This Report summarizes cases granted review on October 3, 2022
Case Granted Review: Glacier Northwest v. Int’l Brotherhood of Teamsters, 21-1449
Glacier Northwest v. Int’l Brotherhood of Teamsters, 21-1449. The Court will resolve whether “the National Labor Relations Act impliedly preempt[s] a state tort claim against a union for intentionally destroying an employer’s property in the course of a labor dispute[.]” Under San Diego Building Trades Council v. Garmon, 359 U.S. 236, 245 (1959), the NLRA impliedly preempts claims arising out of activities, like strikes, that are at least “arguably subject” to the NLRA. Such preemption ensures that states do not interfere with national labor policy. But Garmon notes an exception to preemption “where the regulated conduct touched interests so deeply rooted in local feeling and responsibility that, in the absence of compelling congressional direction,” the Court “could not infer that Congress had deprived the States of the power to act.” At the heart of this exception are “violence and imminent threats to the public order.”
As part of a labor dispute, unionized cement truck drivers stopped work after cement had been mixed. Unable to transport the cement, the company had to dump it. This case began when, following the work stoppage, the company brought tort claims against the union in Washington state court. The union moved to dismiss, arguing that the NLRA preempted the claims. The trial court granted the motion in relevant part, holding that the claims did not clearly fall outside the NLRA’s protection. The court of appeals held that the destruction of the concrete was unprotected under Garmon and reversed. The Washington Supreme Court reversed in turn. 500 P.3d 119. It noted that “labor conduct is ‘arguably protected’ under section 7 [of the NLRA] when the party asserting preemption ‘advance[s] an interpretation of the Act that is not plainly contrary to its language and that has not been authoritatively rejected by the courts or the Board.’” It held that at least arguably, the work stoppage resulted only in economic damage incidental to a work stoppage, which could be protected by the NLRA, and was not the kind of violent or outrageous conduct that is unprotected under the local feeling exception. It noted that if the company’s “claim could be characterized as based solely on the intentional destruction of property, the drivers’ conduct may be the sort of tortious conduct marked by violence or outrageousness . . . that is categorically unprotected under the NLRA.” “But,” it held, “the incidental destruction of products during a strike, as opposed to property damage for its own sake, has not been sufficient to invoke the ‘local feeling’ exception in any United States Supreme Court case. If viewed as product damage incidental to the strike, the drivers’ conduct is closely tethered to the exercise of their . . . rights and, at the same time, is attenuated from the State’s general interest in regulating violent conduct, such as vandalism, which is the core concern of the ‘local feeling’ exception.” It concluded that this fact-specific determination should be left to the National Labor Relations Board.
Petitioner argues that the conduct was not “arguably” subject to the NLRA because the National Labor Relations Board and federal circuit courts have held that failure to “take reasonable precautions to protect the employer’s” property “from such imminent damage as foreseeably would result from their sudden cessation of work” is unprotected―and that is what it alleges happened here. Marshall Car Wheel & Foundry Co., 107 NLRB 314, 315-16 (1953). Moreover, it argues, the “local feeling” exception to preemption applies because the union engaged in property destruction.