A Prince George's County judge has invalidated a Maryland law that bars people not directly involved in labor negotiations from helping employers line up replacement workers in case of a strike, ruling that federal labor law bars the state from interfering with employers' right to use strikebreakers.
The ruling by Circuit Court Judge Steven I. Platt dismissed a suit by the Professional Staff Nurses Association, a union representing 700 registered nurses at four Prince George's facilities owned by Dimensions Health Corp., to collect damages from Favorite Nurses Inc. and four other temporary help agencies that offered to provide nurses if the union had carried out a threatened strike in April.
The union claimed that the temp agencies violated Maryland law barring "a person who is not directly interested in a strike" from recruiting replacement workers, and that the agencies illegally interfered with the union's business relationship with Dimensions.
Judge Platt said federal labor law lists practices employers are -- barred from using, and hiring replacements is not on the list. As the U.S. Supreme Court has done in the past, he said that meant Congress decided employers should have the "economic weapon" of hiring replacements to offset unions' right to call strikes. He said the employers' right also covered the temporary help agencies.
"Congress' intent that certain economic self-help measures not be regulated encompasses . . . Dimensions hiring replacement nurses from temporary nursing service agencies," Judge Platt wrote in his 26-page order Tuesday. "The Maryland Strikebreakers Statute regulates a peaceful form of economic self-help that is not prohibited by the National Labor Relations Act and cannot be the subject of either regulation or prohibitions by the state because the field is clearly occupied by the NLRA."
Under the Constitution's supremacy clause, a state law that contradicts a federal statute on the same issue is invalid. The Maryland strikebreaker law had never been challenged, but Judge Platt relied heavily on a 1989 ruling by a federal court overturning a similar Rhode Island law.
Stephen Shawe, a Baltimore lawyer representing both Favorite and Dimensions, applauded the ruling. "The court said the real party in interest here is the employer. It's their service to patients that is being affected," he said.
Union attorney Marley Weiss could not be reached for comment. Her secretary said she is on vacation.