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Trump NLRB moves to restrict unions right to picket

By Bill Aiman |
October 22, 2018
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Workers on picket line in Kentucky.
Workers on picket line in Kentucky. (Fight Back! News/Staff)

Tampa, FL - A recent ruling of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) said that janitors who were picketing for better working conditions were not protected from unfair labor practices committed by their employer. The Board ruled that the janitors, who were being contracted by a building management company, were engaged in secondary picketing. With a Trump-appointed NLRB, workers fighting for rights on the job will be facing new challenges.

The janitors were working for Rafael Ortiz, under a company called Ortiz Janitorial Services (OJS), which was hired by Preferred Building Services to fulfil a contract with Harvest Properties in San Francisco. The workers had reached out to SEIU Local 87 and the San Francisco Living Wage Coalition (SFLWC) to help them organize for higher wages and an end to sexual harassment on the job.

The workers began picketing outside of the building they were cleaning, distributing leaflets and holding picket signs saying “Preferred Building Services unfair!” and “We prefer no more sexual harassment.” Following another picketing by the janitors, a meeting was held between Harvest Properties, SEIU Local 87 and SFLWC.

As a result of the meeting, Harvest Properties requested Preferred Building Services investigate the workers’ grievances and not allow Ortiz Janitorial Services back onto the property until the investigation was completed. Rather than complete the investigation, Preferred Building Services cancelled their contract with Harvest Properties and notified OJS, which then fired a total of four employees.

The NLRB ruled that these firings were not unfair labor practices and the workers were not protected by the federal labor law because, in their opinion, secondary picketing had taken place. Secondary picketing is when employees picket a secondary employer who is not involved in the labor dispute. Secondary pickets and boycotts are forbidden by repressive, pro-boss federal labor law.

Historically, however, the picketing of a primary employer at a secondary site was allowed if it followed a set of criteria known as the Moore Dry Docks standards. A previous judge had ruled that the picketing by the janitors had met these criteria and the workers were protected against unfair labor practices.

The NLRB overturned this ruling because of the meeting that was held with Harvest Properties, meaning the fired employees were not protected under federal labor law. Despite the fact that the workers made it clear during picketing they were targeting their employer and they met the other Moore Dry Docks standards, the NLRB found their picketing to be illegal.

The implications for the labor movement are clear: any actions taken by workers trying to improve their working conditions will be under intense scrutiny by the Trump-appointed NLRB.

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