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Court Rules Unions May Protest at Shopping Malls

The Union-Tribune Publishing Co. was facing heat from its union employees back in the fall of 1998. Workers were alleging that the company, which owns the San Diego Union-Tribune, treated them unfairly, and the union staged a large-scale publicity campaign to raise awareness about their plight.

As part of the campaign, 30 to 40 union members descended upon Fashion Valley Mall, a San Diego
shopping center. Their plan was to distribute leaflets to customers entering and leaving the Robinsons-May department store. The leaflets informed shoppers that Robinsons-May advertised in the paper and listed grievances the employees had against the publishing company.

Fashion Valley takes the Pruneyard precedent and tips it even more in favor of public protestors. With Fashion Valley the court had to weigh the compelling interests of the property owners and those of the union members. For the property owners, the interest was obviously to maximize profits. For the unions, the interest was in exercising their rights of free speech under California law.

"As a mall property owner in California, you can still levy restrictions, such as barring protestors from convening on certain blackout dates, limiting the size of picket signs and banning bullhorns," Lotito says. "But if groups want to hand out fliers that say, 'Don't shop at ABC retailer,' despite the fact that [the retailer is] paying the mall owner rent, then they can go for it."

Technology Editor

Keith Ecker

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