Although a recent decision by the U.S. Supreme Court placed limits on the measures union drivers can take, newly appointed Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson published a scathing dissent, saying the high court’s actions would wrongly “erode the right to strike.”
In a case that pitted the International Brotherhood of Teamsters against concrete company Glacier Northwest, the 8-1 decision restricts union members from purposefully causing damage or taking actions that cause companies financial losses. In the case, Teamsters drivers reportedly showed up to work and the concrete company filled cement orders and loaded them into the mixers. That’s when the Teamsters abruptly walked off the job, leaving undeliverable product in the rigs.
By “reporting for duty and pretending as if they would deliver the concrete, the drivers prompted the creation of the perishable product. Then, they waited to walk off the job until the concrete was mixed and poured in the trucks,” Justice Amy Coney Barrett wrote in the majority decision. “Because the union took affirmative steps to endanger Glacier’s property rather than reasonable precautions to mitigate that risk, the (National Labor Relations Act) does not arguably protect its conduct.”
Counsel for the Teamster’s Union was apparently none too happy about the ruling. Many see the decision as a reversal of decades of pro-union precedent. Prior to this Justice Brown joining the court, this slate rejected a California regulation in 2021 that gave unions access to farmland for the purposes of organizing unions.
“The ability to strike has been on the books for nearly 100 years,” Sean O’Brien, general president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, reportedly said. “And it’s no coincidence that this ruling is coming at a time when workers across the country are fed up and exercising their rights more and more.”
Noel Francisco, attorney for Glacier Northwest, indicated the decision “vindicates the longstanding principle that federal law does not shield labor unions from tort liability.” Glacier Northwest is seeking compensation for its losses.
But in a court many view as having a 6-3 conservative majority, only Justice Jackson formerly dissented. Her solo opinion demonstrates she may be the sole justice willing to back organized labor, come what may.
“Workers are not indentured servants, bound to continue laboring until any planned work stoppage would be as painless as possible for their master,” Justice Brown wrote.