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Date: 03-26-1999

Case Style: Alaska Utility Construction Inc. v. International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 1547

Case Number: S-8207,S-8247

Judge: Brian C. Shortell

Court: Superior Court, Third Judicial District, Anchorage, Alaska

Plaintiff's Attorney: Thomas P. Owens, Jr. and Scott J. Nordstrand of Owens and Turner, P.C., Anchorage, Alaska.

Defendant's Attorney: Susan Orlansky and Jeffery M. Feldman of Young and Feldman, Anchorage, Alaska.

Description: Labor Relations - Non-Union Contractor - Aaron Downing formed Alaska Utility Construction, Inc., in 1986. AUC installed electric power poles and wiring for various utilities in Alaska. Although Downing was a former member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and had previously been a union contractor, Downing chose to keep AUC non-union because he believed that he could bid projects more competitively. When ACU was awarded several contracts to perform electric utility work in south central Alaska in the spring and summer of 1986, IBEW lineman were upset that the work had gone to Downing's non-unionized company. Employees of Local 1547 including Steve Shemel, the business representative for Local 1547's outside linemen, met with Downing twice in the spring of 1986 to try and persuade him to hire union labor. Downing refused to sign a union contract without economic concessions and was warned by Shemel that Downing might have some future problems with his work. ACU's first project began near Glennallen in late April or early May 1986. Toward the end of the three-week project, picketers appeared on the site for about three days. They carried signs that identified them as IBEW workers from Local 1547, and approved by its business manager Jack Hull. Much of the picketing involved being simply present, and shouting, but went so far as to include actual death threats. Downing called Hull twice through this job, and was informed by Hull that there were only supposed to a few picketers and they were not supposed to say anything. Shemel told Downing that he should sign the contract because things could get worse. At the next job site, picketers became more hostile and even went so far as to threaten to kill ACU employees, and rape Downing's daughter. As the jobs went on, IBEW threatened workers by displaying knives, interfering with work and equipment, on one occasion throwing a rock, and threatening to rape the daughters of other ACU employees. ACU was forced to hire a night watchman for its equipment, and to contact the Anchorage police for assistance. The presence of police deterred some of the problems, but as they were not available all of the time, slowed work considerably. ACU applied for a temporary restraining order against Local 1547 on June 19, 1986, and Local 1547 withdrew its sanction of picketing. Despite the TRO and the withdrawn sanction, the picketing continued. Evidence indicated that Local 1547 may have actually continued to support the picketing despite the supposed withdrawn sanction. ACU's original complaint against IBEW we filed on June 19, 1986. A jury trial was held where ACU presented claims of negligence, intentional interference with contractual relations, and intentional interference with property. They sought both compensatory and punitive damages. The jury returned a verdict for all of ACU's claims, and awarded both compensatory and punitive damages.

Outcome: Jury found for the Plaintiff and awarded $11,622.05 in compensatory and $425,000 in punitive damages. The punitive damages were later reduced on remittitur to $212,500. Included in the total award of $291,226.57, were attorney's fees, costs, and prejudgment interest.

Plaintiff's Experts: None

Defendant's Experts: None

Comments: The decision was affirmed by the Supreme Court of Alaska. See: 976 P.2d 852 (Alaska 1999). The date above is the date of the appellate decision and not the date of the district trial decision. Reported by EMDH.

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