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Alabama Court Temporarily Enjoins All Picketing in Mine Workers Strike

Strikes have been in the news recently. Employers faced with a strike, or a possible strike, often wish to know their legal options, including whether they may seek injunctive relief. The short answer is that federal law prohibits courts from enjoining employees’ exercise of their right to lawfully strike. However, courts may enjoin unlawful strike conduct, depending entirely on the facts of the labor dispute. This is illustrated in Warrior Met Coal Mining, L.L.C. v. United Mine Workers of America International, et al., No. CV-2021-900285.00 (Ala. Cir. Ct., Tuscaloosa Cnty. Oct. 27, 2021 ). There, an Alabama state court judge took a relatively unusual action in a violent labor dispute: temporarily prohibiting all picketing at the employer’s properties.

Courts have limited injunctive authority in labor disputes, with specific differences between state and federal laws. Federal law prescribes rigid procedural requirements for issuing an injunction in a private sector labor dispute. Under federal law, courts are prohibited from enjoining the following (among others): (i) striking or refusing to work in protest; (ii) becoming a union member; (iii) paying or withholding unemployment benefits, insurance, money, or things of value to a person participating in a labor dispute; (iv) providing legal assistance to those involved in a labor dispute; (v) picketing or other public displays of support for or opposition to labor practice; (vi) peacefully assembling in public or private; and (vii) agreeing to or urging others to engage in or refrain from any of these activities. See 29 U.S.C. § 104. However, a strike may be unlawful if it has an unlawful objective or if unlawful means are employed. Unlawful objectives include inducing or engaging in a strike for secondary purposes, striking for jurisdictional or work-assignment purposes, and striking for recognition of a union as bargaining agent under certain conditions. Unlawful means include sit-down strikes, minority strikes, partial strikes, work slowdowns, and picket line misconduct or violence, among others. Courts may also enjoin strikes that are in contravention of a no-strike agreement, or in some circumstances work stoppages over disputes subject to a grievance and arbitration procedure in a collective bargaining agreement.

When an employer seeks injunctive relief in federal court prohibiting any of the above labor activity, it must show why the conduct at issue should be enjoined. A court can issue an injunction only where it finds: (i) the unlawful acts will continue unless restrained; (ii) substantial and irreparable injury will occur if the action is not enjoined; (iii) the balance of hardships between the parties favors the injunction; (iv) there is no adequate remedy at law; and (v) public officers are unable to furnish adequate protection to protect complainant’s property. See 29 U.S.C. § 107. Injunctions are not granted lightly.

Despite the onerous federal requirements, employers may have the option to seek an injunction in state courts if strikers engage in unlawful conduct. States can use their police powers to regulate behavior and enforce order within their territory to protect the health, safety, morals, and general welfare of their inhabitants. State courts can issue injunctions prohibiting unlawful conduct during a labor dispute to protect the public without enjoining the labor dispute itself.

Employers may seek injunctions in state court for conduct such as mass picketing, violence, threats of violence, property damage, blocking or attempting to block ingress or egress of vehicles at employer’s facilities, and acting recklessly on public roads, as they are areas of traditional state concern not generally subject to preemption principles. For example, in Warrior Met a state court judge issued a temporary restraining order prohibiting the union and striking employees from picketing outside Warrior Met’s properties. The judge issued the order based on video evidence showing picketers attacking non-strikers, personal vehicles, property, and uninvolved community members and interfering with company operations. While state courts still rarely issue injunctions relative to labor disputes, they have broad authority when labor activity poses a threat to the public’s health and safety.

Lawful strikes and picketing cannot be enjoined; but, where a strike or picketing includes dangerous or threatening conduct, there may be possible grounds for injunctive relief. Of course, such unlawful conduct does not occur in most labor disputes.

Jackson Lewis P.C. © 2022National Law Review, Volume XI, Number 347
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About this Author

Kaitlyn L. Lavaroni, Jackson Lewis, labor and employment lawyer
Associate

Kaitlyn L. Lavaroni is an Associate in the Sacramento, California, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. Her practice focuses on representing management in a broad range of employment law matters, including discrimination, harassment, retaliation, wrongful termination, and wage and hour claims, as well as providing preventative advice and counsel.

Prior to joining Jackson Lewis, Ms. Lavaroni worked at a midsize law firm in New York where she represented insurance carriers in connection with an extensive array of insurance coverage issues.  

916-341-0404
Principal

Brian P. Lundgren is a Principle in the Seattle, Washington, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. His practice is focused on traditional labor matters, employment litigation, and counseling. 

Mr. Lundgren represents clients in state and federal courts, and before administrative agencies. His traditional labor law practice includes significant National Labor Relations Board experience, labor arbitration, union elections, collective bargaining, strikes, and advising employers on an array of complex labor issues. Mr. Lundgren defends unionized and non-unionized employers...

206-626-6424
Thomas V. Walsh, Jackson Lewis, employment arbitration Lawyer, White plains, Union Organizing Attorney
Shareholder

Thomas V. Walsh is a Shareholder in the White Plains, New York, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. Since joining the firm in 1986, Mr. Walsh has represented employers in all aspects of labor and employment law and litigation.

Mr. Walsh has represented employers before numerous state and federal courts, regulatory agencies, as well as in numerous arbitrations. Mr. Walsh has extensive experience in representing employers faced with union organizing drives and in proceedings before the National Labor Relations Board. He has an...

914-872-6912
Jonathan J. Spitz, Jackson Lewis Law Firm, Labor Employment Attorney, Atlanta
Shareholder

Jonathan J. Spitz is a Principal in the Atlanta, Georgia, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He is Co-Leader of the firm’s Labor and Preventive Practices Group.

Mr. Spitz lectures extensively, conducts management training, and advises clients with respect to legislative and regulatory initiatives, corporate strategies, business ethics, social media issues and the changing regulatory landscape. He understands the practical and operational needs of corporate America, helping design pragmatic strategies to minimize risk and maximize performance. He has represented...

404-586-1835
Richard F. Vitarelli Harford  Connecticut Labor Relations Lawyer at Jackson Lewis Law Firm
Principal

Richard F. Vitarelli is a Principal in the Hartford, Connecticut, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. Part of the firm’s national labor practice, he has over two decades of experience representing employers nationally in strategic labor relations, collective bargaining, and union organizing, including in the context of mergers and acquisitions, corporate restructuring and contract administration. He serves as general labor and employment counsel for employers and multi-employer associations in various industries, including construction, manufacturing, health care and senior living,...

860-522-0404
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