Appeals Court Strikes Picketing Law

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July 20, 2010
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In a dispute between a Sacramento grocery store and the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, California's Third District Court of Appeal invalidated a 1975 law which protects the rights of unions to picket on property owned by the business that is the target of the protest. The law allows a judge to bar labor picketing on private and public property only to prevent illegal action that would cause significant property damage that law enforcement officers could not avert.  

The owners of a Foods Co. store in Sacramento had asked the court to strike down the law because union protestors were distributing leaflets five feet from the entrance to the store. Labor organizers began picketing the store when it opened in July 2007.

A  three-judge panel of the appellate court unanimously agreed that the law is unconstitutional because it singles out speech by labor unions for protection.

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In a related case, the United States Supreme Court in 1980 upheld an earlier California Supreme Court ruling in Pruneyard v. Robins that owners of shopping malls cannot prohibit political activists from passing out literature and otherwise exercising their free speech rights within the shopping center.

In the early 20th century, cities throughout California passed laws restricting speech on public streets and in public parks as a means of preventing labor union leaders from organizing workers.