Imagine this scenario: You are being followed home from work. You don't want to talk to the man who is following you. You keep moving away, but he still follows. He wants something from you, and he isn't going to stop.
What the person is doing is illegal in every state, either under trespass or anti-stalking laws. But there are four states where special exceptions have been written into the stalking laws to exempt organized labor activities.
In Pennsylvania and Illinois, state anti-stalking laws specifically say that if your stalker can claim to be on union business, he is exempt. Nevada and California have narrower exemptions that only apply to picket lines.
The Chamber of Commerce recently pointed out these odd exemptions in a new study titled "Sabotage, Stalking & Stealth Exemptions: Special State Laws for Labor Unions." It warned that the exemptions can "give license to bad actors to harass others or commit actions that in any other circumstance would be grounds for jail time."
The chamber's efforts to highlight these laws suggest they may be the newest front in the ongoing battles between Big Business and Big Labor.
"The very fact they are trying to bring attention to it tells me that they are ready to go after workers again," said Richard Bloomingdale, president of the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO.
According to the Stalking Resource Center, Pennsylvania defines stalking as "following the person without proper authority, under circumstances which demonstrate either an intent to place such other person in reasonable fear of bodily injury or to cause substantial emotional distress to such other person." Repeated, unwanted communications count as stalking, too.
But the law also states: "This section shall not apply to conduct by a party to a labor dispute."
The Illinois exemption is arguably broader, including "any controversy" connected to labor issues. California also has exemptions for labor activities under its trespass laws.
Anti-stalking laws are generally associated with protecting women from abusive ex-boyfriends or ex-husbands. Bloomingdale explains that his union lobbied for the exemption to ensure "that the law did not turn into a law that employers were gonna use to go after union members."
He scoffs at the notion that means his union somehow has special rights under the law. They just wanted to protect organizers using traditional organizing methods.
"Clearly, we do go door-to-door during organizing campaigns," he said. "Since employers typically illegally ban us [from work sites], then we are left with visiting people at home. If they tell us to go away, we go away."
That isn't always the case, says Sam Denisco, vice president of government affairs for the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry. They hear otherwise "anecdotally" all of the time.
"You can imagine what it is like when somebody shows up not at the workplace, but your home. There is an element of fear or intimidation," Denisco said.
This was part of the recent controversy over "card check." Labor unions wanted to replace the standard federally-monitored secret ballot election with what amounted to a petition drive. Workers would just sign cards saying they wanted to organize. Under that system, unions could effectively win by sending organizers directly to people's homes to try to get them to sign on.
"You can imagine where somebody would sign the card just to get them off their back" Denisco said.
Sometimes, the tactics get a bit aggressive. In May 2010, the Service Employees International Union sent hundreds of protesters onto the Maryland front lawn of a top executive of Bank of America. They were supposedly protesting the bank's role in the foreclosure crisis -- although, as it happens, the union was also trying to organize its bank tellers.
Fortune columnist Nina Easton, who happened to live next door, described the "500 screaming, placard-waving strangers" as a "mob." "Intimidation was the whole point of this exercise, and it worked -- even on the police. A trio of officers who belatedly answered our calls confessed a fear that arrests might 'incite' these trespassers," she said.
And just think: Maryland doesn't even have an exception for unions in its law.
Sean Higgins (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a senior editorial writer for The Washington Examiner. Follow him on Twitter at @seanghiggins.