The merit shop construction industry won a victory on March 29 when a federal court of appeals in Georgia upheld a jury verdict that awarded Fidelity Interior Construction, Suwanee, Ga., with $1.7 million against the Carpenters’ union. The jury found that the Carpenters conducted an illegal “area standards” campaign that included bannering, picketing and handbilling at buildings where Fidelity was, had or might be working.
In the appeals court decision, Fidelity Interior Construction v. Southeastern Carpenters Regional Council, the court rejected the union’s argument that its tactics were only First Amendment “free speech.” Instead, the court found that the union campaign was designed to coerce third parties to stop doing business with Fidelity and that the actions violated the federal secondary boycott law, which is designed to protect neutral customers and other third parties from coercive union activities.
During the trial, general contractors testified that they would have hired Fidelity if it was not for the threat that their companies, and other innocent third parties, would be subjected to harassment and pressure by the union. In addition, many general contractors, property managers and tenants stopped doing business with Fidelity. According to Fidelity Owner Ray Gunter, the company shrunk from 55 to 12 employees during the campaign.
“I wanted to bring this case to set a legal precedent; not just to right a wrong against my company, but to make sure that other innocent parties would not be treated in this manner,” said Gunter.
The appeals court upheld the entire $1.7 million jury award to Fidelity, rejecting the Carpenters’ argument that the jurors were not allowed to award damages based on lost opportunities to bid.
A summary of the judgment is available here
(PDF) and the full opinion can be downloaded here
(PDF). A news release issued by Wimberly, Lawson, Steckel, Schneider & Stine, P.C., sums up the case here