California Supreme Court Upholds Right to Picket In Front of Retail Stores

In a victory for workers, the California Supreme Court ruled in Ralphs v. UFCW Local 8 that a Union’s right to picket in the walkway fronting a supermarket’s entrance is protected by California law.

The Moscone Act protects a Union’s right to picket on “any public street or any place where any person or persons may lawfully be”.  Under Labor Code Section 1138.1, a company seeking to enjoin such picketing must clear a number of significant procedural hurdles.  For example, the company must provide witness testimony, in open court, establishing that unlawful acts have been threatened and have or will be committed unless restrained, and that substantial or irreparable injury to the company’s property will follow.

Ralphs sought to enjoin picketing in front of one of its grocery stores, arguing that the Moscone Act and Labor Code Section 1138.1 violated the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and the California Constitution’s free speech protections, by giving favorable treatment to “union speech”.  The Court disagreed, reasoning that the state has an interest in promoting collective bargaining to resolve labor disputes.  Since labor picketing is an integral component in collective bargaining, the state is justified in erecting procedural safeguards to protect such picketing from unwarranted judicial interference.  Therefore, the Court found that picketing on the private sidewalk in front of a targeted retail store is protected by these laws.

By Jake White

Legal Developments