We all know what a picket line is. It’s one of those things we know what it is when we see it.
But the National Labor Relations Board has not always had the depth of perception that everyone has. As a result, the NLRB has historically had difficulties distinguishing what picketing is.
Be that as it may, at least in one context, the NLRB appears to finally have caught up with the rest of the real world.
In Carpenters Local 1506 (Elisason & Knuth of Arizona), a union posted large stationary banners near establishments which used contractors that refused to pay their employees a fair wage. The banners sought to bring on those establishments and asked the public not to patronize them.
Unfair labor practice charges were filed against the Union claiming that the bannering activities violated the prohibitions against secondary boycotts set forth in the National Labor Relations Act. While the prohibitions against secondary boycotts are one of the more complex areas of federal labor law to grace the United States Code, to make a long story short, they generally prohibit unions from “coercing” secondary employers in a labor dispute. Typically, this “coercion” occurs through picketing.
So, it came upon the NLRB to decide whether or not the posting of banners constituted “coercion,” or illegal picketing.
In a decision that appears to have been decades in the making, for the first time in its history the NLRB decided that the posting of a stationary banner was not illegal picketing. On the contrary, the NLRB held that to rule otherwise would infringe and violate the First Amendment rights that every American enjoys.
This is a momentous decision for employees and unions. Simply put, this decision allows unions and working people to peacefully call for boycotts of those employers who undermine working conditions of working people everywhere.
It’s about time the NLRB recognized that the First Amendment means something in the context of a labor dispute.