in labor disputes than are allowed to others. In Ralphs Grocery Co. v. U.F. C. W. Local 8, the court overturned an order denying a preliminary injunction to Ralph’s based on the application of those statutes, which severely limit the ability of courts to issue injunctions during labor disputes and impose onerous requirements on private property owners which seek to enjoin union, picketing on their premises.

The case arose out of a dispute between Ralphs and United Food & Commercial Workers Local 8, during which the union picketed a Ralphs Grocery store in Fresno, aggressively confronted patrons with leaflets, and attempted to inform patrons of the benefits employees would receive under a union contract. Contending that the picketers failed to comply with the rules Ralph’s established for their presence on its property, and that the local police were unwilling to remove the picketers from the premises, Ralph’s sought a preliminary injunction aimed at halting any future labor protests at that store. The trial court denied the injunction based on Labor Code sections 527.3 and 1138.1, which the court held protected the union’s conduct. Ralphs appealed.

The appellate court held that by permitting unions to engage in picketing on private property while denying that right to others who might seek to publicize their disputes in the same kind of forum, the legislature unconstitutionally discriminated against certain kinds of speech based on its content. The court specifically concluded that the “actual impact of the statutes is to discriminate” by providing a means of public protest to labor unions that are not available to persons engaged in speech relating to the free exercise of religion, the collection of signatures for ballot initiatives, or the right not to be discriminated against based on sexual orientation or other prohibited grounds. 

A spirited dissent issued by one of the appellate judges concluded that Ralph’s did not even have standing to challenge the laws because its own freedom of speech was not burdened by them. Another judge issued a strong concurring opinion concluding that a private property owner necessarily has legal standing to contest a claim by others that they have a right to use property they do not own. These opinions will undoubtedly be raised in a petition seeking review of this decision by the California Supreme Court, which has already granted review in a prior case involving the same parties, reported here on July 21, 2010.

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