A Court of Appeals affirmed a $1.7 million dollar verdict against the Southeastern Carpenters Union that found the union engaged in coercive picketing calculated to force contractors to stop doing business with the subcontractor. In this post we’ll describe what happened in this case. You can find a copy of the court’s opinion here.  In the next post we’ll discuss the lessons that can be learned from this decision.

Fidelity Interior is a merit shop drywall contractor operating in Atlanta, Georgia. In 2004, the carpenters’ union began an “area standards” campaign with a budget of $1.2 million to pressure nonunion contractors in Atlanta to raise pay and benefits for their employees. The union decided to “eliminate the threat” posted by Fidelity within 90 days. The union’s first step was to send letters to contractors, tenants, property owners, and managers with whom Fidelity worked, warning these entities that they would be picketed.

The union picketed worksites where Fidelity had preformed and was performing work. The picketing then extended to worksites of general contractors that had hired Fidelity, even though Fidelity was not performing work on that worksite. Eventually, general contractors and owners stopped hiring Fidelity to avoid the union’s picketing.

Not surprisingly, Fidelity’s work dried up and the union bragged that its efforts to eliminate Fidelity as a threat inthe Atlanta area had proved successful.

Fidelity then sued the union, claiming that the union violated the National Labor Relations Act by intending to coerce Fidelity employees into joining a union and engaged in an illegal secondary boycott. A secondary boycott is conduct that threatens, coerces or restrains any person with the purpose to force or require any person to cease doing business with any other person. The jury returned a verdict against the union, finding that the union had conducted a secondary boycott of Fidelity and awarded $1.7 million in damages.

Ultimately, both the jury and the Court of Appeals were persuaded that the union went too far in picketing against Fidelity and intended to coerce other companies stop hiring Fidelity. In the next post, we will discuss the lessons learned from this case.