I have been involved in a few of these union demonstrations and they walk a very fine line between being protected under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution as free speech and being unprotected and thus unlawful. Since the difference between lawful free speech and unlawful antics is razor thin and heavily fact-dependent, I will not opine on the merits of the lawsuit.
In 2012, a hospital in Las Vegas hired Kitchell Construction to build an expansion to its Siena Campus hospital in Henderson, Nevada. Kitchell Construction is non-union and hired a non-union contractor to handle all electrical work at the site. The electrical union was upset by this and protested.
The local chapter of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) union allegedly defamed a Las Vegas hospital that hired non-union contractors by posting a sign: “Danger 1 out of 10 People Die at This Hospital” on a banner that contained images of a coffin and two tombstones. The union also passed out flyers that stated: “1 out of 10 people DIE at Siena Campus, Death among patients with serious treatable complications.” At the bottom of the flyers was the phrase: “Brought to you by the IBEW Union Local 357 Information Department.” The flyers also referred readers to a website, HospitalSafetyScore.org, which does not substantiate the union’s claims. According to the Hospital, the information is completely false.
Trained labor professionals will notice the importance of the phrase “brought to you by the IBEW Union Local 357 Information Department,” since it is generally lawful for the union to disseminate such rhetoric for information purposes, only. Whether this phrase will cloak the banner, message, graphics, and passing out of flyers is not yet answered.
Matt Austin is a lawyer based in the Columbus, Ohio office of Roetzel & Andress, LPA who limits his practice to representing employers dealing with labor, employment, and OSHA matters. You can call Matt at (614) 723-2010 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.