Court Ruling Diminishes Unions’ Free Speech Rights

, Journeyman Newspaper, Alameda County BTC

When I was a Business Agent it was mandatory that we become familiar with the Pruneyard decision, which allows for informational picketing on private property. So the First Amendment of the Constitution finally went beyond the private property line. When the owners of the business we were picketing called the law, we had copies of the decision to give the cops.

Now all that will change and our rights as citizens once again are limited to publicly owned property.

What was the Pruneyard Decision? Ever since 1975, California law establishes tough standards for courts to issue injunctions against demonstrators in labor disputes. The Supreme Court upheld that law in 1980.

Pruneyard Shopping Center v. Robins, 447 U.S. 74 (1980), was a U.S. Supreme Court decision issued on June 9, 1980 that arose out of a free speech dispute between the Pruneyard Shopping Center in Campbell, California, and several local high school students (who wished to solicit signatures for a petition against United Nations General Assembly Resolution 3379).[1]

In American constitutional law, the Pruneyard is famous for its role in establishing two important rules:

  • Under the California Constitution, individuals may peacefully exercise their right to free speech in parts of private shopping centers regularly held open to the public, subject to reasonable regulations adopted by the shopping centers under the U.S. Constitution.
  • States can provide their citizens with broader rights in their constitutions than under the federal Constitution, so long as those rights do not infringe on any federal constitutional rights

This holding was possible because California’s constitution contains an affirmative right of free speech which has been liberally construed by the Supreme Court of California, while the federal constitution’s First Amendment contains only a negative command to Congress to not abridge the freedom of speech. This distinction was significant because the U.S. Supreme Court had already held that under the federal First Amendment, there was no implied right of free speech within a private shopping center.[2]

The Pruneyard case, therefore, raised the question of whether an implied right of free speech could arise under a state constitution without conflicting with the federal Constitution. In answering yes to that question, the Court rejected the shopping center’s argument that California’s broader free speech right amounted to a “taking” of the shopping center under federal constitutional law.

Under the California Constitution “Every person may freely speak, write and publish his or her sentiments on all subjects, being responsible for the abuse of this right. A law may not restrain or abridge liberty of speech or press. ” and Article 1, § 3 “[People have the right to . . . petition government for redress of grievances. ”

Pruneyard allowed farm workers to go into shopping center parking lots and ask people to boycott grapes. It also allowed informational picketing at rat construction sites on public access private property, or in front of nonunion establishments.

But on July 19 the state appeals court struck down the law in a case arising out of the United Food and Commercial Workers picketing of a Ralph’s market in Sacramento during an organizing campaign

The lawyers for Ralphs claimed the 1975 law was invalid because it singled out union speech for special protection and the Third District Court of Appeal agreed.

Jacques Loveall, president of the UFCW local told the SF Chronicle, “The unfortunate ruling diminishes the rights of working people to express their grievance and solicit public support.”

The union said it would probably appeal the decision. Meanwhile, all our rights have been diminished.

(This article was written with information from the San Francisco Chronicle and Wikipedia)