Union Exemptions from Criminal Law Must End

In 2012, a U.S. Chamber of Commerce report compiled a list of states that grant labor unions exemptions from criminal laws such as stalking, trespassing, and issuing threats. Unfortunately, in the subsequent years, the states in question have not been able to close the loopholes.

One state in particular, Pennsylvania, has several laws on the books that grant unions exemptions from its criminal code. While the Keystone State law makes stalking a crime with a punishment of up to five years in prison, a section specifically notes that the ban on stalking “shall not apply to conduct by a party to a labor dispute.

Similarly, Pennsylvania law prohibits harassment and threat to use weapons of mass destruction, but it does not apply to unions. In addition, as the Chamber study notes:

For more than 75 years, Pennsylvania has had some unusual provisions in state law protecting questionable behavior in the course of a labor dispute. The state’s The Labor Anti-Injunction Act, which was passed in 1937, imposes a number of restrictions on state courts and generally prevents them from issuing injunctions in a labor dispute. Notably, the Act strips from courts the power to issue an injunction in most cases, even when those participating in the labor dispute are engaged in an unlawful conspiracy. Moreover, it prevents judges from granting injunctions when illegal acts have been committed or threatened and when the ends sought in the labor dispute are illegal.

Proponents of the exemptions claim that they protect unions’ right to strike and picket. Yet, one would hope that a union should be able to exercise its right to strike and picket without using threats, harassment, stalking, or other criminal activity.

Further, the exemptions lead to instances of union criminal activity that goes unpunished. As the National Review reported, Sarina Rose, a Pennsylvania resident who was a victim of union intimidation tactics consisting of being followed home from work and “a man cursed at her in public, formed a gun with his hands, pointed it at her, and said, ‘Bang, bang, bang,'” but she was left without any recourse because of the union exemptions.

And, worse, granting unions these privileges seems to encourage outright criminal activity. As I noted in a previous post, “On February 18, 2014, the FBI arrested 10 members of Philadelphia Ironworkers Local 401, including union leadership, for aiding racketeering and arson, and indicted them under the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act.” (See more on the Ironworkers RICO case, here, here and here.)

A silver lining, the attention garnered from the Philly Ironworkers’ violent tactics has renewed efforts to rollback the union privileges. State Sen. Scott Wagner is aiming to introduce a bill that “closes a loophole that he said allows unions to engage in ‘bullying, harassment and intimidation’ when involved in a labor dispute.”

But, unfortunately, it is not just state law that grants union privileges unavailable to any other class of individual or organization. Courts have determined that federal national labor policy preempts state law that does outlaw stalking, including unions.

Congress has also been ineffective in passing laws that would end labor unions special treatment, but it has tried. In the last session of Congress, Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) introduced legislation to end any confusion that the National Labor Relations Act preempts state law which outlaws stalking and ensures unions are held to the same standard as everyone else.

A priority in the upcoming Congress and any state that has a legal carve-out that allows unions to stalk should be eliminated. And as Rep. Tom Price said, “America’s workers should be able to do their jobs in an environment that is free of intimidation and coercion. Frankly, it is absurd that these practices are not already explicitly outlawed.”