Proposed Georgia Law Makes Picketing Illegal, Sit Downs a Felony

Image: Mike HallSome Georgia lawmakers want to make legitimate union picketing and other common protest activities felonies that not only could result in one-year jail terms but up to $10,000 in fines.

The bill, SB 469, would clamp down on free speech and workers’ rights in several ways. First, it would outlaw picketing outside the home of a CEO or other top company officials, such as rallying outside the home of a sweatshop owner.

It also would allow businesses to ask a judge to halt the protests outside of a business. If the judge orders a halt and the picketing continues, the union members or protestors from other groups could each be slapped with a $1,000 fine.

In addition, any union or organization which “continues to sponsor or assist in the prohibited activity” would be subject to $10,000 fine. Businesses which think they suffered damage from the picketing could ask for a cut of that cash.

If for example, if protestors staged a sit-in, such as union and Occupy Atlanta demonstrators protestors did recently at a downtown AT&T building to protest the elimination of 700 jobs, they not only could be charged with criminal trespass, a misdemeanor, but with conspiracy to commit criminal trespass–a felony that carries a one-year jail term and $10,000 fine.

Ben Speight, organizing director of Teamsters Local 728 in Atlanta, told Thomas Wheatley at the blog Creative Loafing:

It’s one thing to violate our constitutional rights. It’s another thing to so blatantly violate our human rights… Every single thing that [Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.] was arrested for involved actions that were peaceful civil disobedience, including criminal trespass. This will take us back 80 years to the point where there were no legal unions and where working people and poor folks had no organized voice to express themselves in the political and social arena.

Read more here.

This blog originally appeared in AFL-CIO Now blog on February 29, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Mike Hall– “I’m a former West Virginia newspaper reporter, staff writer for the United Mine Workers Journal and managing editor of the Seafarers Log. I came to the AFL- CIO in 1989 and have written for several federation publications, focusing on legislation and politics, especially grassroots mobilization and workplace safety. When my collar was still blue, I carried union cards from the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers, American Flint Glass Workers and Teamsters for jobs in a chemical plant, a mining equipment manufacturing plant and a warehouse. I’ve also worked as roadie for a small-time country-rock band, sold my blood plasma and played an occasional game of poker to help pay the rent. You may have seen me at one of several hundred Grateful Dead shows. I was the one with longhair and the tie-dye. Still have the shirts, lost the hair.”

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Madeline Messa

Madeline Messa is a 3L at Syracuse University College of Law. She graduated from Penn State with a degree in journalism. With her legal research and writing for Workplace Fairness, she strives to equip people with the information they need to be their own best advocate.