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SAN FRANCISCO-When O’Melveny & Myers partners Robert Welsh and F. Curt Kirschner won more than $17 million for a chain of hospitals last month, it marked their first jury verdict in what they say is a growing area of their labor practice: suing unions over their tactics in “corporate campaigns.” Kirschner uses the term “corporate campaign” to describe a union’s attempts during an organizing effort to put pressure on a company by, for instance, striking at its public image. Lawyers who represent unions who may call them “comprehensive campaigns,” describe the strategy as one that involves a broad investigation into an employer’s conduct. “The development of corporate campaigns is a relatively recent phenomenon from labor unions,” said Kirschner, a San Francisco-based partner who has long advised Sutter Health. “So responses to those campaigns-including the use of affirmative litigation against them-is even newer.” “These cases are exceedingly difficult to win because of the constitutional protections given to workers and the unions representing them in a labor dispute,” said Michael Rubin of San Francisco plaintiffs’ firm Altshuler, Berzon, Nussbaum, Rubin & Demain. And, he said, “even if the employer can overcome that hurdle, they then face the very difficult burden of quantifying damages.” Libelous postcards? In Sutter Health v. UNITE HERE, the hospital network accused the union of mailing libelous postcards to potential patients of Sutter’s maternity wards. The union’s alleged goal was to force Sutter to exert pressure on Angelica Textile Services, a commercial launderer that had been locked in a labor dispute with UNITE HERE. The postcards warned that “reports have surfaced that Angelica, the laundry service utilized by Sutter, does not ensure that ‘clean’ linens are free of blood, feces and harmful pathogens.” According to lawyers on both sides, the jury delivered a verdict for more than $17 million in compensatory damages, but decided not to award any punitive damages. Jeffrey Berman, a Los Angeles partner in the labor and employment group at Sidley Austin, called this month’s verdict “earthshaking” in light of its size. “I think that [these cases] are not common,” he said. But he said, “I would expect to see them become more common, as corporate campaigns become more common and widespread.” He predicted any appeal will attract intense interest. UNITE HERE, a hotel and garment workers’ union, is considering an appeal, according to Davis, Cowell & Bowe partner Elizabeth Lawrence, its lead attorney at the trial that ended this month.

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