As we discussed earlier this week, the Southeastern Carpenters’ Union was ordered to pay $1.7 million for damage its coercive picketing caused to Fidelity Interiors, a drywall company in Atlanta. There are several lessons that can be gleaned from the Court of Appeals’ 31 page opinion.  You can get a copy of the opinion here

Get Copies of Union Letters, Leaflets and Materials

A large portion of the opinion addressed the union’s use of handbills, warning letters, banners, and threats to picket. It was imperative that Fidelity obtained copies of this documentation well before the lawsuit was filed. It may have proven difficult to get this information from the union if Fidelity had waited until after the lawsuit was filed to get this documentation from the union.

Maintain Strong Relationships with Clients

A significant portion of Fidelity’s evidence came from contractors and owners with whom it did business. These contractors and owners testified that they would have hired Fidelity but for the union’s threats to picket. These owners and contractors also testified about their conversations with the unions and what it would take to get the picketing to stop. These entities and individuals may not have been willing to testify on Fidelity’s behalf if Fidelity did not have a strong relationship with these entities well before the union problems started.

Documentation is Key to Proving Damages

One of Fidelity’s most significant hurdles was the amount of money it lost because of the union’s coercive picketing. In essence, Fidelity had to prove that it would have been awarded certain projects had the union not coerced the general contractors and owners into not hiring Fidelity. In addition to getting contractors to testify that they would have hired Fidelity to perform the work, Fidelity had to prove what its profit on the project would have been. In order to prove its lost profit, Fidelity had to show what it earned on projects in the previous 4 years. This can be a daunting task if your records are not in good order.

The Fidelity case is a good example of how to deal with a union that is overreaching in its picketing efforts. And, it shows the importance of obtaining documentation of a union’s activities; maintaining strong relationships with your clients; and keeping good records of your business operations.