A Minnesota federal court recently entered summary judgment in favor of a plaintiff and against a Teamsters local and entered judgment in the amount against for $1,238,315 for the Teamsters’ illegal picketing of plaintiff’s facility.
In the case, Sysco Minnesota, Inc. v. Teamsters Local 120, a Teamsters Local – Local 41 – who had no bargaining relationship with plaintiff and did not represent plaintiff’s employees picketed plaintiff’s food distribution facility for one day in November 2017. However, Local 41 did have a bargaining relationship with plaintiff’s sister company that was located in Missouri. That sister company, however, was a wholly separately owned and operated company. In response to Local 41’s picket line, plaintiff’s employees, who were represented by Teamsters Local 120, refused to cross the picket line. Plaintiff was unable to make its food deliveries to commercial customers preparing for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday. Plaintiff suffered more than $1.2 million in lost profits and lost customers as a result of the picketing and sympathy strike. Importantly, Local 120 did not have any labor grievance with plaintiff and had just begun a new four year contract with plaintiff.
Plaintiff brought suit against Teamsters Local 120 for violating the CBA which contained a no strike clause that stated “there shall be no lockout, strike or any other interference with the operation of the business during the life of this Agreement.” Both sides moved for summary judgment. Local 120 raised two defenses on summary judgment in support of its claim that the case should be dismissed. First, it argued that plaintiff’s claims were subject to an arbitration provision in the agreement. Second, it argued that the CBA’s no strike clause permitted sympathy strikes.
The Court first addressed Local 120’s arbitration argument. While not the thrust of the Court’s opinion, the Court’s decision on Local 120’s arbitration argument is nonetheless important. The Court ruled that Local 120 waived arbitration by engaging in extensive discovery and not filing a timely motion to compel arbitration. This ruling is a reminder for anyone that has an arbitration provision in any contract – whether it be a CBA or an ordinary construction contract – to timely raise arbitration.
Sympathy Strikes and the No Strike Clause
The Court then moved to Local 120’s main argument that the no strike clause did not prohibit so called sympathy strikes. A sympathy strike is where a worker not part of the striking unit shows “sympathy” or solidarity for the strikers and refuses to cross a picket line and thereby goes on strike herself. As the Court noted, the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”) protects the right of unionized workers to engage in sympathy strikes, unless the CBA clearly and unambiguously waives employees’ sympathy-strike rights.
While the no strike clause did not expressly reference sympathy strikes, it did state that “there shall be no lockout, strike or any other interference with the operation of the business during the life of this Agreement.” The Court believed that this language was clear. Particularly, the Court believed that the clause “any other interference” included sympathy strikes. Therefore, the Court concluded that Local 120 breached the CBA when it engaged in a sympathy strike in support of Local 41.
A primary reason that employees enter into collective bargaining agreements is for labor stability which includes no work stoppages and strikes during the term of the agreement. Therefore, it amazes me that in negotiating a CBA that employers do not always expressly state that sympathy strikes are included in the no strike clause. Here, while plaintiff was ultimately successful, if it had simply expressly stated that sympathy strikes were included in the no strike provision it would have not given Local 120 any wiggle room whatsoever and its actions would be indefensible.