10 December 2013

Law in Plain English: Unite Here Local 355 v. Mulhall

This is one in a series of posts designed to describe court decisions in plain English. For more detail and background on the legal issues, see the link to the case below. For similar posts, click here.

SCOTUSblogUnite Here Local 355 v. Mulhall

Argument: Nov 13 2013 (Aud.)

Photo from Unite Here Local 355.
BackgroundMardi Gras Gaming, and Unite Here Local 355, a labor union, entered into agreement in 2004. In the Agreement, Mardi Gras promised to (1) provide union representatives access to non-public work premises to organize employees during non-work hours; (2) provide the union a list of employees, their job classifications, departments, and addresses; and (3) remain neutral to the unionization of employees. In return, Unite promised to lend financial support to a ballot initiative regarding casino gaming. Ultimately, Unite spent more than $100,000 campaigning for the ballot initiative. Additionally, if recognized as the exclusive bargaining agent for Mardi Gras's employees, Unite promised to refrain from picketing, boycotting, striking, or undertaking other economic activity against Mardi Gras. Mulhall, a Mardi Gras employee opposed to being unionized, alleged that the agreement violated § 302 of the Labor Management Relations Act (LMRA), which makes it unlawful for an employer to give or for a union to receive any "thing of value." The District Court dismissed the complaint claim because it found that the assistance promised in the Agreement cannot constitute a "thing of value," but the Eleventh Circuit reversed.

Issue: The question before the Court is whether an employer and union may violate S§ 302 of the LMRA by entering into an agreement under which the employer exercises its freedom of speech by promising to remain neutral to union organizing, its property rights by granting union representatives limited access to the employer’s property and employees, and its freedom of contract by obtaining the union’s promise to forego its rights to picket, boycott, or otherwise put pressure on the employer’s business.

Holding:The Supreme Court dismissed the writ of ceriorari as improvidently granted. A "DIG" is essentially the Court saying that it should not have accepted the case and the issue remains undecided. Justice Breyer wrote a dissent in which he explained that the Court believed the case may have been moot and that the plaintiff Muhall may lack standing.
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