United Steel Workers claim court order violates assembly rights

Friday, August 21, 1998

A union and a mining company are at odds over what strikers can and can't do on the picket line.

U.S. District Court Judge Thomas A. Wiseman Jr. will hear arguments Monday on the constitutionality of a state court order regulating workers' pickets of a zinc-mining company in Carthage, Tenn.

Members of the United Steel Workers of America Local 8413 are challenging a Smith County Chancery Court judge's temporary restraining order that limits union pickets to the front of one of the company's mining entrances and instructs the workers to not “annoy” their employer.

According to the order, issued Aug. 7, demonstrators are prohibited from “interfering with, hindering, threatening, intimidating, harassing or annoying in any manner [Savage Zinc's] officers, agents, employees or other persons having business with” the company.

The workers are barred from “blocking or obstructing in any manner whatsoever any of the driveways, gateways, public streets or other entrances leading to” the company.

The company requested the injunction and received it ex parte, meaning without a hearing. The complaint seeking the injunction accuses the workers of vandalism, abusive and obscene language and spreading nails and spikes across company entrances “which have punctured many, many tires of motor vehicles entering the property.”

These unlawful acts, company officials say, run contrary to “legitimate purposes of picketing.”

Union attorney George Barrett said that the injunction was an abuse of the judicial process by the company.

“People ought to be able to advertise the existence of a labor dispute,” Barrett said. As for the annoyance regulation, “every strike is an annoyance; people refusing to go to work is annoying for the employer. These requirements make the injunction unusual and we hope to remove it.”

The restrictions deprive the defendants in Savage Zinc v. United Steel Workers of America Local 8413 “of their right to free speech [and] their right to assembly,” Barrett wrote in the union's lawsuit.

Marcus Crider, an attorney representing Savage Zinc, said that he would not discuss pending litigation with the media. Company officials referred media inquiries to Crider.

The strike against Savage Zinc began with an employee walkout on Aug. 2. The company has three mining operations in Smith County.