Protesters Who Picketed With Feces Get a Break

     (CN) – A union whose members protested with feces should not have to pay the law-enforcement agencies that tried to keep order, the 9th Circuit ruled.
     In June 2011, two chapters of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union picketed a grain terminal operated by Export Grain Terminal (EGT), which was on land leased from the Port of Washington. The union claimed its collective bargaining agreement with the port required EGT to hire union members.
     EGT filed charges against the union with the National Labor Relations Board. The board in turn asked a federal judge to restrain the union from picketing at the grain terminal.
     The board’s petition accused union members of using threats and harassment to coerce people against EGT. It also said union members physically assaulted EGT employees, dropped a bag of manure onto the terminal’s property from an aircraft, threw eggs at employees and put bags of feces outside the terminal’s administration building.
     U.S. District Judge Ronald Leighton ultimately issued the temporary restraining order in September 2011 to stop the unions from “picket line violence, threats and property damages, mass picketing and blocking of ingress” at the grain terminal.
     Days later, however, the labor board said “several hundred people acting in concert with the unions” picketed on a railway in Vancouver, Wash., effectively blocking a train going to the grain terminal.
     The next day, picketers “armed with gardening shears, baseball bats, broken broom sticks and metal pipes” broke windows, dumped a BNSF train car full of corn, and cut the train’s air hoses, among other things, the board said.
     Finding the union in contempt of the restraining order, the court issued a preliminary injunction and ordered it to pay $250,000 to be split among the labor board, the grain terminal, BNSF railways, and local law enforcement.
     After another picketing incident the next week, the court again found the union in contempt, and awarded the labor board more than $64,000 in compensatory damages.
     On appeal, the union claimed that the court lacked discretion to have it compensate third parties – namely the BNSF and the law-enforcement agencies. It also said it should not be forced to compensate the charging party, EGT, since the grain terminal operator failed to employ its sole remedy for collecting damages, Section 303 of the Labor Management Relations Act.
     Finding that the record supports the amount of damages to the NLRB and EGT, a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit said that the contempt award was “civil, not criminal, and therefore did not require the heightened procedural protections that attach to criminal contempt proceedings.” As such the union was not entitled to a jury trial, according to the ruling.
     It was an abuse of discretion, however, to award BNSF and the various law-enforcement agencies damages, the Seattle-based appellate panel found, noting that “these entities were not parties to the underlying NLRB action.”
     “The District Court’s compensatory damages awards to the law enforcement agencies who responded to the picketers and to BNSF did not and could not help enforce this injunction,” U.S. District Judge Raner Collins wrote for the court, sitting by designation from the District of Arizona. “Rather, those awards were entirely retrospective and compensatory.
     With those damages vacated, the panel affirmed the rest of the District Court decision.

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