A few days ago, IBEW Local 98 began began protesting a restaurant owned by professional football player Jahri Evans. The organizers are accusing Evans of violating local construction wage standards and are advertising their dispute with “handbills.”

What are handbills?

Walking down Fremont Street in Las Vegas is impossible without one or several characters putting a small business card with “questionable” adult entertainment advertisements in your hand. Some will slap papers to your chest, leaving you no choice but to grab the flyers.

On a different level, this action occurs on a regular basis by union member.  But instead of shady characters pushing questionable entertainment, it is union representatives pushing a dispute with a local employer over working conditions.  However, in either case the practice is known as i as handbilling.

When is Handbilling Legal?

For the most part, the First Amendment (and Supreme Court precedent) protects peaceful handbilling.  So, while you might be annoyed by it, you can do little to stop a schlub handing out homemade flyers deriding your business.  However, there are some exceptions:

  • Persons passing out handbills are prohibited from impeding egresses or ingresses to your business. So, if union members were handbilling in front of a large chain grocery store, they are well within their rights provided disinterested shoppers were not impeded from entering the store.
  • Handbilling is allowed only on publicly accessible walkways or areas generally open to the public and to others advertising a particular message. A union representative cannot come onto private property to distribute handbills.
  • Handbilling loses its First Amendment protection when it turns violent, coercive, or otherwise significantly disruptive to regular business practices.
  • Handbilling must be truthful and cannot contain willfully false information.

Why Handbilling Takes Place

Unions handbill for any number of reasons, allegedly unfair wages. Frequently, handbilling occurs when a non-union construction company is working on a project.

Takeaways

Handbilling is a common union activity. Generally, it is a constitutionally protected activity with certain exceptions.   For the most part, it can be safely ignored.  However, if it crosses the line, an offended owner can take action.