Lawmaker: Regulating union picketing methods would aid Arizona business - East Valley Tribune: Business

Lawmaker: Regulating union picketing methods would aid Arizona business

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Posted: Wednesday, February 9, 2011 9:00 pm | Updated: 3:46 pm, Thu Feb 10, 2011.

A state lawmaker wants to limit how unions can protest during labor disputes, offering a bill to ban picketing intended to coerce a company or its employees and to help employers bring defamation suits when workers spread untrue information.

Sen. Frank Antenori, R-Tucson, said he isn’t out to impede anyone’s right to be in a union or protest but wants to protect employers from disruption and loss of business.

“What we want to do is to make sure that those rights to assemble and rights to free speech don’t interfere with the standard [conduct] of businesses and try to interfere or disrupt business for the employer in which they may have a dispute,” he said.

SB 1363 offers a wide range of provisions intended to limit picketing to what the bill terms “a reasonable and peaceful manner.” Among other things, the measure would make it illegal for a union to trespass on private property, obstruct roads, make threatening statements or interfere with traffic, employee and customer flow into or out of a business.

It would also require the Arizona Secretary of State to create a “no trespass public notice list” of businesses that have established private property rights.

The bill would allow employers to bring defamation suits seeking damages, attorney fees, court costs, punitive damages and damages for loss of business, profits and business value against those who maliciously make false statements or recklessly disregard the falsehood of those statements.

The Senate Commerce and Energy Committee endorsed the bill on a 3-2 vote Wednesday, sending it to the floor by way of the Rules Committee. The committee’s only Democrats, Olivia Cajero Bedford of Tucson and Robert Meza of Phoenix, dissented.

Marcus Osborn, a government and public affairs representative for the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which worked with Antenori on the bill, said the changes would allow businesses to operate without running the risk of “undue burdens” created by unions.

“We are trying to make Arizona more competitive nationally, and one of the ways to do that is to make the best environment for employers to have a free and open workplace,” he said.

But Mike Colletto, executive director of Community Horizons, a for-profit corporation that represents firefighters, commercial food workers and carpenters, said the bill is unnecessary because the federal labor laws already spell out what employees and employers can and can’t do and because rights of assembly and free speech are already clearly defined.

“I just think they are overstepping their boundaries here,” he said.

Colletto said the bill is a retaliation over a 2007 incident in which Bashas’ Supermarkets Inc. sued the United Food & Commercial Workers union for making statements about the company’s treatment of employees and alleging discrimination against Hispanic workers. Bashas’ claimed that the dispute contributed to its filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization in 2009.

“I think it’s because they didn’t like an outcome that happened in a labor dispute that they are trying to punish the union involved,” he said.

Rebekah Friend, executive director of the Arizona chapter of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations, which represents union workers statewide, said the bill violates First Amendment rights and attempts to preempt picketing rules established by the National Labor Relations Act.

“We think that workers have the constitutional protection of freedom of speech, so we believe that this bill may even be unconstitutional,” she said.

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