A California court just made the nearly impossible – enjoining a union from peacefully picketing on private property – a little easier. An appellate court determined that Ralphs Grocery Store was entitled to injunctive relief against a union that was peacefully protesting on its property and held that the Moscone Act (Cal. Code Civ. Proc. §527.3) and Labor Code §1138.1 were unconstitutional. The case is Ralphs Grocery Store v. UFCW, Case No. C060413 (186 Cal.App.4th 1078 (July 19, 2010)).

Ralphs and the union were engaged in a labor dispute over the union’s inability to organize the workers at a particular Ralph’s store. The union deterred customers, maintained a picket line and passed out flyers in front of the store. Ralphs requested that the protesters relocate off the company’s property. When the union refused, Ralphs filed a complaint alleging trespass and seeking injunctive relief.

The appellate court declined to extend Robins v. Pruneyard Shopping Center (1979) 23 Cal.3d 899, which held that speech in a privately owned shopping center was protected because the shopping center was a public forum. The court in Ralphs determined that the grocery store was not a public forum because it lacked outdoor seating, restaurants or any other sign that it was a public meeting space, and allowed Ralphs to restrict speech on its property. Additionally, the court determined that the Moscone Act, which prevents courts from issuing injunctions against labor unions that are picketing peacefully, and Labor Code §1138.1, which places additional procedural burdens upon parties seeking an injunction against a labor union, were unconstitutional because they unjustifiably favor speech related to labor disputes over other speech and force private employers to provide a free speech forum with which the employer may disagree.

For now, employers are better able to protect their private property from the disruption of a union protest. Unions may no longer rely on the Moscone Act or Labor Code §1138.1 to bar employers from obtaining an injunction against a union protest. But don’t think the union is going down without a fight. A petition for review has already been filed with the California Supreme Court. If the Supreme Court grants review, this Ralphs case will no longer be citable law.