Topics: Labor Unions

Pennsylvania legislators eye ending union exception to stalker laws

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Beltway Confidential,Opinion,Sean Higgins,Labor unions,Labor,Pennsylvania,Philadelphia

Legislation that would end an unusual loophole in Pennsylvania's anti-stalking laws that exempts union-related activity is slowing making its way through the Republican-led statehouse. It has a good chance of getting enacted, aides say.

The Keystone State defines stalking as "following the person without proper authority, under circumstances which demonstrate either an intent to place such other person in reasonable fear of bodily injury or to cause substantial emotional distress to such other person." Repeated, unwanted communications count as stalking, too.

But the law also states: "This section shall not apply to conduct by a party to a labor dispute."

State Rep. Ron Miller, R-York, says it is time to scrap the exception. His bill to amend the stalking exception passed out of committee in the statehouse's lower chamber on March 13 and is awaiting action in the upper chamber. “We are now a step closer to removing a carve-out that should never have existed,” Miller said.

Gregg Warner, attorney for the State Senate's judiciary committee, told the Washington Examiner "there is interest" among Senate leaders in the legislation, but no schedule to take it up yet.

The Keystone State is one of four that have carved out exceptions for labor organizers and activists. Illinois, Nevada and California are the others.

The original idea behind the exemptions was to prevent the anti-stalking laws, which are primarily intended to protect victims of abusive relationships, from being used to shut down traditional union activities. Many, like picketing, would fall under free speech protections.

The broad nature of the exceptions though has created its own problems, though.

In November, a Philadelphia judge threw out charges of stalking, harassment and even terroristic threats by members of Ironworkers Local 401. The union was allegedly trying to intimidate businesswoman Sarina Rose for using nonunion labor. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that the union created "siege-like conditions" by following Rose, verbally assaulting her, photographing her children without consent and miming shooting her.

Municipal Judge Charles Hayden said nothing the union did was illegal under state law and said Rose would just have to put up with it. "When you walk in, as a vice president of a company, to a restaurant full of union workers, you're going to hear some things that you should have expected to hear," Hayden said, according to the Inquirer.

Ten officials from the same union were charged by federal prosecutors last month with extortion, arson and assault for activities like the ones Rose alleged. "The defendants relied on a reputation for violence and sabotage, which had been built up in the community over many years, in order to force contractors to hire union members," an indictment states.

For more on these stalking legal loopholes, see my August 2012 column, "No stalking allowed -- unless you're with the union."

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