Every state has made stalking a crime. These laws help protect people who might otherwise live in fear. Yet labor unions have successfully, and disconcertingly, lobbied to be exempt from anti-stalking laws in at least four states – California, Pennsylvania, Illinois and Nevada.
“The most glaring examples of union favoritism under state laws,” notes a 2012 U.S. Chamber of Commerce report, “tend to occur in criminal statutes and allow individuals who engage in truly objectionable behavior to avoid prosecution solely because they are participating in some form of labor activity.”
Pennsylvania unions now enjoy a loophole that the state’s anti-stalking law “shall not apply to conduct by a party to a labor dispute.” In Illinois, anti-stalking laws exempt “any controversy concerning wages, salaries, hours, working conditions or benefits … the making of collective bargaining agreements.”
Curious about the extent of these exemptions, I looked up California’s anti-stalking law, section 646.9 in the state’s penal code. Here’s how the act of stalking is described by the law:
Any person who willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly follows or willfully and maliciously harasses another person and who makes a credible threat with the intent to place that person in reasonable fear for his or her safety, or the safety of his or her immediate family is guilty of the crime of stalking, punishable by imprisonment in a county jail for not more than one year, or by a fine of not more than one thousand dollars ($1,000), or by both that fine and imprisonment, or by imprisonment in the state prison.
The law goes on to define “harassment” and “credible threat,” as these statutes tend to do, and calls for further penalties for repeated violations and enhanced punishment if the victim had already gotten a restraining order against the stalker. Then we get down to section (i):
This section shall not apply to conduct that occurs during labor picketing.
That is the entire section. There are no additional components to the law to try to separate the concept of protected protest speech from threats. In California, it is absolutely legal to threaten people with harm if you are engaged in in labor picketing.
Norquist and Gleason note the consequences:
The negative effects were clear in 2008, when United Food and Commercial Workers Union members picketed a new Ralph’s grocery store in Fresno. They went beyond traditional picketing, harassing customers and instigating confrontations with employees on store property. When store workers finally called the police, authorities refused to come and put a stop to the union’s disruptive behavior.
With the nation’s highest income and sales tax rates, in addition to many costly regulations, California is already one of the most difficult places to do business. Its exemptions permitting such behavior on the part of unions – which would be considered criminal for you or me – makes the state an even more inhospitable place to do business.