Labor Unions - Restrictions on Picketing and Leafleting

In order to publicize the existence of a labor dispute with an employer, labor union members will create a picket, usually at the the employer's workplace. In a picket, a certain number of union members will patrol a place of work, usually carrying signs identifying their particular union and the nature of the dispute with the employer. However, although pickets generally look the same, there are several classifications of picketing depending on the underlying purpose for the picket. The National Labor Standards Act (NLRA), which imposes certain restrictions on union activity and prohibits unfair labor practices by both employers and unions, recognizes different types of picketing and places restrictions on certain types of pickets.

Area standards picketing, sometimes referred to as informational picketing, is designed to inform the public that an employer does not provide wages and benefits that meet the standards of the industry within a particular area. Employees may conduct area standards picketing indefinitely. Picketing that is intended to pressure an employer to recognize the union as the employees' representative is called recognitional picketing, which is restricted under the NLRA. Unions that wish to engage in recognitional picketing must be certified by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) as the representative of the employees or must file a petition for a union election within 30 days from when the picketing begins.

Another common type of picketing is known as common situs picketing, which occurs where a work site that is targeted for union picketing is also the work site of another employer. Construction sites, where employees of several employers may work at any one time, are a good example of where common situs picketing might take place. Because of the potential effects on employees and employers who are not involved in the labor dispute at issue, there are detailed rules that regulate common situs picketing. Application of the rules depends upon circumstances such as whether the target of the picket is the primary employer at a site or is the owner of the site.

The NLRA specifically allows publicity other than picketing for the purpose of truthfully advising the public as to the circumstances of a labor dispute. Applying First Amendment principles, the United States Supreme Court has held that peaceful handbilling that does not threaten, coerce, or restrain anyone from doing business with an employer other than the one involved in the labor dispute does not constitute an unfair labor practice. Accordingly, the distribution of leaflets or handbills in connection with a labor dispute is generally considered a constitutionally-protected activity.

Copyright 2012 LexisNexis, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc.

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