A union lawyer who helped lead the litigation against Indiana’s Right to Work law has sued a leading anti-union advocacy organization, claiming the National Institute for Labor Relations Research should be made to pay for saying the lawyer “flat-out lied” while representing the labor unions opposed to the law before the Indiana Supreme Court in 2014.
On Sept. 11, Dale D. Pierson, general counsel for the Countryside-based International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150, filed a defamation complaint in Cook County Circuit Court against the Springfield-based NILRR and Stan Greer, a senior research associated with the NILRR who publishes articles on the NILRR website.
Pierson, who is representing himself in the single-count action, has asked the court to award him a combined total of at least $550,000 in actual and punitive damages.
The complaint centers on an article published by the NILRR in September 2014, just days after Pierson had argued the unions’ case before the Indiana high court.
The Indiana Supreme Court had taken on the case after a Lake County, Ind., judge had found the state’s 2012 so-called Right to Work law impermissible under the Indiana Constitution. Judge George Paras had ruled the law, which would make it illegal to force employees working in a union shop to pay fees to unions purportedly negotiating on their behalf, would force unions to represent the workers for free. That, he said, violated a clause in the Indiana Constitution barring the state from forcing anyone to provide services for free.
The Indiana Supreme Court eventually vacated that ruling in November 2014, upholding the law as constitutional.
However, two months earlier, Pierson had argued “federal law requires unions to represent fairly all employees in any given bargaining unit regardless of their membership in the union.” So, he argued, it is “not a legal possibility” that unions could negotiate solely on behalf of their members in a right to work shop. Thus, he said, by requiring unions to represent even non-dues-paying workers in the shop when negotiating with employers, the Indiana law unfairly burdens the unions.
After making his arguments before the court, the NILRR posted an article by Greer on Sept. 12, 2014, headlined “Operating Engineers Union Lawyer Flat-Out Lies to Indiana Supreme Court.” To back the claim, they pointed to a petition submitted seven years earlier to the National Labor Relations Board by attorneys representing a different union, the United Steel Workers. That petition, the article states, “acknowledged without qualification” the ability of labor unions to negotiate solely on behalf of its members in shops in which no union has been designated as the exclusive bargaining agent for workers.
Pierson acknowledged the petition had been submitted. But in his Sept. 11 defamation complaint, Pierson said the NILRR failed in the article to acknowledge the NLRB’s rejection of that petition.
Pierson said the article also mischaracterized the unions’ position, as the author failed to note the petition had been submitted “so that employees would be ‘permitted to return to the exercise of the right to begin organizing and bargaining through unions that represent their members only.’”
The NLRB denied the petition, Pierson said, because it “called for a ‘significant reinterpretation’ of the National Labor Relations Act, and necessarily a devotion of ‘substantial’ Board resources which it was not prepared to make.”
In his complaint, Pierson said the NILRR and Greer should have known of the NLRB’s rejection of the Steel Workers’ petition. And the failure to include any mention of that denial, coupled with the assertion Pierson had “lied” to the Indiana Supreme Court - a "statement of fact," and not an opinion by the author - made the article defamatory and damaging to Pierson’s professional reputation.
The case is filed under Cook County Circuit Court No. 2015L009352.