US Supreme Court finds federal labor law does not automatically preempt state law claims News
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US Supreme Court finds federal labor law does not automatically preempt state law claims

The US Supreme Court held Thursday that a local union must litigate a property damage dispute in state court, as opposed to appearing before the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). In Glacier Northwest v. International Brotherhood of Teamsters, the court found that federal labor law, under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), did not preempt a company’s state claim that striking truck drivers intentionally damaged company property.

The court held that the NLRA’s protection of the right to strike is not absolute. Rather, striking workers may be subject to state law claims where they fail to take “reasonable precautions” to “protect their employer’s property from foreseeable, aggravated, and imminent danger due to the sudden cessation of work.” Rather than automatically granting NLRA preemption to any case involving strike action, the court instead held that the striking party must present enough evidence to show that there is an arguable case for preemption, citing 1959 precedent from San Diego Building Trades v. Garmon. While the court agreed that the NLRA may still protect the striking workers’ decision to initiate the strike during the workday without specific notice to their employer, such actions should be weighed by the court in its preemption considerations.

At issue in the case was Glacier Northwest’s claim that large amounts of concrete perished because their truck drivers—as unionized members of the Teamsters—went on strike. The court found that the striking truck drivers should have known how highly perishable the concrete was and taken reasonable steps to protect Glacier Northwest from harm. Because they failed to do so, the court found that it was proper for Glacier Northwest to bring a tort claim against the striking truck drivers in state court, rather than bringing the issue before the NLRB.

Justice Amy Coney Barrett wrote the majority opinion, which Chief Justice John Roberts, Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan and Brett Kavanaugh joined. Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito both filed concurring opinions, which Justice Neil Gorsuch joined.

Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson was the only justice who dissented in the case, focusing on the procedural posture. She argued that, since a review was still pending before the NLRB, a specialized body designed to interpret such labor law issues, the court had no business reviewing the case.

The court previously heard oral arguments in the case back in January. The justices’ questions centered around the issue of preemption, which was central to Thursday’s majority opinion.