Like lawmakers in most places, California officials have a strong position on breaking into someone’s house: they’re against it.
Or, rather, they’re against it most of the time.
According to California Penal Codes 601 and 602, anyone involved in labor union activity isn’t subject to trespassing laws that would subject everyone else to one year in jail or a $2,000 fine. The same goes for threatening people. Most people might end up jail. But if your threats are part of a labor activity… well, they might be overlooked.
California criminal law is a Swiss cheese of union exemptions. You and I might get sent to jail for the crime of threatening a professor, for instance – that’s covered by the “Researcher Protection Act.” But the RPA “shall not apply to any person who is lawfully
engaged in labor union activities that are protected under state or federal law.” Suddenly, what’s lawful seems awful.
California is not unique in exempting labor activists from the laws that apply to everyone else.
In 2010, in Rockville, Maryland, several busloads of union members swarmed on a Bank of America executive’s house. He wasn’t there, but his son was. Terrified, the teenager barricaded himself in a bathroom. When the father arrived, he was jeered at and taunted by protesters as he went to extricate his son from their own home. Amazingly, these union members reportedly had a police escort to the home, and even as neighbors demanded action from the police, they were afraid to make arrests due to the potential of inciting the crowd, roughly 500 strong.
All of that was in “Sabotage, Stalking, & Stealth Exemptions: Special State Laws For Labor Unions,” a five-year-old U.S. Chamber of Commerce study. But in California, at least, these laws are still on the books.
One observer says these are mostly vestiges of the power unions once had in California – still on the books but unlikely invoked. And they do nothing to stop victims from suing alleged perpetrators in civil court.
“Something may be precluded from liability under criminal law, but still suffice as a tort under civil law,” said Vince Finaldi, an attorney with Irvine-based Manly, Stewart & Finaldi. “The labor unions were once all mighty and powerful. Through the years that has dwindled, as their necessity has become less important. “
These exemptions may not hold the same weight that they used to, but the scary lesson remains: in California, where government labor unions still wield tremendous political influence, some perpetrators are more equal than others.
Edmund Pine is a winter journalism fellow at the California Policy Center and a 2016 graduate of the University of New Orleans.