I don’t understand this ruling at all.
In 2011, Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. had locked out union workers. After the company later settled a contract dispute, they all returned to work except for Anthony Runion, who had been fired. Runion had shouted at a van carrying replacement workers onto the company’s grounds: “Hey, did you bring enough KFC for everybody?” and “Hey, anybody smell that? I smell fried chicken and watermelon,” the opinion noted, adding that most of the replacement workers were black.
In the 2-1 ruling for the fired worker, Judge William Duane Benton cited the law protecting unions, strikers and pickets, 29 U.S.C. § 157. Section 7 of the Act guarantees employees the right to “assist labor organizations . . . and to engage in other concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection.” Section 7
gives locked-out employees the right to picket. Section 8(a) prohibits an employer from interfering with, restraining, coercing, or discriminating against employees in the exercise of their Section 7 rights.
How would firing a worker for uttering undeniable racially hostile verbiage in the process of striking? Benton writes, citing various cases in the line of labor decisions:
“One of the necessary conditions of picketing is a confrontation in some form between union members and employees.” Chicago Typographical Union No. 16, 151 NLRB 1666, 1668 (1965), citing NLRB v. United Furniture Workers of Am., 337 F.2d 936, 940 (2d Cir. 1964). “Impulsive behavior on the picket line is to be expected especially when directed against nonstriking employees or strike breakers.” Allied Indus. Workers No. 289 v. NLRB, 476 F.2d 868, 879 (D.C. Cir. 1973) (internal citation omitted). This court analyzes picket-line conduct under the Clear Pine Mouldings test: a firing for picket-line misconduct is an unfair labor practice unless the alleged misconduct “may reasonably tend to coerce or intimidate employees in the exercise of rights protected under the Act.” NMC Finishing v. NLRB, 101 F.3d 528, 531 (8th Cir. 1996), citing Clear Pine Mouldings, Inc., 268 NLRB 1044, 1046 (1984), enf’d, 765 F.2d 148 (9th Cir. 1985). The test is objective.
Wait: racially prejudiced rhetoric is “impulsive behavior”? Not by non-racists, its isn’t. Non-racists don’t suddenly start talking like racists on impulse. Anthony Runion unmasked himself as a racist by his behavior on the picket line. It may not have been “picket line misconduct,” but it was certainly unacceptable workplace and employee conduct, with a strong indication of more to come. Benton wrote that there was no evidence the black “scabs” heard Runion’s racist words, though dozens of others nearby did, and that the comments were not directed at any individual. Wait again: is the judge arguing that using racial epithets in the workplace isn’t a firing offense as long as the offender can say, “I didn’t mean you” ?
The lone dissenting judge, Judge C. Arlen Beam dissents by stating the obvious:
No employer in America is or can be required to employ a racial bigot. Indeed, as amicus curae National Association of Manufacturers aptly points out, the court’s requiring of the petitioner to do so here, “is tantamount to requiring that Cooper Tire violate federal anti-discrimination and harassment laws, including Title VII and [42 U.S.C. §] 1981, as well as numerous other similar state and local laws.” For example, the Supreme Court has stated “[t]he phrase, ‘terms, conditions or privileges of employment’ in [Title VII] is an expansive concept which sweeps within its protective ambit the practice of creating a working environment heavily charge with ethnic or racial discrimination.” Meritor Savs. Bank, FSB v. Vinson, 477 U.S. 57, 66 (1986)…
Thus, the two crucial issues at work in this presently mishandled dispute are (1) whether Anthony Runion exhibited racial bigotry directed toward African America employees of Cooper Tire and (2) whether the exercise of such bigotry is protected by the terms and conditions of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). The answer to question one is clearly yes and the answer to query two is undoubtedly no!
Seems clear and undoubtable to me, too. It can’t be legal or ethical to hold that a company cannot fire a worker who has publicly trumpeted racist attitudes, whether he does so on a picket line or on Twitter.
Pointer: ABA Journal