Maryland law on walkouts is voided Court rules state cannot bar firms from using strikebreakers

June 04, 1996|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

A state appeals court declared unconstitutional yesterday a Maryland statute that prevents employers from using strikebreakers, ruling that such labor laws are the domain of federal regulators.

The Court of Special Appeals ruled that the 66-year-old National Labor Relations Act pre-empts a state law that blocked use of temporary agencies to hire replacement workers during a strike.

The court's decision affirmed a July 25 ruling by Prince George's County Circuit Judge Steven I. Platt to dismiss a suit by the Professional Staff Nurses Association.

The union, representing 700 registered nurses at four Prince George's medical facilities owned by Dimensions Health Corp., sued Favorite Nurses Inc. and four other temporary employment agencies that offered to provide nurses if the union had carried out a threatened strike in April 1995.

The union alleged that the temp agencies violated the state anti-strikebreaking law, which barred "a person who is not directly interested in a strike" from recruiting replacement workers.

But Platt wrote in his 26-page decision that such matters "cannot be the subject of either regulation or prohibitions by the state because the field is clearly occupied by the NLRA."

The appeals court unanimously affirmed Platt, ruling that the 40-year-old Maryland law violates the U.S. Constitution's supremacy clause.

"Federal pre-emption of state law is rooted in the principles enunciated by the Founding Fathers," Judge James R. Eyler wrote in the 33-page opinion.

The Maryland strikebreaker law had never been challenged, but a similar Rhode Island law was overturned by a federal court in 1989, according to court records.

Earle K. Shawe, a Baltimore lawyer whose firm represented Favorite and Dimensions, said the ruling ensures that employers have the right to hire replacements in the face of labor unrest.

"It means the state law that attempted to prevent employers from hiring replacement workers is just plain unconstitutional," Shawe said.

Pub Date: 6/04/96

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