The US Supreme Court just agreed to hear a case asking just how much international unions will be allowed to meddle in the affairs of their local affiliates. In Granite Rock v. Teamsters, the employer sued the International Brotherhood of Teamsters in federal court claiming that the International interfered with the relationship between the employer and the Local Teamsters union.
In Granite, the employer and the Local had reached a tentative new agreement which contained a no-strike clause. The employer alleged that the Local ratified the agreement and then engaged in a strike. Apparently a high ranking official of the International was the motivating force behind the strike. The 9th Circuit held that the employer could not sue the International because the agreement was between the employer and the Local, and did not involve the International. The Supreme Court granted cert and will hear the case, perhaps recognizing that international unions are often working behind the scenes with their local unions.
The Court will probably not hear the case until the 2010 session, and it could be some time before an opinion is issued. It is not uncommon for employers to have good relationships with local unions. Sometimes those relationships are strained through pressure from out-of-town international union officials. Currently, international unions are somewhat insulated from liability for meddling in negotiations and other ongoing business relationships between local unions and employers. Ultimately, this decision could open a new legal avenue for employers to hold international unions accountable for their actions.