WASHINGTON (CN) – A Maryland appeals court upheld an injunction against a labor union that staged mass demonstrations against Walmart in company stores and parking lots.
The case began in 2011 when the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union held a string of demonstrations in 13 states calling for better employment conditions at Walmart.
The demonstrations hit seven Walmarts in Maryland starting in July 2011, when protesters organized flash mobs, locked arms to prevent customers from checking out and parked large buses in store parking lots where they blared music and videos against the store’s policies.
The grocery workers’ union does not actually represent any employees at Walmart, however — a fact that would prove critical when the store filed a lawsuit in September 2013 after the union ignored its multiple cease-and-desist letters.
Walmart sought a preliminary injunction under the National Labor Relations Act, in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court, and it filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board in March.
Despite the union’s claims that an injunction would violate Maryland’s Anti-Injunction Act, the circuit court sided with Walmart, as did the Maryland Court of Special Appeals.
Maryland’s highest court did the same on Thursday, saying the circuit court had jurisdiction because the state had an interest in protecting Walmart’s private property rights.
“Resolution of the state-law claims is not dependent upon whether UFCW violated the NLRA,” Judge Joseph Getty wrote for the seven-member Court of Appeals, abbreviating the names of the union and the labor law. “Even if UFCW’s demonstrations did not restrain or coerce Wal-Mart employees into supporting the union, UFCW would still be liable for trespass and nuisance as long as it exceeded the scope of Wal-Mart’s limited invitation to the public to enter its property for shopping purposes (trespass) and interfered with Wal-Mart’s use and enjoyment of its land (nuisance).”
As for Maryland’s restrictions on issuing injunctions, the court found them inapplicable because the case is not a labor dispute.
The judges were sympathetic to the union’s argument that its protests aimed to improve working conditions for Walmart employees, but Getty said the protesters nevertheless could “more properly be characterized as activists, not representatives.”
“But because the demonstrations were not conducted by Wal-Mart employees, or a union representing Wal-Mart employees, or a union seeking to represent employees, in order to improve the terms and conditions of their employment, we do not believe that this case can properly be considered a labor dispute under the AIA,” the 33-page opinion states.
Walmart’s injunction also was not meant to gain leverage over its employees, but rather to “restore peace and order to is stores and to prevent further disruptions to is business,” Getty wrote.
Neither Walmart nor the union has responded to requests for comment on the decision.