Union Pamphlets Denied 'Right of Way' From Third Circuit

July 2, 2002 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - A federal appeals court ruling proved to be a mixed bag for a Pennsylvania snack distribution company, with judges tossing two findings of unfair labor practices - but upholding a charge of illegal surveillance of union activity.

However, the bottom line of the decision of the Third US Circuit Court of Appeals was that companies couldn’t prohibit union organizers from handing out literature in the employer’s driveway unless local government officials have specifically outlawed it.

The decision threw out two National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) orders that Snyder’s had committed unfair labor practices in its dealings with the United Food and Commercials Workers Union, according to a report in The Legal Intelligencer.

Judges said Snyder’s crossed the line when it surveilled union representatives in an effort to scare away workers from taking the union literature being offered.

Case Background

According to court papers, five union representatives arrived at the entrance to Snyder’s York, Pennsylvania facilities on October 1, 1998, to distribute union handbills to workers as they left work during a shift change.

When company officials learned they were in Synder’s driveway, company officials told them they were trespassing and ordered them to leave. But the union workers insisted they had a legal right to be there since the driveway was a right-of-way.

Company officials responded by calling the police who sided with the union.

The NLRB later found that Snyder’s had committed three unfair labor practices:

  • prohibiting union workers from distributing literature in a public right-of-way
  • calling the police in an attempt to have the union workers removed for trespassing
  • engaging in unlawful surveillance by calling out individual workers’ names as they approached the union reps.

On appeal, Snyder’s argued that all of its conduct was legal.

Pennsylvania law

The NLRB argued that the case turned on a question of Pennsylvania law, which gives the union organizers the right to distribute handbills on a public right-of-way unless the local municipality has not authorized it.

Snyder’s failed to prove its case, the NLRB argued, since it had no proof that Penn Township did not allow handbilling in its public rights-of-way.

The court looked to Penn Township’s ordinances and found there was no express authorization for handbilling on rights-of-way.

“We conclude that under Pennsylvania law, as represented to us by the parties, Snyder’s had the right to exclude organizers from the right-of-way on its property,” judges wrote.

As a result, the judges said, the two NLRB orders that held Snyder’s liable for attempting to exclude the organizers and for calling the police on them cannot be enforced.

But the court found that the NLRB was on firmer ground with its third order that said Snyder’s had engaged in illegal surveillance by calling out the names of its workers as they neared the union organizers.

The case is Snyder’s of Hanover Inc. v. National Labor Relations Board.