Labor organizers and union enforcers are exempt from important criminal laws in some of the country’s largest states. California, Illinois, and Wisconsin are among the states that allow union members to stalk, harass, and threaten victims — so long as they are putatively doing “legitimate” union business.
As National Review Online recently reported, one such state, Pennsylvania, is pushing to repeal exemptions that give union members freedom from prosecution for stalking, harassing, or even threatening to use a weapon of mass destruction.
Other states have similar laws on the books, but unlike the Keystone State, they’re not even trying to fix this double standard.
California, for example, has a union carveout for stalking and trespassing. Those engaged in “collective bargaining, labor relations, or labor disputes” are also legally free to “willfully [block] the free movement of another person in a [public-transit] system facility or vehicle.” If an ordinary Californian did that, he or she would face a $400 fine and 90 days in prison.
The Golden State even exempts those “engaged in labor union activities” from prosecution for making “a credible threat to cause bodily injury.”
Illinois also has a stalking exemption when an individual is involved in an action related to “any controversy concerning wages, salaries, hours, working conditions, or benefits . . . the making or maintaining of collective bargaining agreements, and the terms to be included in those agreements.”
In Wisconsin, it is a felony to commit sabotage. However, Wisconsin’s penal code explicitly states that the law barring sabotage shall not be construed “to impair, curtail, or destroy the rights of employees and their representatives to self-organize, to form, join, or assist labor organizations, to strike, [or] to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing.”
These are just some of the many state-level labor exemptions, Glenn Spencer, vice president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Workforce Freedom Initiative and author of a report on special state laws for labor unions, tells National Review Online. Pennsylvania, California, and the other states in the report “had a special status and unusual favoritism toward unions,” Spencer says.
To his knowledge, the laws above are still on the books and the existence of such state legislation shows that “while unions may have lost some of their clout on the federal level, they still have a substantial amount of influence at the state level.”
Large federal exemptions first came in the 1932 Norris-LaGuardia Act, which gave union workers and bosses broad immunity from injunctions.
This was followed by a loophole in the Hobbs Act of 1946 that exempts those attempting to achieve a “legitimate union objective” from prosecution for extortionate violence. Finally, in 1973 the Supreme Court affirmed the union exemptions of the Hobbs Act in United States v. Enmons.
Individual states subsequently bolstered these exemptions with their own laws, which have allowed union activists to stalk, harass, and commit traditionally illicit acts with no punishment.
According to Spencer, Pennsylvania is the first state he knows of with an active bill in the legislature to repeal these types of labor exemptions. Republican state representative Ron Miller’s bill is currently working its way through the state house.
— Alec Torres is a William F. Buckley Fellow at the National Review Institute.