The Law & The Planner
When Your Venue Faces Union Trouble
Peaceful gatherings are the ultimate goal for all
by Jonathan T. Howe, Esq.March 1, 2012
Jonathan T. Howe, Esq.
A senior partner of the Chicago, St. Louis and Washington, D.C., law firm of Howe & Hutton Ltd., specializing in meetings and hospitality law. E-mail questions to him at email@example.com.
• Regardless of the free-speech argument, unions cannot violate existing ordinances and requirements.
• It is unlawful for Unite Here to apply secondary pressure on organizations that are indirectly involved or to boycott against a neutral or secondary employer.
• Both Unite Here and your organization have the right to gather under peaceful circumstances.
• Demonstrators cannot impede access to a venue.
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Unite Here, the union that represents some of the hospitality
industry's hourly employees, continues to be aggressive in taking its
grievances beyond the picket line. These activities include picketing
organizations before they meet at hotels targeted by Unite Here; passing
out pamphlets; sending letters and e-mails to corporate employees,
association members, exhibitors and other potential attendees; calling
out host organizations on the Internet, and going to the host
To some, these actions are seen to range from harassment to potential criminal activity.
Unite Here claims it is exercising its First Amendment right of free
speech and that its conduct is allowed under the National Labor
Relations Act. But does the free speech requirement apply only to what
government can do to limit it, and not to what individuals can do to
protect themselves from such behavior?
Let's look at what's legal.
• Private property is private property.
Host organizations are not required nor should they feel intimidated
into allowing demonstrators/picketers to be at their physical location.
Union representatives can come to the office and demand to see the
higher-ups. No law says they have to be let in.
• Public space is public.
Unite Here is free to gather in public areas as long as they assemble
peacefully. In some situations, permits might be required to picket,
demonstrate or distribute literature.
• Noise level might be regulated.
Some picketing groups use noise -- such as beating on plastic pails and
shouting into megaphones -- to disturb the integrity of an event. Noise
ordinances might regulate this action, allowing your group also to
gather peacefully. Here, too, permits might be required.
The Planner's Role
What are the real issues and positions? In many situations, the parties
are in agreement on economic terms, but disagree on details concerning
how union representation is determined. No matter the particulars,
planners need to be proactive.
• Let attendees and others know what's happening.
While there might be an attempt to disrupt your program, demonstrators
cannot impede your attendees' access to your venue. Still, your
attendees will want to know what they might encounter. If there might be
trouble, local law enforcement should be notified. In some areas,
special task forces exist to handle labor activities.
• Find out how the venue is handling the problem.
Officials at the property should be doing the heavy lifting to prevent
the interruption of your program and provide for the safety of all
• Update the contract. Consider clauses that
give you discretion in what you can do in such situations, taking into
consideration the concerns and views of your attendees. For instance, if
you anticipate a drop in attendance due to the union action, what will
the property do to reduce blocks, F&B, etc.?
Bottom line: The
safety and security of all concerned is paramount. As soon as you
realize your group might be targeted, get legal advice to deal with the
specifics of your situation.