The Supreme Court leans toward the concrete company in a lawsuit over strike tort

Washington – in Supreme court It indicated on Tuesday that it would rule in favor of a concrete company in Washington state that is seeking to revive a lawsuit it brought against the International Muslim Brotherhood alleging that the strike damaged its product.

The legal question is whether the company, Glacier Northwest Inc. , suing the union for damages in state court over a strike in August 2017 when drivers left the job, allegedly leaving wet concrete to harden in their trucks.

Based on the justices’ questions during the oral argument, it appears the court will say that the Washington Supreme Court was wrong to dismiss the lawsuit. However, he could be a narrow referee who embraces the centrist position taken by the Biden administration.

That could mean that while the lawsuit is revived, it could be delayed until the National Labor Relations Board, which handles labor disputes, finishes its investigation into whether striking and alleged tort is an activity protected by federal labor law. .

During the argument, the justices wrestled to distinguish between economic loss from the strike, which is generally considered not the responsibility of the workers, and willful destruction of property, which would not be protected.

Chief Justice John Roberts used milk production as an example of the damage caused by a strike, noting “the difference between spoiling a milk and killing a cow”.

Darren Dalmatt, the attorney representing the bar, acknowledged that there are limits to the behavior that must be protected.

He said, “We totally agree that you can’t burn down the factory.”

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Business interests that often conflict with it organized work He was in the past very critical of the Labor Council. The conservative majority of the Supreme Court has ruled against unions on several occasions in recent years, including Case 2018 The court said that public sector workers who choose not to join a union cannot be forced to pay a share of union dues to cover the cost of negotiating contracts.

The case before the judges on tuesday comes when The number of strikes increased middle renewed interest In some sectors the protection that union jobs can provide. It focuses on an incident in which members of Teamsters Local 174 went on strike after negotiations over a new collective bargaining agreement stalled.

When the truck drivers were out of work, the company says some of the concrete that was in the process of being delivered was rendered useless. Drivers returned the trucks to company facilities, some with partial or full loads on board. As a result of the strike, the company says, the concrete in the trucks hardened and had to be dismantled before it could be removed.

Glacier says it lost $100,000 as a result of not honoring the contract on the day of the strike and is also seeking additional damages. The company says it was able to do previously scheduled work the following week.

The Supreme Court ruled in Washington v. Union in December 2021, saying that any tangible loss was “incidental to the strike arguably protected by federal law.”

Justice Department attorney Vivek Suri said, on behalf of the Biden administration, that the company’s concrete lawsuit should be allowed in state court based on the fact that the strikers failed to take reasonable precautions. Both liberal and conservative justices seemed receptive to his argument.

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Complicating matters, the National Labor Relations Board issued a complaint after the state court’s ruling, accusing the company of unfair labor practices and saying the drivers’ actions were “arguably protected.”

Surrey said the judges do not have to decide whether the board’s actions mean a state court case should be delayed until it has completed its investigation.

Glacier represents Noel Francisco, who served as attorney general during the Trump administration. In court papers, he wrote that federal law does not protect “willful destruction of property” or “strike-related conduct that does not include reasonable precautions to protect an employer’s property, let alone willfully destroy it.”

The company is backed by business and anti-union groups, including the US Chamber of Commerce, which said in a brief that a state court’s finding that willful destruction of property can be considered a protected activity runs counter to US Supreme Court precedent.

Various work groups and unions support Teamsters. In one memo, the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Carpenters of America and the Service Employees International Federation said the current process for evaluating whether labor disputes in state court is trumped by federal law, which dates back to a 1959 Supreme Court ruling, “protecting workers’ collective bargaining rights.” and strike legally in pursuit of better pay, benefits, and working conditions.”

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