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    Calif. Supreme Court Backs Union in Ralphs Case

    UFCW granted statutory right to picket grocer

    The California Supreme Court ruled in favor of the labor union on Dec. 27, 2012, following its review of Ralphs Grocery v. United Food & Commercial Workers Union Local 8, in which two of the state’s labor laws that guarantee the union’s right to picket the entrance of the grocer’s Sacramento location were deemed constitutional.

    The high court’s decision strikes down an appeal by the Sacramento’s 3rd District Court that granted Ralphs (The Kroger Co.’s Los Angeles-based division) an initial injunction on the grounds that two California statues – The Moscone Act and the Calif. Labor Code Section 1138.1 – were unconstitutional under the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution, and gave preferential treatment to labor disputes versus disputes of other matters.

    Although the California Supreme Court agreed that the property surrounding the entrance of the Ralphs location does not constitute a “public forum,” labor picketing maintains statutory protection under the two labor laws. In a statement by Justice Kennard explaining the court’s reasoning, the statues in question “are components of a state statutory system for regulating labor relations, and which are modeled on federal law,” and do not “run afoul of the federal constitutional prohibition on content discrimination in speech regulations.”

    John Douglas, partner at San Francisco-based Foley & Lardner’s Labor & Employment practice, told Progressive Grocer that the decision in this case maintains the status quo in terms of union-employer labor disputes. Douglas clarified the court’s decision, stating that “these statues that California can pass as 'state' labor policy effectively prevent trespassers from being arrested” by unconstitutionally allowing "labor-related speech to take precedence over non-labor-related speech."

    As of the Dec. 27 decision, the case has been remanded for further review. At press time, Douglas told PG that Ralphs appealing the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court “seems both possible and a good idea,” but is unaware if a decision has been made either way.

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