WASHINGTON - The Supreme Court will hear a case on Wednesday that could have a major impact on the US labor movement as it questions whether agreements often made between unions and private-sector employers over unionization campaigns violate an anti-corruption law.
The court is examining deals known as "neutrality agreements" in which employers agree not to campaign against unionization. The agreements have been in use for decades and the case could change how unions go about organizing.
If the justices find the pacts are a "thing of value,"prohibiting employers and unions from entering into them, it would be a major blow to organized labor as it struggles to bolster membership, said those familiar with the practice.
"The stakes could not be higher for the union movement,"Harvard University Law School Professor Benjamin Sachs said.
"Almost all of the successful unionizing efforts in the private sector in the last couple of decades have come through the type of private organizing agreements that are at issue in this case," he said.
The case, Unite Here Local 355 v. Mulhall, was brought by an employee of Mardi Gras Gaming, a casino and dog track in Hollywood, Florida.
Martin Mulhall, the employee, said his employer violated the Labor Management Relations Act when it agreed to allow the union Unite Here onto its property to organize workers, and when the company agreed to give the union contact information for employees in exchange for the union's support on a ballot initiative.
"THINGS OF VALUE"
The labor relations statute bars employers from providing"thing of value" to unions and union officials. Mulhall argued that the access Mardi Gras Gaming gave Unite Here was valuable during the union's unionization drive.
A federal trial court dismissed Mulhall's case. The 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals departed from precedent in two other circuits and reversed, saying that "it seems apparent that organizing assistance can be a thing of value."