Federal Judge Rules Teamsters May Exercise Free Speech Rights at the Auto Show in Detroit

Toyota Allegedly Conspired and Acted in Concert with Governmental Defendants to Infringe On Teamsters Rights

Jan 16, 2010, 10:42 ET from International Brotherhood of Teamsters

DETROIT, Jan. 16 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Yesterday, Federal Judge Avern Cohn ruled that representatives of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters had the constitutional right to handbill inside the lobby of the Cobo Center during the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) and directed the city's police department to not interfere with the union's actions.

The ruling was handed down as a result of the Teamsters Union filing a complaint for injunctive relief in U.S. District Court in Detroit. The lawsuit alleges that the Toyota Motor Corp. conspired and acted in concert with governmental defendants to deprive the Teamsters Union its constitutional rights.

On Jan. 13, representatives from the Teamsters Union were told by the Detroit Police Department that they would not be allowed to distribute leaflets to attendees entering the auto show. One union representative who questioned whether the department was aware its position violated the union's First Amendment rights was bluntly informed by an officer -- "This is the auto show. You don't have any constitutional rights."

At a subsequent meeting on Jan. 14, Teamster representatives met with the Detroit police, the city attorney and others. Also present at the meeting was a representative of the Toyota Motor Corp., one of the auto show's exhibitors. Due to Toyota's presence at this meeting, the complaint alleges that Toyota conspired and acted in concert with the governmental defendants to deprive the Teamsters of their constitutional rights.

The lawsuit was brought under the federal Ku Klux Klan Act, which was enacted in the wake of the Civil War to address efforts by private parties, notably the Klan, to conspire with government officials to deprive citizens of their rights,.

"Frankly, the conduct displayed by Toyota and the city here is just the kind of stuff that happened during the civil rights fight in the South during the 1960s," said Teamsters General Counsel Brad Raymond.

Toyota, as a private business, has no role in dictating law enforcement tactics or policy at Cobo Center which is public property.

"It's ironic that Toyota would take $1 billion in U.S. taxpayer money under the Cash for Clunkers program and then destroy thousands of American carhaul jobs and manufacturing jobs at the NUMMI plant in California," said Fred Zuckerman, Teamsters Carhaul Division Director. "And now they come to Detroit and tell American workers they can't use the First Amendment rights afforded them under the U.S. Constitution? We won't stand for that."

SOURCE International Brotherhood of Teamsters