SCOTUS GRANTS CERTIORARI IN GLACIER NORTHWEST
The US Supreme Court granted certiorari in Glacier Northwest Inc. v. International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local Union No. 174, a case that has the capacity to upend workers’ power and collective bargaining rights. The case centers on unions’ ability to strike and asks the justices to decide if employers can make common law tort claims of intentional destruction of property or if federal labor law preempts such challenges. Glacier Northwest, a concrete supplier, claims that Local 174 intentionally timed a work stoppage to ensure the concrete in their trucks hardened, making the concrete unusable and damaging their vehicles (though the Union disputes these facts). The Company’s argument troublingly equates economic losses due to labor disputes with intentional destruction of property - ignoring that the central purpose of strikes (protected under the NLRA) is to cause economic losses to the employer. Strikes and the economic damage they cause are an essential tool to encourage bargaining and allow employees to gain leverage in negotiations. The Court took the case up from the Washington State Supreme Court, which dismissed Glacier Northwest’s claims citing San Diego Building Trades Council v. Garmon. Garmon holds that state and local regulation is preempted by federal labor law which places the authority to make such fact-specific determinations with the NLRB. An adverse ruling from the Supreme Court could expose unions to damages any time they choose to engage in work stoppages and would have major implications for worker power in the United States. The Court could even choose to go further and overturn Garmon itself, which would have dire consequences for workers in states with anti-union politics.