The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, which oversees federal appeals in states along the east coast from Virginia to South Carolina, recently ruled that a union violated the secondary-boycott provisions of the NLRA by filing frivolous lawsuits against a developer.
In this case, a developer in Maryland agreed to lease space to Wegmans Grocery Store in a recently completed shopping center. The United Food and Commercial Workers’ Union told the developer that the union would fight every project the developer pursued where Wegmans was a tenant because Wegmans had refused to unionize. In 2008, the UFCW filed the first of sixteen lawsuits either directly or through one of its members against WCS. The basis for the lawsuits ranged from complaints before zoning officials seeking a change to zoning regulations that would prevent the construction of a grocery store to appealing administrative rulings relating to tax increment financing (TIF).
After the sixteenth lawsuit, WCS had enough and sued the unions alleging that its conduct was a secondary boycott in violation of the NLRA. The union countered, claiming that their litigation activity was protected by the first amendment.
The court agreed with WCS, finding that the vast majority of the legal challenges pursued by the union were ill-founded. In two of the union’s lawsuits, it had no authority to bring the action; in two of the lawsuits, the union had no evidence to support its claims, and in nine of the lawsuits, the union simply repeated the substance of earlier claims. The union also dismissed claims in order to avoid complying with subpoenas seeking financial records that would have revealed that the unions were directing and paying for the litigation.
This case is a shocking example of how far one union went to further its cause of unionization. Fortunately, there were stop gaps in place, and accompanied with the bank roll to fight the union, to make sure that justice was done.