A Harris County jury on Tuesday awarded a Houston commercial cleaning firm $5.3 million in damages, finding that a labor union’s aggressive organizing campaign went too far when it maligned the reputation of the company. It opens the door for more employers to sue unions over hardball tactics often used in membership drives and contract disputes.
What did the company do? Essentially, it attempted to destroy the firm if it didn’t unionize:
Federal labor laws have historically given unions broad free speech rights, but the jury in state district court found that the SEIU recklessly disregarded the truth when it claimed that Professional Janitorial Service forced its employees to work off the books and fired some for their union activities. The Labor Department found no evidence of widespread wage violations and the National Labor Relations Board dismissed the unfair labor chargers, but the union continued to spread the allegations to clients of Professional Janitorial Service to hurt its business, according to evidence and testimony in the case.
The case stretches back more than a decade, when SEIU launched its “Justice for Janitors” campaign in Houston, organizing workers at the city’s five biggest commercial cleaners and negotiating contracts with them. Professional Janitorial Service, the sixth largest, refused to recognize the union without first giving workers a chance to vote in a government-supervised election.
SEIU went on the attack, accusing the company of forcing employees to work off the clock and firing them for union activities and using its connections with politicians and pension funds, which invest in commercial real estate, to steer cleaning contracts away from Professional Janitorial Service, according to court documents.
Union officials celebrated each time a property management firm agreed to drop Professional Janitorial Service, according to emails presented during the case.
Legal discovery can be a wonderful thing. The plaintiffs obtained a copy of SEIU’s organizing manual and numerous other documents that detailed the union’s pressure tactics — a veritable gold mine for future plaintiffs who’ve suffered from union thuggery.
Even though union power is waning, thug tactics still prevail. I remember my own near-brush with union disaster when I was the president of a small nonprofit in Philadelphia. We hired a union moving firm for an office move (they had the low bid), but they were from out of town — entirely unacceptable, according to local Teamsters. So they threatened to block our move. To avoid the picket, we started the move at the crack of dawn — hours before protesters where due to arrive — and were fully inside the building before the local union was even awake.
The SEIU is planning to appeal, claiming its tactics are protected by the First Amendment. The case bears watching. If the jury verdict stands, look for more employers to turn to a jury of their peers to penalize conduct that leftists have long sought to empower.