Protecting Employers Since 1985

May 2013

By: James B. Sherman, Esq.

A federal court in Illinois recently dismissed a Chicago hotel’s complaint against UNITE HERE, Local 1. The Congress Plaza Hotel and Convention Center claimed in its suit that the union engaged in unlawful “secondary boycotting” as part of its strike against the hotel. The union was accused of trying to cause business groups not to hold their conventions at the struck hotel. In what can only be characterized as a stinker of a strike tactic, the complaint alleged that UNITE HERE, Local 1 delivered a heart-shaped package, filled with cow manure, to a group of scientists who had scheduled their convention to take place at the struck hotel.

Section 8(b)(4)(ii)(B) of the National Labor Relations Act prohibits unions from exerting pressure on secondary businesses with the objective of causing them not to do business with a “primary” employer (one with whom the union has a labor dispute). The allegations of this case seemed to fit the bill for such a claim. After all, if the scientists “got the drift” of the message behind the union’s lovely “gift,” it certainly appeared the union was unhappy with their choice of the location for their convention. Unfortunately, the court never decided whether the union’s creative but raunchy “cow pie” package crossed the line because it ruled the hotel failed to bring suit within the applicable statute of limitations.

Labor unions generally have little clout during a labor dispute. To be sure, employees may lawfully withhold their services in an attempt to get their way at the bargaining table; i.e. go on strike. But employers willing to withstand a strike are within their legal rights to hire replacement workers and continue operating, as was the case in this particular matter. Faced with this kind of dilemma unions sometimes resort to “creative” measures such as the secondary pressure aimed at customers as alleged in this case. Other cases with which our attorneys have been involved in the past include a union using a giant inflatable rat; public campaigns through social and other media; and, on occasion, acts of violence. Knowing how and, as this case demonstrates, when to react to such union tactics is part of management’s careful strike preparation plan in anticipation of any potential labor dispute.

For knowledgeable advice and assistance with advance planning for possible labor disputes or dealing with union pressure tactics, seek the advice of an experienced labor lawyer. Contact: James B. Sherman at (952) 746-1700.

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