(CN) – Five workers at a New York prison health clinic were unfairly fired for peacefully picketing in their bid to unionize, the 2nd Circuit ruled, overturning a decision by the National Labor Relations Board.
Workers at the Albany County Correctional Facility sought to organize in 2002. The Civil Service Employees Association asked Correctional Medical Services, which operated the facility, to recognize it as the collective-bargaining representative of all clinic employees except doctors, supervisors and one clerical worker.
CMS rejected the request. Workers responded by organizing a peaceful demonstration outside the facility. Twenty individuals – including five clinic employees – walked in a circle in front of the facility’s main entrance for 40 minutes.
The five clinic employees were fired for engaging in an “illegal picket,” because the union failed to give the facility proper notice of the picket.
The union fired back in October 2002, claiming the firings were illegal.
The National Labor Relations Board ruled in May 2007 that the terminations were lawful, and that a health-care employer can fire workers who picket on behalf of a union that failed to give the mandatory 10-day advance notice of picketing.
In overturning the decision, the New York-based federal appeals court found that picketing for recognition is an employees’ right, and the distinction Congress made between striking and picketing indicates its intent to protect workers from retaliation.
“While labor organizations are subject to sanction for either striking or picketing without observing the notice requirement,” the three-judge panel wrote, “the statute specifies sanctions for employees who participate in the violation only in the case of strikes and not in the case of picketing.”
The circuit concluded that Congress showed “no intention to punish individual employees who do not strike but peacefully picket,” adding, “it would not be appropriate for us to attribute one.”