Is SCOTUS on the Verge of Dismantling Labor and the Administrative State in One Blow?

Photograph Source: ajay_suresh – CC BY 2.0

On Tuesday, January 10,  the United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the matter of Glacier Northwest, Inc. v. International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local Union 174. If Glacier Northwest prevails, the Supreme Court ruling will make it far easier for alleged labor disputes that result in damage to company property, to eliminate the National Labor Relations Board and address their labor complaints to the state court.

The case, an appeal from a Seattle, Washington concrete company whose workers went on strike in 2017, follows the same playbook the Supreme Court adheres to when choosing cases: a case that will make it possible, no matter how misconstrued and illogical the case may be, that will allow the U.S. Supreme Court to apply a partisan ultra-conservative ruling that runs contrary to the will of the people.

A win for Glacier Northwest also gives the Court the opportunity to weaken the so-called administrative state. By hearing the case and breaking precedent to have Glacier Northwest v. Teamsters brazenly taken away from the jurisdiction of the NLRB and heard by the U.S. Supreme Court, gives the conservative movement the satisfaction in weakening the so-called administrative state.

The history behind the case brought against the Teamsters by Glacier began in August 2017. Contract negotiations broke down between the union and Glacier and a strike was called towards the end of the day. The union instructed the drivers who were still out with wet cement to return the trucks to the company and to keep the trucks rotating in an attempts to save the cement.

One week later the strike was resolved, some concrete did spoil and Glacier Northwest, Inc. decided to sue the Teamsters for intentional destruction of property.

The Washington State Court did not rule for the Teamsters nor for Glacier, Northwest, Inc., but directed the case to the appropriate jurisdiction, the National Labor Relations Board.

Glacier Northwest, Inc. took grave offense at this outcome that barred them from seeking damages in state court. (Glacier had stated they had $11,000 in spoiled cement.) They were convinced Glacier would not receive a favorable judgment from the NLRB and were intransigent in their position against the NLRB taking jurisdiction.

Concurrently, in a related complaint brought by the Teamsters regarding the strike, the National Labor Relations Board had ruled that the strikers’ actions were “actually protected.”

Glacier’s next move was to appeal to the Supreme Court. The company also made some smart strategic moves regarding their legal counsel that would guarantee the case would be heard by the Supreme Court justices and a ruling in their favor would ensue.

Glacier hired Jones Day, the elite law firm whose senior partner, Don McGahn, the attorney who served as former President Trump’s White House counsel. McGahn’s singular significant contribution to the Trump presidency was the ease with which Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett passed their confirmation hearings and were seated on the Supreme Court.

A former Trump Solicitor General, Noel Francisco, served as counsel to Glacier Northwest. As it was staged to be, the January 10 oral arguments was a comfortable and collegial gathering of Glacier’s legal team conversing with the Supreme Court justices.

Francisco began their presentation with the inane comparison of the Glacier workers – who took every reasonable precaution not to have any concrete wasted – to crazed workers who would be willing to cause death and destruction to achieve their goals. If Glacier wins, the country will be subjected to federal security guards who walk off the job during a terrorist attack or, steelworkers calling for a strike just as the molten iron begins to pour – thus causing considerable financial loss for the employer and maybe endangering others. In this case, corporate owners cannot let go of the potential loss of profit – superseding their regards for safer working conditions and pay.

Chief Justice John Roberts, who never met a union he did not want to bust up, repeatedly fired off his skewed observations to the Teamsterslegal team that why the law should protect the intentional” destruction of property by strikers and vehemently dismissed any consideration that the spoilage of goods” is often the results of strikes.

The foe of the administrative state, Justice Neil Gorsuch, gently asked “what’s at stake” if state courts begin to hear labor disputes and completely bypass the state courts. Francisco simply replied that Glacier was certain they would lose under the NLRB.

Justice Elena Kagan offered the most obvious and the most effective way to handle Glacier v. Teamsters. Kagan argued that the NLRB has seen thousands of these cases and can fit a case like this into a broader map of strike conduct and what’s protected and what is not.”

Justice Kagan received no reply on her obvious observation, but did learn, like everyone else, that Glacier just does not want to lose and wants their money back and wants this Supreme Court to redress their grievances.

To respectfully reply to Justice Gorsuch’s doubts regarding the National Labor Relations Board, the NLRB is staffed by labor law experts to ensure that the federal law is applied equitably across the country, across all industries to safeguard every worker.

Another essential element that is not lost on the Justices’ and their ultraconservative base: union workers have always been politically active at every election. Unions inform their members, and their members inform non-union workers and their families and communities, on the absolute necessity of voting.

On the January 10th oral arguments, it was notable that four of the ultra conservative Justices, Alito, Thomas, Barrett and Kavanaugh did not voice any questions or concerns – leading observers to conclude they will absolutely vote with their ultra counterparts.

The liberal Justice Sotomayor and Brown-Jackson largely remained quiet – leading observes to conclude that they may be looking to find a “muddy middle” – an outcome that seeks to please everyone but pleases no one.

However, such utopian visions of an agreement or cnsensus with this Roberts’ Supreme Court remains misguided. The Roberts Court has demonstrated that they will bust any and every union, dismantle every right for every worker to maintain a dystopian world of corporate money taking precedence and control over any and everything.

The only ruling that makes sense is to statement of International Brotherhood of Teamsters President Sean M. O’Brien stated in a press release as the oral arguments were being heard on January 10:

 “Workers in America have the fundamental right to strike, and American workers have died on picket lines to protect it. The ability to withhold your labor is the one powerful tool throughout the history of unionization that has ensured that workers can improve their working conditions.

“This right is now on trial at the Supreme Court. The anti-worker case before the Court is undemocratic and disregards long-standing legal precedent.

“For both the American worker and our entire country, the Supreme Court must affirm the lower court’s ruling that the legality of the strike falls exclusively within the jurisdiction of the National Labor Relations Board.”

The ruling is expected in June 2023 and is most assuredly not going to comply with Teamster President O’Brien’s demand.

Instead, the public awaits this June 2023 decision to assess how extensive the damage goes towards decimating labor rights.

Nancy Snyder is the Recording Secretary Emeritus of SEIU Local 1021. She has a long history of writing about labor issues and labor history and also writes about political literature.