Top court ruling upholds free speech, union lawyer says

By Peter H. Milliken


The Ohio Supreme Court delivered a major victory for labor unions when it ruled in a Mahoning County case.

The court ruled that a state law requiring a union to give a public employer and the State Employment Relations Board 10 days’ advance notice of strike picketing does not apply to informational picketing.

The case arose from a unanimous June 2012 decision by a three-judge panel of the Youngstown-based 7th District Court of Appeals that a 10-day notice requirement for informational picketing violates free-speech rights guaranteed by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The case stems from peaceful informational picketing without 10 days’ advance notice by the Mahoning Education Association of Developmental Disabilities outside a Nov. 5, 2007, Mahoning County Board of Developmental Disabilities meeting in Austintown while the union and the board negotiated a new contract.

MEADD represents teaching and nonteaching employees of the board.

“This is a very significant decision,” Ira Mirkin, a Youngstown lawyer who represents MEADD, said of Wednesday’s ruling. Unionized Ohio public employees can now “exercise their right to free speech on the same basis as anyone else who wants to speak out,” he added.

“Union employees can now speak out through picketing on labor matters without having to provide a 10-day notice, which can have a significant chilling effect on the immediacy of their message,” Mirkin explained.

Although the 7th District Court decision addressed the constitutional issue, the Ohio Supreme Court decision is based solely on the top court’s interpretation of the state law.

Justice Sharon L. Kennedy wrote that the state law applies to picketing related to a work stoppage, but not to the informational picketing that occurred in this case. Four other justices concurred in her opinion.

In a separate opinion, Justice Judith Ann Lanzinger wrote that she concurred in the judgment, but thought the state’s top court should have addressed the constitutional issues. Lanzinger was joined by Justice William O’Neill.

Christopher Sammarone, a Youngstown lawyer for the Mahoning County Board of Developmental Disabilities, said the decision is “going to have a widespread impact throughout the state.”

Sammarone added that the developmental disabilities board hasn’t decided whether to ask the Ohio Supreme Court to reconsider its ruling.

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