By Jana Benscoter | Watchdog Arena
Pennsylvania is one of four states that allows unions exemptions for actively engaging in illegal activities that would ordinarily be punishable under the state’s criminal law. A recent state House vote may finally turn the tide to afford Pennsylvanians the same protection granted to individuals and nonunion workers throughout nearly the entire nation.
OLD HABITS DIE HARD: A bill that would close the loophole exempting criminal activity during labor union disputes in Pennsylvania advances from the House to the Senate.
“Criminal actions present a substantial risk to public safety and to the well-being of the Commonwealth’s citizens, workers, and businesses,” Marsico wrote in a memo to House members. “For that very reason we have outlawed such dangerous behaviors. A report issued in August of 2012 by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, however, exposed several portions of Pennsylvania law where criminal actions are immunized from prosecution or conviction simply because they occur during, in the course of, or just in connection with a labor dispute.”
According to the report, “Sabotage, Stalking & Stealth Exemptions, Special State Laws for Unions”:
…the state of Pennsylvania defines stalking as engaging in a course of conduct or repeatedly committing acts toward another under circumstances that demonstrate intent to cause substantial emotional distress to the person. But Pennsylvania, and other states with a significant union presence (e.g., California and Nevada), carve out an exception from the crime of stalking, in the case of Pennsylvania by noting the prohibition on stalking “shall not apply to conduct by a party to a labor dispute.”
Marsico wrote in his memo that he believed criminal law “ought to be applied evenly to all citizens – management and labor, those engaged in a labor dispute and those who are not – without the current exceptions.” He added, his legislation would include one exemption, which would be for constitutionally protected activity.
“It is the duty of the General Assembly to recognize the importance and necessity of fostering economic development and job creation and further to recognize that both employers and employees have rights governed by the National Labor Relations Act,” Marsico wrote. “However, employers, employees, management, labor organizations and their respective representatives and agents, all must exercise their rights so as not to commit criminal violations that can make the Commonwealth an unwelcoming and dangerous place for employer-employee relationships, harm existing businesses, or suppress job growth.”
The chamber report, released in 2012, details that legal favoritism toward unions has been an on-going struggle for more than 75 years:
“The state’s Labor Anti-Injunction Act, which was passed passed in 1937, imposes a number of restrictions on state courts and generally prevents them from issuing injunctions in a labor dispute. Notably, the Act strips from courts the power to issue an injunction in most cases, even when those participating in labor disputes are engaged in an unlawful conspiracy. Moreover, it prevents judges from granting injunctions when illegal acts have been committed or threatened and when the ends sought in the labor dispute are illegal.
The Labor Anti-Injunction Act has been used to prevent companies from obtaining injunctions when union representatives disrupt business by, for example, coming into stores to distribute literature despite a company’s state No Solicitation, No Distribution policy.
Under normal circumstances those actions would constitute criminal trespassing, but the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has ruled that absent physical damage to a store or other gross misconduct, the courts were precluded from issuing injunctive relief to a property owner who simply does not want individuals trespassing on his or her property to hand out labor-related material. Likewise, Pennsylvania courts have refused to intervene in labor disputes, even when union representatives blocked delivery trucks from entering a company’s premises, tampered with locks, flattened tires, and followed people home from work during a strike.”
Labor union members in Pennsylvania have been known to make headlines, especially in Philadelphia. Earlier this year, a federal grand jury convicted the former business manager of the Ironworkers Local 401 of arson, racketeering, conspiracy and extortion in a plot to coerce nonunion contractors to hire union workers, PA Independent reports. Eleven other defendants pleaded guilty.
Frank Sirianni, president of the Pennsylvania Building and Construction Trades Council, was quoted by PA Independent saying, “It’s kind of mind-boggling to me that people that are so interested in constitutional rights, that they would want to take away labor’s constitutional rights.”
National Review reported on Sarina Rose, a Pennsylvanian who “can’t take any legal action against her harassers, who are union members displeased by her company’s use of non-union labor:”
Sarina Rose is commonly followed home. As she approaches work, she is taunted by protestors. Her children, eight and ten years old, have been photographed at their bus stop and followed at weekend sporting events. One time, a man cursed at her in public, formed a gun with his hands, pointed it at her, and said, “Bang, bang, bang.”
Rose lives in Pennsylvania and is an executive at Post Bros., a construction company building apartments in Philadelphia. Under normal circumstances, she could file a lawsuit against her aggressors for stalking and harassment. Unfortunately for her, there is an exemption in Pennsylvania law that protects union members from being prosecuted for stalking, harassment, or even threatening to use a weapon of mass destruction.
Pennsylvania is one of four states that allow unions exemptions to criminal activity that would otherwise be punishable under state law. California, Illinois and Nevada are the three other states that have no recourse for actions.
This is not the first time either the House or the Senate have passed union intimidation bills. The bills have not been passed into law, however. House Bill 874 will now be considered by the Senate.
Jana has worked in journalism for more than a decade, during which she’s covered topics, including: business, education, local and state government, and political corruption. Jana has been published in The Boston Globe, The Daily Caller, Drexel Alumni Magazine, Carolina Journal, Guilford Woman Magazine, The Harrisburg-Patriot News, The High Point Enterprise, Kinston Free Press, Lincoln Tribune Online, the Rhinoceros Times, and others. Find her on Twitter: @jbenz51.