The U.S. Supreme Court’s upcoming term will include review of whether the National Labor Relations Act (the “Act”) preempts state court lawsuits for property damage caused during strikes, which could have significant implications for employers and unions.

Factual Background

The case – Glacier Northwest Inc. v. International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local Union No. 174 – began over five years ago when the Union in Washington State representing the Employer’s truck drivers went on strike.  The Union timed their strike to coincide with the scheduled delivery of ready-mix concrete, and at least 16 drivers left trucks that were full of mixed concrete, forcing the Employer to rush to empty the trucks before it hardened and caused damage.  The Employer was able to do so, but incurred considerable additional expenses and, because it dumped the concrete in order to avoid truck damage, lost its product.

Employer Brings State Law Suit for Property Damage

After the incident, the Employer sued the Union under Washington State law for intentional destruction of property.  The Union argued that the suit was preempted by the Supreme Court’s decision in San Diego Building Trades Council v. Garmon, 359 U.S. 236 (1959) (“Garmon”).  In Garmon, the Supreme Court held that, although the Act does not expressly preempt state law, it impliedly preempts claims based on conduct that is “arguably or actually protected by or prohibited by the Act.”  The Supreme Court held in Garmon that conduct is “arguably protected” when it is not “plainly contrary” to the Act or has not been rejected by the courts or the National Labor Relations Board (the “Board”).

State Court Holdings

The Washington State trial court dismissed the Employer’s suit for property damage because strikes are protected by the Act.  The Washington Court of Appeals reversed, holding that intentional destruction of property during a strike was not activity protected by the Act, and thus, not preempted under Garmon.

Finally, the Washington Supreme Court reversed again, holding that the Act impliedly preempts the state law tort claim because the intentional destruction of property that occurred incidental to a work stoppage was at least arguably protected, and the Board would be better-suited to make an ultimate determination on this legal issue.

Question Before the Supreme Court

The Supreme Court will now determine whether the National Labor Relations Act bars state law tort claims against a union for intentionally destroying an employer’s property in the course of a labor dispute.

Under Garmon, the Act does not preempt suits regarding unlawful conduct that is plainly contrary to the NLRA, and the Employer argues that the strike at issue here was plainly unprotected because of the intentional destruction of property.  In other words, the conduct is not even arguably protected by the Act such that the Act would preempt – it was, rather, plainly unprotected conduct, and thus, the proper subject of a lawsuit.  The Employer also cited the “local feeling” exception to Garmon, which creates an exception to preemption where the States may have a greater interest in acting, such as in the case of property damage or violence.

The Union argued in opposition to the Employer’s certiorari petition that the Employer merely challenged the Washington Supreme Court’s conclusion that the conduct was arguably protected by the Act, and not its reasoning.  Moreover, whether or not the conduct was protected should be decided by the Board, which is better-suited to decide the matter.


Employers should gain much greater clarity into whether they can seek relief from such conduct via a damages lawsuit.  If the Court finds that such conduct is not preempted and may be litigated in state court, such a ruling could go far in protecting employers’ interests in contentious labor disputes and potentially shift the balance of power towards employers during these disputes.

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Photo of Michael Lebowich Michael Lebowich

Michael J. Lebowich is a partner in the Labor & Employment Law Department and co-head of the Labor-Management Relations Group. He represents and counsels employers on a wide range of labor and employment matters, with a particular interest in the field of traditional…

Michael J. Lebowich is a partner in the Labor & Employment Law Department and co-head of the Labor-Management Relations Group. He represents and counsels employers on a wide range of labor and employment matters, with a particular interest in the field of traditional labor law.

Michael acts as the primary spokesperson in collective bargaining negotiations, regularly handles grievance arbitrations, assists clients in the labor implications of corporate transactions, and counsels clients on union organizing issues, strike preparation and day-to-day contract administration issues. He also has significant experience in representation and unfair labor practice matters before the National Labor Relations Board.

His broad employment law experience includes handling of race, national origin, gender and other discrimination matters in state and federal court. A significant amount of his practice is devoted to counseling clients regarding the application and practical impact of the full range of employment laws that affect our clients, including all local, state and federal employment discrimination statutes, the Fair Labor Standards Act, the Family and Medical Leave Act, and state labor laws.

Michael has substantial experience in a wide variety of industries, including entertainment, broadcasting, newspaper publishing and delivery, utilities and lodging. He represents such clients as The New York Times, BuzzFeed, ABC, the New York City Ballet, PPL, Pacific Gas & Electric, Host Hotels and Resorts, and The Broadway League (and many of its theater owner and producing members).  Michael also has significant public sector experience representing, among others, the City of New York and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

Michael is a frequent guest lecturer at Columbia Business School, the Cornell School of Hotel Administration, the New York University Tisch School for Hospitality, Tourism and Sports Management, and is an advisory board member of the Cornell Institute for Hospitality Labor and Employment Relations.

Photo of Joshua Fox Joshua Fox

Joshua S. Fox is a senior counsel in the Labor & Employment Law Department and a member of the Sports, Labor-Management Relations, Class and Collective Actions and Wage and Hour Groups.

As a member of the Sports Law Group, Josh has represented several…

Joshua S. Fox is a senior counsel in the Labor & Employment Law Department and a member of the Sports, Labor-Management Relations, Class and Collective Actions and Wage and Hour Groups.

As a member of the Sports Law Group, Josh has represented several Major League Baseball Clubs in all aspects of the salary arbitration process, including the Miami Marlins, Boston Red Sox, Los Angeles Dodgers, Kansas City Royals, San Francisco Giants, Tampa Bay Rays and Toronto Blue Jays. In particular, Josh successfully represented the Miami Marlins in their case against All-Star Catcher J.T. Realmuto, which was a significant club victory in salary arbitration. Josh also represents Major League Baseball and its clubs in ongoing litigation brought by current and former minor league players who allege minimum wage and overtime violations. Josh participated on the team that successfully defended Major League Baseball in a wage-and-hour lawsuit brought by a former volunteer for the 2013 All-Star FanFest, who alleged minimum wage violations under federal and state law. The lawsuit was dismissed by the federal district court, and was affirmed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

Josh also has extensive experience representing professional sports leagues and teams in grievance arbitration proceedings, including playing a vital role in all aspects of the grievance challenging the suspension for use of performance-enhancing drugs of then-New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez. Josh also has counseled NHL Clubs and served on the trial teams for grievances alleging violations of the collective bargaining agreement, including cases involving use of performance-enhancing substances, domestic violence issues, and supplementary discipline for on-ice conduct. He has played a key role in representing professional sports leagues in all aspects of their collective bargaining negotiations with players and officials, including the Major League Baseball, National Hockey League, the National Football League, Major League Soccer, the Professional Referee Organization, and the National Basketball Association,.

In addition, Josh has extensive experience representing clients in the performing arts industry, including the New York City Ballet, New York City Opera, Big Apple Circus, among many others, in collective bargaining negotiations with performers and musicians, the administration of their collective bargaining agreements, and in grievance arbitrations.

Josh also represents a diverse range of clients, including real estate developers and contractors, pipe line contractors, hospitals, hotels, manufacturers and public employers, in collective bargaining, counseling on general employment matters and proceedings before the National Labor Relations Board, New York State Public Employment Relations Board and arbitrators.

Josh has also recently served as an adjunct professor at Cornell University’s School of Industrial Labor Relations for the past two years, teaching a course regarding Major League Baseball salary arbitration.

Prior to joining Proskauer, Josh worked for a year and a half at the National Hockey League, where he was involved in all labor and employment matters, including preparations for collective bargaining, grievance arbitration, contract drafting and reviewing and employment counseling. Josh also interned in the labor relations department of Major League Baseball and at Region 2 of the National Labor Relations Board. He was a member of the Brooklyn Law Review and the Appellate Moot Court Honor Society and served as president of the Brooklyn Entertainment and Sports Law Society.