Secondary Boycotts

On February 28, 2023, Congressional Democrats reintroduced the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act (H.R. 20S. 567). The bill is composed of dozens of provisions that radically rewrite current labor laws. One of the most egregious provisions would rescind all restrictions on secondary boycotts that currently make it unlawful for unions to impose economic injury on neutral third parties that are not involved in an underlying labor dispute, such as consumers, companies or other unions that do business with the company involved in the labor dispute.

Prior to 1947, the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) contained no discussion of or reference to secondary boycotts. In that period, unions frequently targeted neutral businesses and consumers as a means of advancing bargaining goals with a direct employer. In response, Congress was forced to pass numerous laws amending the NLRA to halt unions’ coercive and unfair practices – practices President Eisenhower called “blackmail picketing.” Despite these restrictions, however, unions continued engaging in secondary boycotts, impacting commerce and the general public.

Today, the NLRA provides statutory recourse for neutral employers harmed by illicit secondary boycotts, but secondary boycotts have persisted. In recent years, examples of unions illegally participating in secondary boycotts continue to head to federal courts:

  • In a dispute with a small contractor, a construction union picketed several job sites where the contractor was working under general contractors as part of larger projects, including a hospital where the union dispatched approximately 130 individuals who confronted patients and visitors entering the facility.
  • A longshore union directed secondary boycotting at a contractor operating at the port. Their tactics included harassment and threats of bodily harm to the contractor’s employees, destruction of property, including tearing down gates and harming rail cars, blocking rail lines to impede deliveries, dropping a manure-filled trash bag from an aircraft, and placing feces-filled plastic bags outside the contractor’s administrative offices.
  • During a labor dispute with a hotel, a service union targeted neutral organizations that planned to reserve blocks of hotel rooms. The union made coercive phone calls to them, threatened to disrupt their events, and invaded their property in an attempt at eliminating their patronage from the target hotel.

Despite the harm that secondary boycotts cause for neutral employers, workers, and consumers alike, House Democrats in recent years have pushed legislation that would enable unions to conduct such disruptive behavior. The PRO Act, if enacted, would strip neutral employers of the vital recourse they need to protect their businesses and allow unions to use coercive and intimidating tactics to obstruct commerce.

In a time of critical economic recovery, it is inexplicable that lawmakers and labor leaders seek to pass legislation like the PRO Act, which will only enhance unions’ ability to inflict economic pain on those uninvolved in labor disputes. CDW will continue to fight against the PRO Act’s harmful provisions that would strip away NLRA protections for employers and allow unions to participate in secondary boycotts.