Earlier this week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit held labor union UNITE HERE liable under the federal Driver’s Privacy Protection Act (DPPA) for accessing the motor vehicle records of Cintas Corp. employees to find their home addresses.  The decision is available here:  Pichler v. UNITE

As part of a 2002 organizing drive, union organizers recorded the license plate numbers on employees’ cars in Cintas parking lots, then sought the names and addresses of the vehicle owners, using an online database, private investigators, or information brokers.  Cintas employees sued the union as part of a class action alleging that the union’s activities violated the DPPA, and the Third Circuit agreed. 

The court rejected the union’s argument that its activity was allowed under DPPA exceptions for "activity related to litigation or law enforcement," stating that the union attempted to conceal its "clear labor-organizing purpose" for obtaining the vehicle records.  The court also held that the union could be liable for punitive damages.

This decision may have far-reaching implications for unions and their conduct of organizing campaigns.  Unions will often go to great lengths to obtain employees’ home addresses so that union organizers can make home visits to employees (usually during prime time television) for the purposes of obtaining signatures on authorization cards or petitions.  This decision takes away one common means of obtaining such information.