This week, a federal court judge for the Eastern District of New York ruled against efforts by President Donald Trump’s administration to stop a union protest.
Judge Nicholas Garaufis ruled against Trump’s efforts to stop Laborers’ Local 79 from protesting the nonunion construction of a new ShopRite at 2424 Hylan Boulevard on Staten Island. The National Labor Relations Board wanted to prevent the union from putting up inflated rats and cockroach balloons and holding public rallies outside of the construction site.
Local 79 members have used the inflated rats and cockroach balloons to protest against the Mannix Family Market’s leasing arrangements using “under-paid, poorly trained, nonunion” workers to build their latest ShopRite. Construction workers at this site are being paid less wages and given less benefits when compared with similar projects in the five boroughs.
Mannix operates several Staten Island-based ShopRite supermarkets.
NLRB General Counsel Peter Robb issued a complaint accusing Local 79 of illegally using public sidewalks to chant, rally and shame nonunion workers. Garaufis felt otherwise.
“There is no evidence that Local 79 representatives in any way induced or encouraged employees to refuse to perform services for Mamux or the Mannix-owned stores, let alone that such inducement or encouragement was coercive,” Garaufis wrote in his decision. “The signs and leaflets created by Local 79 did not call for or declare a strike or any other form of job action, but instead explained the nature of the labor dispute and asked readers to express their support for the union’s position.”
Local 79’s legal representative Joseph Vitale, of Cohen, Weiss and Simon, LLP, agreed with Garaufis’ decision. Going into the trial, he called out Robb for what he felt was baseless reasoning.
“NLRB General Counsel Robb now argues that if a union’s ‘secondary’ message can’t fit on 8.5 by 11 inch pieces of paper, unions can’t deliver it: no speaking, chanting, moving around, setting-up props, using big print on banners or placards, or anything else,” stated Vitale. “But there is no common sense or legally relevant distinction between a message delivered on a piece of paper and a message delivered verbally or through symbolic objects like an inflated rat or cockroach.”
At a recent rally in Lower Manhattan defending their right to protest, Local 79 lawyer Tamir Rosenblum said that he expected the attacks from Trump’s administration to happen.
“Workers and labor unions have the same rights under the First Amendment as any other protesting group, and we can’t let that change. Judge Garaufis’ ruling this week renewed our faith in the federal judicial system’s ability to uphold and defend the right of workers and unions to use peaceful speech and assembly in the Trump era,” said Rosenblum. “That’s no small thing, at a time when the Trump administration continues to threaten our democracy and undermine working people throughout the country. We expect Trump’s NLRB will continue to target us, and we are fully prepared to fight them every step of the way.”
He concluded, “It will be a sad day for our country and for the First Amendment if the Trump administration is allowed to limit the ways in which workers and labor unions can communicate about the problems with our current greed-driven economy and the exploitation of workers on nonunion construction sites.”