New Georgia Bill Includes $10,000 Fine, Felony for "Conspiracy" for Picketing, Protest

 The growing trend of legislators in Southern states that already have low union density and so-called "right-to-work" laws on the books proposing harsher anti-union laws has now spread to Georgia. 

In a move that could impact non-labor groups engaged in direct action, picketing, or protest, Georgia's Senate Bill 469 includes felony penalties for "criminal trespass" and, unbelievably, "conspiracy to commit criminal trespass"--the punishment being a $10,000 fine or a year in jail, or possibly both. That this is specifically included in a bill that cracks down on organizations' right to picket outside a workplace or company seems to indicate that a union or other group engaged in picketing could be charged with a crime for the activity of one member who crosses the line. 

And in the bill, the line is pretty nebulous. The bill has this to say about what would constitute "unlawful" picketing:  

It shall be unlawful for any person to engage in mass picketing at or near any place,  including private residences, where a labor dispute exists in such number or manner as to  obstruct or interfere with or constitute a threat to obstruct or interfere with the entrance to  or egress from any place of employment or the free and uninterrupted use of public roads,  streets, highways, railroads, airports, or other ways of travel, transportation, or conveyance. 

What's that mean? "Constitute a threat to obstruct or interfere with" could be interpreted pretty broadly, and leaves a lot of discretion up to police on the scene--or to business owners, who could have picketers removed by claiming they presented a "threat." But that's not all: 

A person, or organization that he or she is affiliated with or acting on behalf of, commits an offense when he or she engages in targeted picketing of a private residence that has or intends the effect of interfering with the resident's right to quiet enjoyment, or when such targeted picketing has or intends the effect of violence or intimidation.

I wasn't aware that one's right to "quiet enjoyment" trumps the First Amendment. These provisions would seem to target, in addition to labor unions, movements like Occupy that have engaged in actions both at businesses and at private residences. 

Along with the attacks on unions and other protest groups' right to peaceably assemble, the bill also includes a slew of provisions to make it clear that the already right-to-work-for-less state isn't going to make it easy for workers to join unions. "Right-to-work" already makes sure that workers don't have to even pay their share of the costs of representation, despite requiring the union to bargain for all employees in a union shop. The new bill would reiterate this, and require private employers to post notices in the workplace reminding workers that they have the "right" not to join the union. (In other words, it mandates anti-union information being posted in the workplace; management will no doubt be happy to comply.)

It also requires workers to certify in writing every year that yes, they really do want their boss to deduct their union representation fees and dues from their paycheck. 

Eric Robertson, Georgia Teamsters Local 728 Political Director, told AlterNet, "This bill is obviously a an attack on working people and anyone who believes in organizing for justice. It undermines civil liberties, and clearly is designed to cripple working peoples' ability to organize and build organizationations to improve their working conditions. Labor, civil rights and community organizations, and our allies are going to have to play hardball to beat this bill." 

Thanks to @JimNichols and @erictheteamster via Twitter for bringing this to our attention. 

AlterNet / By Sarah Jaffe

Posted at February 23, 2012, 1:26am

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