Exempting Labor from Prosecution

May 16, 2014

Pennsylvania's criminal code contains a carve-out for harassment and threats in the context of labor disputes, reports the Wall Street Journal.

Currently, Pennsylvania law makes it illegal to stalk, harass, or threaten to use weapons of mass destruction against another individual -- unless, however, the threats are made in the context of a labor dispute.

Illinois, Nevada and California have similar exceptions to their criminal laws. In California, for example, intimidating a business owner is punishable by 90 days in jail, unless the perpetrator is engaging in labor union activities.

The exemption in Pennsylvania applies to management as well as labor. The idea behind the exemption  was that false harassment charges could be filed, leading to expensive litigation. But Pennsylvania lawmakers, concerned about union harassment, are considering removing the provision. State representative Ron Miller, who introduced the bill to eliminate the loophole, said of the issue, "Certainly, the right to strike and demonstrate and the right to free speech all need to be protected. The problem is when union activities are exempt from the criminal code."

Federal law prohibits unions and management from threatening or intimidating employees, but when harassment reaches the level of criminal activity, state law governs.

Pennsylvania began looking at reforming its law when a top union official in Philadelphia's Ironworkers Local 401 was charged with assault, harassment, and the making of terroristic threats against a female executive of a residential development company last year. When the case went to trial, the judge found the union official not guilty, as his acts were part of a labor dispute.

That same official, along with nine others, is currently facing trial on racketeering and arson charges. Prosecutors allege that the union officials assaulted nonunion workers with baseball bats and burned down buildings in order to get contractors to hire union labor.

Source: Kris Maher, "Labor-Dispute Threats Spur Pennsylvania to Revisit Exemption," Wall Street Journal, May 8, 2014.

 

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