Unions and progressive groups are fighting a new law that would make forms of protest – including picketing and peaceful sit-downs — a crime, the AFL-CIO reports.
The piece of legislation — SB 469 — was introduced by Sen. Don Balfour, R-Ga. and is a direct attack on freedom of speech and workers rights. The proposed law would prohibit picketing outside the home of a CEO or other company executives (including demonstrating outside the home of, say, a sweatshop owner, the report notes).
A judge would be able to halt the protests, and any further violation of that order would result in the union members or protesters to each be hit with a $1,000 fine. Any union that sponsors or openly aids the activity would need to pay a $10,000 fine.
The law would also force protesters to be charged twice: once with conspiracy to commit, and then with criminal trespass. Either of the two could condemn them to up to a year in jail.
The bill’s overreaching grip would affect unions, environmental groups, civil and gay rights groups, immigrant rights groups and any other similar coalition.
On Mar. 18, over 2,000 demonstrators united outside Georgia’s state capitol building, declaring that SB 469 is an assault on the 99 percent.
Ben Speight, organizing director of Teamsters Local 728 in Atlanta, remarked, “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.”
And earlier this month, Fulton County Sheriff Theodore Jackson wrote a letter to Balfour, in which he noted, “The role of law enforcement should not be to police free speech. But the intent of this bill seems to be just that.”
The bill has passed the Senate, and now goes to the House.
Photo: Forms of protest like Occupy Atlanta would be punishable under the new proposed anti-picketing law. Brant Sanderlin/AP