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Are Calif. labor-protest laws constitutional? Supreme Court turns away case

Members of a labor union picketed a non-union grocery store in Sacramento, Calif. The US Supreme Court declined an appeal challenging the constitutionality of two state laws that allow such picketing.

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The US Supreme Court declined on Monday to take up an appeal challenging the constitutionality of two California laws that allow labor unions to picket on the private property of a targeted non-union business, despite the objections of the property owner.

Critics of the laws say they violate the First Amendment rights of the property owner and the Equal Protection Clause by establishing a content-based preference that affords a higher level of protection to the speech of union officials during a labor dispute than to other would-be speakers.

The issue arose in a case involving a grocery store in Sacramento, Calif., owned by the Ralphs grocery chain.

The store’s workers are not unionized. Shortly after it opened in 2007, members of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 8 began picketing the business five days a week, eight hours a day.

The group of four to eight union members picketed at the front entrance to the store on private property and in the privately owned parking lot.

Store managers complained that the protests were confrontational and designed to undercut the store’s commercial operations by attempting to encourage customers to boycott the non-union business.

The company asked police to remove the protesters from its property. The police said it needed a court order.

Ralphs filed suit against the union in 2008, seeking a court order and injunction to block the labor group from picketing on its private property.

The store’s lawyers challenged the constitutionality of two provisions of California law that place restrictions on the authority of state courts to issue injunctions concerning a labor dispute. They are state versions of a 1932 federal law that barred the federal courts from becoming involved in efforts to break an ongoing strike.

The law established that unions have a right to peacefully publicize a labor dispute and that the courts may not interfere with that right.

Lawyers for the California union argued that the state provisions are constitutional and deserve to be upheld.

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