The Utah Supreme Court has rejected as moot a Utah Transit Authority lawsuit that sought to block its supervisors from ever unionizing.
That comes after 44 TRAX supervisors voted 25-19 two years ago to reject joining the Teamsters Union — after UTA spent $74,000 (nearly $1,700 per supervisor) on a “union busting” consultant to help dissuade them.
Even after that win, UTA continued to push a lawsuit seeking a ruling that its supervisors are not allowed to unionize under the Utah Public Transit District Act. When a district court ruled that was moot because of the earlier vote against joining the union, UTA appealed directly to the Supreme Court.
“This case became moot when the supervisors voted conclusively not to unionize,” Associate Chief Supreme Court Justice Thomas Lee wrote in the unanimous opinion released earlier this month.
“UTA wants us to decide this case to avert a future case — by opining that the supervisors have no legal right to unionize,” he added. “But such a decision would run afoul of the doctrine of ripeness.”
Legal tussles over whether UTA supervisors may unionize began in 2013 when UTA changed TRAX supervisors from salaried to hourly workers. That led several to contact Teamsters Local 222 to try to unionize. (Other rank-and-file UTA transit workers are represented by the Amalgamated Transit Union.)
The Teamsters said it was able to gather “authorization cards” from a majority of supervisors, and then asked UTA to recognize it as their bargaining representative. UTA refused to do so, arguing in part that they had no right to unionize.
The union sued. The district court ruled that the supervisors had collective bargaining rights under Utah law, but ordered a “card check” to verify that the Teamsters still had a support of a majority of the supervisors.
At that point, the union was unable to procure a majority of authorization cards. It then held a secret ballot election in 2016 in another attempt to establish majority support, but lost.
The district court then issued a final ruling saying the Teamsters Union was not the bargaining representative for the supervisors. UTA continued to seek a ruling that the supervisors had no right to unionize, but courts rejected that as moot.
The Supreme Court said that “would require us to untangle a web of interconnected state and federal statues and to reconcile a range of judicial decisions interpreting them.”
It added, “The relevant controversy is not whether the supervisors have some general right to unionize; it is whether these supervisors have a right to unionize in this instance.”
The court said, “Since the supervisors have indicated their desire to remain unorganized for the time being, our decision could not affect these supervisors at this time."
Documents previously provided to The Salt Lake Tribune through an open-records request showed that UTA spent $74,000 on a “union-busting” consultant, the Labor Relations Institute, to defeat the unionizing vote.
UTA contracted to pay $3,000 a day for the consultants’ work in Utah, plus traveling expenses. It paid $375 an hour if UTA phoned consultants with questions. The company also provided videos, handouts and posters to help lobby workers.
The Tribune and the Teamsters sought documents about such spending before the vote on whether to unionize, but UTA initially refused to disclose the data.
Just before the State Records Committee was scheduled to hear the newspaper’s appeal months later, UTA released documents showing $46,700 in expenses. A month after that, the agency said it found some late-arriving invoices, and the total rose to $74,000.