Calling the Police Over Handbilling in Front of Workplace Unlawful Because City Previously Designated Area as Public Right of Way

The United Food and Commercial Workers union tried to organize workers at a Hillshire Brands Co. facility in Texas. As part of its campaign, non-employees handed out pamphlets at the end of the company’s driveway. The organizers stood on a 10-foot wide corridor designated by the city as a public right of way. The Company’s human resource manager called the police and claimed the organizers were blocking traffic. The police responded, accused the organizers of trespassing, issued criminal trespass warnings, and shooed the organizers away.

The union filed an unfair labor practice charge over this incident. At trial, the National Labor Relations Board’s Administrative Law Judge determined that calling the police was unlawful – without regard to the fact that the police themselves issued the warnings and shooed the organizers away. Had the handbillers not been on a public corridor, police involvement would have been justified. This ruling now places the burden on companies to know whether union organizing activity, handbilling, picketing, a blown up rat, etc. is on property designated by the city as a public right of way before taking any action against the demonstrators.

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