Union picketing is a tricky little devil. The National Labor Relations Act allows employees – whether in a union or not – to “engage in concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protections.” Picketing is a concerted activity. The ability to picket is not absolute, though. Picketing (which is not limited only to people carrying signs and walking up and down the sidewalk) can be stopped depending on the union’s objectives, the message conveyed, and the time and place of the activity. There are many other highly technical nuances of picketing. If your company is the target of picketing, legal counsel should be contacted immediately to determine what rights you may have against the concerted activity.
Recognitional Picketing: Recognitional picketing is a common tactic unions use against an employer they seek to organize. This type of picketing can only occur for 30 days unless the union files a petition for election. Once filed, the picketing can continue until the petition is processed, which usually means until there is an election, until the election results are final, or until the union withdraws the election petition.
There is one exception to the 30-days rule. Sometimes one union will picket an employer in protest that another labor union represents the employees of that place of employment. This type of union-on-union picketing is forbidden for 12 months after a valid union election. Short of this unique exception, the 30-days rule above applies.
Informational Picketing: While recognition picketing is common, informational picketing is more common. Informational picketing is simply when a sign states an employer does not employ union members or has a union contract. Since there is no demand that the employer recognizes the union, this picketing is not subject to the 30-days rule. Informational picketing, however, must still be truthful, appeal to the public, and not try to dissuade someone from doing business with the employer.
Area Standards Picketing: Area standards picketing is common in the construction world. These picketers want to convey that the non-union employer pays wages and has benefits lower than unionized companies in the same area. This type of picketing falls outside the National Labor Relations Act. Although unions act like area standards picketing is informational in nature, area standards picketing is generally used to coerce the employer into recognizing the union. As such, whether area standards picketing falls under the 30-days rule or not is highly fact specific depending on the conduct of the picketers and the messages they convey.
Make sure to check back next time when I discuss mass picketing, common situs picketing, and signal picketing.
Matt Austin is a Columbus, Ohio labor lawyer who owns Austin Legal, LLC, a boutique law firm that limits its representation to employers dealing with labor, employment, and OSHA matters. Matt can be reached by email at Matt.Austin@Austin-Legal.com or by phone at 614.285.5342.