A subsidiary of Pulte Homes filed a lawsuit Tuesday Dec. 1, against the Laborers' International Union of North America (LiUNA), accusing the group of committing assault, battery, theft, destruction of property, and intimidation against its employees after LiUNA members crashed a company meeting in Missouri.
For more than two years LiUNA has protested at Pulte’s meetings, campaigning to unionize Pulte’s contractors, including subsidiary Pulte Building Systems. At times the protests were aggressive, but Pulte’s Missouri subsidiary, The Jones Company, claims that protestors crossed the line into unlawfulness Oct. 19 as they verbally and physically accosted several Jones Company employees, including a pregnant woman.
LiUNA released a statement Wednesday, Dec. 2 disputing Pulte's allegations. "Not only are the allegations by Pulte false, we believe they are distractions from the real issues -- working to create a stronger housing industry that treats workers, home buyers and communities fairly."
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri, claims about 100 people wearing orange clothes with a LiUNA emblem and one dressed as a rat stormed into a hotel conference room in Chesterfield, Mo., which Pulte had rented for a private meeting with 50 Jones employees. Jones was a subsidiary of Centex Homes, which merged into Pulte last August.
The LiUNA members entered the meeting loudly chanting “shame on you” in unison and carrying signs accusing Pulte of paying low hourly wages to workers, high wages to management, and building poorly constructed houses, the lawsuit said.
Several LiUNA members are accused of accosting Pulte CEO Richard Dugas, shouting at him within inches of his face as he tried to speak during the meeting. Other protestors “surrounded various attendees, intimidating them, threatening them, shouting at them, and acting in a menacing manner,” according to lawsuit documents.
Dugas adjourned the meeting to retreat to The Jones Company’s headquarters, and as Jones Company employees tried to leave the room, the lawsuit alleges LiUNA protestors blocked the path of a visibly pregnant Jones employee, touched her stomach and shouted at her, saying she was sacrificing her child or children by working for Pulte.
A man and another woman were bumped and jostled by the LiUNA protestors, making it difficult for them to leave the room and parking lot. As this woman tried to get into her car, the lawsuit said LiUNA members shouted at her, addressing her by obscene epithets and threatening her sexually. The woman left, but found large scratches on her car later.
The next day the same woman, while working in a local sales community, was approached by a man, who called her by her first name and told her he wanted to discuss the previous day's events with her. She fled to her car and left the community.
Three of the Jones employees filed police reports with the Chesterfield, Mo., police department, detailing what they say happened to them during and after the meeting for possible criminal action.
In contrast, the lawsuit by Jones is a civil case filed in federal court. In addition to accusing the union members of assault, it also accuses them of stealing a St. Louis Albert Pujols jersey intended to be a gift to Dugas. The jersey disappeared in the fray.
There are also accusations that LiUNA violated labor law, including some provisions of the Labor-Management Relations Act of 1947. One alleged violation was of a provision that prohibits “secondary boycott” for pressuring Jones, a former Centex-owned company, that could be called a “neutral party” to LiUNA’s complaints about Pulte.
Another accusation is that LiUNA interfered with a business relationship between Jones and the hotel where the initial meeting was held. The lawsuit claims that, as a result of LiUNA members' action, the room had to be abandoned and the planned meeting’s purpose was thwarted.
Also alleged is that, by interfering with the meeting, LiUNA deprived Jones of the use of the room it had rented.
Jones is asking actual and punitive damages in the case, but does not include a total for the damages it is seeking.
Teresa Burney is a senior editor for BUILDER and BIG BUILDER magazines.
Learn more about markets featured in this article: St. Louis, MO.