The US Supreme Court is scheduled hand down a decision in April that may severely curtail labor unions’ most important weapon – the right to strike. The unions are nervously sitting on edge for the outcome of the case, which was argued before the court on January 10.

The case involves Glacier Northwest, Inc., a Washington State-based company that supplies mixed concrete to construction projects. In the face of delays by the company in negotiating a new contract in 2017, drivers represented by Local 174 of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters went out on strike. Although they took care not to destroy the mixed concrete in their trucks by returning the trucks to company property and keeping them running, much of the cement hardened and became unusable.

The company sued the union for damages to its property. Labor law in cases like this has held that it could only apply if there was willful destruction of property. And the law also provides that complaints like this are handled by the National Labor Relations Board, Acting under the law, the Washington State Supreme Court dismissed the case because it falls under the purview of the NLRB, which later sided with the union. Glacier Northwest has appealed the case to the US Supreme Court, arguing that federal law does not cover cases like this.

Unions are very worried for a number of reasons. A strike, any strike, is meant to put economic pressure on employers. That’s the purpose of a strike. If a union can be sued for economic losses by a company when it strikes, it severely limits the union’s right to strike and sharply reduces its bargaining power. “Who’s going to go on strike when you know that if your strike is successful, you’ll be sued?” observed one labor analyst.

A relevant concern is the current ultra-right makeup of the Supreme Court, which has decided for companies over unions and workers in most cases involving labor disputes.

Following arguments at the Supreme Court on January 10, Teamster President Sean O’Brien declared: “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 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. It is about corporations using the legal system to try to deny workers their inherent power. Regardless of the outcome, Corporate America will fail in such pursuits because American workers will never be broken.

“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 right of workers to strike must be preserved and protected.”

Politico, 1/9, Teamsters Union website, 1/10