The Glacier Northwest Decision Puts Profits Over People
Another battle in the War on Labor.
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Last week, the Supreme Court handed down its 8-1 decision in Glacier Northwest v. The International Brotherhood of Teamsters. To the surprise of none, the Court continued its favorite pastime: weakening union power.
As I recently wrote for Balls & Strikes, the Supreme Court has been on a century-long campaign to hamstring the National Labor Relations Board, the only government actor dedicated to protecting Americans’ labor rights. The Glacier Northwest decision isn’t an isolated, unfortunate decision, but rather another slice in business interests’ plot to kill the NLRB with a thousand cuts.
The case deals with a 2017 strike between Glacier Northwest, a Washington-based cement company, and its truck drivers, who were unionized through the Teamsters. When contract negotiations broke down, the drivers went on strike. Their trucks were filled with liquid concrete, which soon hardened and became unusable. Glacier Northwest sued the Teamsters, claiming the lost cement constituted the “intentional destruction of company property.” The notion of intentional destruction is patently false, as the drivers returned the trucks to the company lot and left the drums spinning in an attempt to preserve the cement. Had they intended to destroy company property, the drivers could have halted the drums or left the trucks idling on the road, destroying the trucks entirely. A Washington state court dismissed the suit, stating that the case involved the truckers’ right to strike (as established by the 1935 National Labor Relations Act) and should therefore be adjudicated by the National Labor Relations Board. But, preferring to deal with the business-friendly Supreme Court than the much more balanced NLRB, Glacier Northwest appealed to the highest court in the land.
The question before the Supreme Court was not who was responsible for the damages, but whether the drivers’ actions were protected by the right to strike. If the actions were protected, there could be no lawsuit. If they weren’t, Glacier Northwest could sue the Teamsters for the lost property. Unfortunately, the
High Council of Ivy Leaguers U.S. Supreme Court decided the lawsuit could go forth, arguing “the National Labor Relations Act does not shield strikers who fail to take ‘reasonable precautions’ to protect their employer’s property from foreseeable, aggravated, and imminent danger due to the sudden cessation of work.”
What The Decision Means For Labor Rights
The above quote, taken verbatim from Justice Barrett’s decision, puts the burden on workers to protect their employer’s “property” before going on strike. In this case, the property was lost cement, but in a society that deems the value produced by workers as the property of business owners, this standard could prevent workers from striking if it hurt the employer’s bottom line. As causing an employer financial harm is the entire point of a strike, this standard severely weakens — if not entirely destroys — the right of American workers to go on strike.
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