9 months ago

NY Courts are not the proper venue for political arguments

By Jonathan Wood Attorney

Today, PLF filed an amicus brief in New York supporting the New York Farm Bureau’s defense against a transparently political lawsuit. In the case, several union groups are asking the court to declare the limitations of the New York State Labor Relations Act unconstitutional.

New York’s labor law broadly encourages unionization. But, to avoid the negative effects on sensitive industries, it exempts certain types of workers from its scope. And for nearly 90 years, that’s been the law in New York.

But now union groups are claiming that the New York Constitution’s guarantee that “employees shall have the right to organize and to bargain collectively,” which has peacefully coexisted with the statute since 1938, actually voids its limitations. However, a review of the record of New York’s 1938 Constitutional Convention shows that there is no conflict between the two.

As PLF’s amicus brief explains, the provision uses the term “employees” precisely because it’s defined in the statute. The constitutional provision’s proponent Mr. Gootrad, when asked about the meaning of employees, explained “the term ’employees’ . . . is now defined by the [State Labor Relations Act].”

Unfortunately, this case looks transparently political. As our brief explains:

This case is nothing more than an end-run around the political process. Plaintiffs should direct their concerns to the Legislature. It, and not the courts, is in the best position to decide whether and how to promote unionization among farm laborers while minimizing adverse impacts to farms, especially small family farms.

The Legislature has considered several proposals to eliminate some of the statute’s limitations, but has not yet reached an agreeable compromise. Rather than waiting for the political process to play out, the plaintiffs are seeking to have their way imposed by the courts.

The political nature of the lawsuit is made even worse by the fact that the Governor is not defending the law even though, as PLF’s brief explains, there are good grounds for doing so. The very day after the case was filed, the Governor publicly announced that he agreed the law is unconstitutional. Such a quick turnaround suggests either that there was an agreement not to defend before the lawsuit was filed or the Governor chose not to defend for political reasons rather than allowing the case to be studied by the state’s lawyers.

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