How Security Should Handle Pickets and Strikes

9 things a business should do - and 6 things you absolutely can't do - to help ensure a strike or picket remains peaceful. Excerpted from the new book The Security Manager's Guide to Disasters.

Picketing Issues

Other than a strike and picket action by a group of employees against an employer to gain some wage increase or to gain or retain some benefit, we must consider that other demonstrations may take place that could affect a business enterprise.

Groups or crowds that may assemble to demonstrate or to picket a company because of some business practice that they feel offends them or others should be handled in the same way as a strike incident. An example of such activity could include issues such as offensive hiring practices, sexual or age discrimination or harassment practices, animal rights (retail stores that sell furs or animal products), or conduct considered abhorrent to certain religious groups (e.g., abortion clinics). If management cannot resolve the situation, the police should be requested. If the occurrence causes a business disruption or if their presence is illegal, picketers can be removed. Caution and discretion in tactics must be considered if the company hopes to avoid bad press and publicity.

Under various federal laws and sanctions, when a labor violation does in fact occur, a business may seek monetary damages, criminal sanctions, injunctive relief (judgment of unfair labor practices), and disciplinary actions against individuals or the union as a group.

However, concerning a demonstration other than a labor issue, a citizen has the right to peaceful assembly under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. This amendment protects the right to picket, no matter whether the purpose is a labor dispute, civil rights, or other demonstrations. Generally, picketing is protected when it is for a lawful purpose, conducted in an orderly manner, and publicizes a grievance of some kind.

The following are the generally accepted rules that control and regulate walkouts and strike actions throughout the country.

The Right to Picket

  1. Pickets (strikers) have the right to picket, demonstrate, and hold meetings as long as such activity does not violate local, state, or federal law.
  2. Pickets need not be employees of the company. They may be other union members acting in sympathy with the striking union, or friends and family members of the strikers. However, they are subject to the same restrictionsand laws governing the striking union members.
  3. Pickets have the right to picket as long as it does not cause a disruption of any of the functions or objectives of the business; they may not interfere with business operations.
  4. Picketing is legal as long as it does not limit or deny access of employees, customers, visitors, vehicles, deliveries, etc., to the business and any of its components. Blocking anyone or any vehicle from entering or leaving the business property, physically or by threatening behavior, is illegal. Strikers causing damage to any vehicle crossing the picket line while attempting to enter the property of the facility commit the crime of criminal mischief, reckless or criminal damage to property, or criminal tampering with intent to cause damage or substantial inconvenience. In addition, strikers causing harm to other employees or persons wishing to enter the striking premises may commit the crime of assault. If an implement is used and causes damage or injury, the criminal charge will be elevated to a higher degree. Check the local or state laws that apply to your employer for the correct statute warranted.
  5. Pickets may act as individuals, but not in the name of the employer or any of its component parts.
  6. Handout literature may be given out by pickets to passersby, but cannot be forced upon them.
  7. Any picketing activity must be peaceful. Pickets may not jeopardize safety or the preservation of order.
  8. Pickets cannot apply secondary pressure or boycotts against neutral or secondary employers or businesses.
  9. The police have the authority to impose conditions and the number of pickets where they believe large groups of people are likely to cause disruptive or criminal acts.

Accepted Business Practices for Handling Picketing Events

What a Business Should Do

The administrators and/or management of a business enterprise may wish to engage in all or some of the following actions:

  1. Upon determining that there will be some type of picketing movement against the company for any reason, company management should notify the local police precinct. The police will determine whether permits are required for assembly and/or picketing, control the size of the picket action, and regulate their conduct according to law.
  2. Where picketing may be spontaneous or lack direction or organization, management may wish to inquire of the demonstrators or pickets the reason or issues for such activity against the company. If the activity cannot be resolved, the police should be called upon to examine, control, or disperse the group.
  3. Depending on the number of pickets and their demeanor, police officers may or may not be permanently assigned to the demonstration. If the picketing is of a minor nature, the regular radio motor patrol car on post will give intensive patrol to the scene. Company security personnel should monitor the demonstration closely and request police assistance as may be required.

    If the picket line is large or must be closely supervised, police officers will be assigned to fixed posts at the picketing location.
  4. Corporate management or security agents (this would include private investigators and security officers) may videotape any picketing action for the purpose of identifying any violent or unlawful act by individuals or groups (strike leaders, organizers, or strikers). Videotaping for any other reason cannot be justified and may be illegal. Check with local civil authorities.
  5. Corporate management or agents may use undercover operatives or employee loyalists for the purpose of advising the business owner of any criminal acts that have occurred, that may occur, or any actions that might affect the business enterprise.
  6. Corporate management may wish to proclaim a trespass advisement. Once the pickets or the organizer of the picketing action are advised and notified by business management that the picketing group, acting individually or in concert, is not to enter upon the property of the business for any reason, such intruder may be arrested for trespassing by company security personnel and turned over to the police for adjudication. Proper notification and documentation of the trespassing warning should be compiled for future reference and/or court action.
  7. Management should advise company personnel who are not involved in the protest to avoid openly commiserating, interfering, agitating, or in any way becoming involved with demonstrators or pickets.
  8. Company security personnel must be made aware of the precautions and actions noted herein; specifically, they must be able to distinguish between those actions they must avoid and those they may react to within the law and the parameters the company may authorize.
  9. Most importantly, consider that whatever the size and reason for the picketing action, the media will surely be advised, and may respond to observe the strike and the participants. Company management should be ready to respond to any questioning by the media. This will include a prepared statement ready for distribution.

What a Business Can Do

Regarding any violation by the pickets or the organizers of the picketing action that affects the business operation, causes adverse publicity, or has an effect on the goodwill of the corporation, management may seek an injunction in court requiring picketers to cease and desist. Videotapes and personal observations reduced to sworn statements may be required to bolster the initiation of any criminal or civil litigation.

  1. Picketing may be limited to one site (e.g., the main entrance to the business).
  2. Pickets do not have the right to picket on the business property. They should be removed to public property or public right-of-way (sidewalk, curb, street).
  3. Physical obstruction, creation of a blockade, or interference with another persons rights is unlawful, whatever the protest.
  4. Pickets may not block access to the business facility, its parking fields, or its property. They may not obstruct a sidewalk, driveway, parking field, or any right-of-way from use by anyone who desires to drive, walk, or in any way enter the business picketed.
  5. If the number of people on the picket line appears to be excessive (mass picketing), and intimidating to people attempting to cross the line to work, deliver goods, or conduct business in any way, such action may not be considered as an attempt at peaceful persuasion, but may be considered a breach of the peace.
  6. Picketers autos in the company parking lot or field may be towed off premises. The business may reserve the right to park vehicles to employees, customers, visitors, and other persons who wish to conduct legitimate business.
  7. Pickets may not demonstrate within a private business facility. This includes parking fields and areas owned or leased by the company.
  8. Pickets may not picket on an adjacent business property without the permission of that business or landowner.
  9. Pickets may not cause a disturbance or commit a disorderly act, individually or in concert. This includes loud and abusive language, obscene or foul language, offensive gestures, threats, and shoving, pushing, or fighting among themselves or others.
  10. Any malicious damage to vehicles or to personal or corporate property upon entering or leaving or while on the business property must be addressed immediately with corporate and police response against the violators.
  11. Trash bins or baskets may be located at staff entrances or public entrances for the purpose of discarding or disposing of handbills or handout material from the demonstrators to employees, passersby, or visitors. Disposal must be voluntary by the individual.
  12. Company personnel may remove any unauthorized postings or signage concerning the demonstration in question that are in or on the business property.

What a Business Cannot Do

An owner, administrator, or manager of a business, including its agents and employees, is restrained from certain conduct that may arise or take place regarding union activities and strikes.

  1. An employer cannot (a) threaten or coerce an employee from engaging in union activities or (b) threaten to close the facility if a union comes in.
  2. An employer cannot deny an employee the right to vote for union representation.
  3. An employer cannot spy on union activities. This includes company informants paid for such actions or outside contractual agents (private investigators).
  4. An employer cannot ask an employee about his or her union activities or attitudes.
  5. An employer cannot fire, transfer, or demote in retaliation for union activities.
  6. The corporate management and its agents may not interfere in any way with the picketing action, other than by lawful means (seeking a court order) or entering into some communication, interaction, and agreement in an effort to end the demonstration.

Conclusion

People have a right to protest, but such right is not unlimited. If union members wish to picket, the picketing must be lawful. In an effort to control any action that may get out of hand, the police or local governing authority may set reasonable restrictions, including the time, place, and size of the picketing group.

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