16 attorneys general file US Supreme Court brief defending workers’ rights

A coalition of 16 attorneys general led by Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed an amicus brief to the United States Supreme Court defending workers’ rights. 

Glacier Northwest Inc v. International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local Union No. 174 potentially threatens workers’ right to strike and the effectiveness of the National Labor Relations Act. Washington and its multistate partners filed the “friend-of-the-court” brief late last week.

“A strike is one of the most effective tools unions have in protecting the rights of workers,” said Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel. “We cannot allow Glacier Northwest’s lawsuit to erode almost ninety years of protections provided by the National Labor Relations Act. Workers have suffered a great deal in the past two years in terms of income and working conditions. Removing any aspect of their ability to fight against unfair labor practices could do irreparable harm to unions and severely weaken employees’ bargaining power.”

“The right to strike is critical to workers’ ability to advocate for themselves, and rightly protected under federal law,” Ferguson said. “My office will stand up for workers’ rights.”

Glacier Northwest, which also does business as CalPortland, provides construction services and building materials, including concrete. In 2017, Glacier and Teamsters Local 174 were in a labor dispute. Their collective bargaining agreement had expired, and in the course of negotiating a new one, the local called a strike. 

When the strike was called, some Glacier drivers were in the process of delivering mixed concrete but left the job to participate in the strike. The mixed concrete became unusable (though the trucks were unharmed), and Glacier later filed a lawsuit against the union. Glacier argued this was an intentional destruction of property not protected by the union’s right to strike. 

The Washington State Supreme Court disagreed, finding that, while “employees must take reasonable precautions to protect an employer’s plant, property, and products … economic harm may be inflicted through a strike as a legitimate bargaining tactic.” The court noted prior National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) decisions upholding strikes that resulted in loss of perishable products. 

The state Supreme Court concluded that the strike was arguably protected under the National Labor Relations Act, and therefore the NLRB should determine whether the actions taken were reasonable. 

Glacier subsequently appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which accepted the petition in October. 

The states argue that numerous court and NLRB rulings protect strikes exerting economic pressure in the form of product loss, even when a strike is timed to create maximum risk to perishable products. 

Glacier’s arguments would undermine the National Labor Relations Act, which protects the rights of workers and employers alike, but they are supported by at least three briefs filed by right-wing business groups that oppose fair living standards for American workers.

In June, amicus briefs were filed by Landmark Legal Foundation, the Buckeye Institute, and the Coalition for a Democratic Workplace, which was joined by the National Federation of Independent Business, Associated Builders and Contractors, Associated General Contractors of America, National Retail Federation, and Restaurant Law Center. These groups routinely seek to stop minimum wage increases, limit freedom to organize for collective bargaining and secure a better quality of life for working class Americans.

The union and government advocates argue the federal law protects employees’ “concerted activities” and explicitly recognizes the right to strike. The right to strike is essential to a core purpose of the Act to restore “equality of bargaining power between employers and employees.” 

A concerted withdrawal of labor is virtually the only way employees can exert economic pressure on employers in attempting to bargain collectively. If strikes could not threaten economic loss to employers, they would be useless as bargaining tools, and employees would return to the pre-Act days of lacking any legally sanctioned bargaining power.

The attorneys general joining Washington’s amicus brief are: Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Wisconsin, and the District of Columbia. 

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in the case in January 2023.

All of the attorneys general arguing in favor of worker’s freedom to abandon a low wage job or unfair, unsafe working conditions, during a strike a Democrats but in Congress, establishment Democrats have betrayed working families.

President Joe Biden recently signed a law that forces railroad employees to go back to work without any sick days, the significant point of dispute for workers during contract negotiations and a minor financial imposition on management had they been compelled to offer the seven days off for health reasons.

Democrats in Congress and the White House denied the union workers of their key demand and robbed their dignity instead of forcing the corporations to shell out less than two percent of their multi-billion profits to preserve the lives of those railroad employees.

Railroad employee deaths totaled 375 since 2000, a, average of 17 workplace fatalities each year, and there were an additional 109,626 workers injured in the job. These statistics show that railroad jobs are dangerous but also that these workers are not valued by their employers who are making record-high levels of profit.

Aaron Hiles made an appointment to see a doctor before his employer unexpectedly called him into work so the 51-year-old locomotive engineer delayed his medical visit and instead suffered a heart attack and died in an engine room on a BNSF freight train somewhere between Kansas City, Mo., and Fort Madison, Iowa.

These people are not merely forced to work while they are sick, they are also denied the ability to plan their own lives when they are not scheduled to perform work duties because that can change on a moment’s notice. No amount of money would be worth these constant disruptions and no ordinary job is worth dying for.

If railroad companies valued the lives of their employees, they could staff trains with bigger crews, arrange more shift changes to avoid stress, allow sick workers to take a day off or substitute with another staffer. At least those options would be on the bargaining table if railroad companies valued the lives of their employees more than they appreciate the profit they stand to gain by putting those lives in peril.

Railroad employees were forced back to work without sick days, because President Joe Biden and his fellow millionaires in Congress agreed that management should be spared the financial imposition of being compelled to offer the seven days off at a cost of less than two percent of their multi-billion profits, because the lives of those railroad employees do not mean anything to them at all.

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