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Monday, December 31, 2012

Ralphs Grocery v. UFCWU: Cal. Supreme Court Holds That Union Has Statutory Right to Picket in Front of Market

In Ralphs Grocery Company v. United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 8 (12/27/12) --- Cal.4th ---, the California Supreme Court has ruled on a labor union's constitutional and statutory rights to picket in front of a grocery market's sole entrance. The opinion, by Justice Kennard with Cantil-Sakauye, Baxter, Werdegar, Corrigan, and Liu joining, gives a good summary of the proceedings below and the holdings: 
A supermarket owner sought a court injunction to prevent a labor union from picketing on the privately owned walkway in front of the only customer entrance to its store. In response, the union argued that two statutory provisions — Code of Civil Procedure section 527.3 (the Moscone Act) and Labor Code section 1138.1 (section 1138.1) — prohibited issuance of an injunction under these circumstances. The trial court denied relief, ruling that the supermarket owner had failed to satisfy section 1138.1‘s requirements for obtaining an injunction against labor picketing.  
The Court of Appeal reversed. It held that the walkway fronting the supermarket's entrance was not a public forum under the California Constitution's provision protecting liberty of speech (Cal. Const., art. I, § 2, subd. (a)), and therefore the store owner could regulate speech in that area. It further held that both the Moscone Act and section 1138.1, because they give speech regarding a labor dispute greater protection than speech on other subjects, violate the free speech guarantee of the federal Constitution‘s First Amendment and the equal protection guarantee of the federal Constitution's Fourteenth Amendment. This court granted the union's petition for review.
We agree with the Court of Appeal that the supermarket's privately owned entrance area is not a public forum under the California Constitution's liberty of speech provision. For this reason, a union's picketing activities in such a location do not have state constitutional protection. Those picketing activities do have statutory protection, however, under the Moscone Act and section 1138.1. We do not agree with the Court of Appeal that the Moscone Act and section 1138.1, which are components of a state statutory system for regulating labor relations, and which are modeled on federal law, run afoul of the federal constitutional prohibition on content discrimination in speech regulations. On this basis, we reverse the Court of Appeal's judgment and remand the matter for further proceedings.
Slip op. at 1-2. The opinion is available here.  

I am organizing a series of webinars on important recent decisions for the The State Bar of California's Labor and Employment Law Section.  We will present a webinar on Ralphs Grocery within the next two weeks or so.  I am very pleased that Justice Miriam Vogel and Paul More, who argued the case for Ralphs and the Union, respectively, have agreed to speak.  Please stay tuned for more information. 

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