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Courts again say the word 'stalking' is going too far in in Porter County labor dispute

A Liberty Township excavating company owner has been ordered by the courts a second time in a little more than a month to remove signs accusing a local union of stalking his family.

VALPARAISO — A Liberty Township excavating company has been ordered by the courts a second time in a little more than a month to remove signs accusing a local union of stalking his family.

Attorney Ken Elwood argued Thursday morning on behalf of International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150 that the problem with the signs continues to be the use of the word "stalking."

The two latest signs posted by the company at its site along U.S. 6 read, "Local 150 stalked my daughter at her school Friday morning on February 23, 2018." The signs appeared Saturday at Davis & Sons Excavating, 155 W. U.S. 6.

Stalking refers to a criminal act, and use of that word amounts to defamation if someone has not been convicted of the offense, Elwood said.

The false use of the word could hurt the union in its efforts to recruit new members, negotiate contracts and lobby on behalf of its members, Local 150 Business Representative Carlton Glover testified Thursday.

When the company was ordered by the courts in January to remove an earlier sign that read "150 business agents are stalking my wife and kids," it complied by replacing the word "stalking" with "bullying," Elwood said. That version of the sign was not defamation, per se, and would not likely justify a temporary order, he said.

The latest signs using the word "stalking" are particularly troubling considering the first court order, Elwood said.

"It just smacks as a lack of respect for this court system," he said.

Dick Davis, who operates the excavation business with his son, said after the hearing that union representatives have followed his son, daughter-in-law and grandchildren, including an instance of driving around a school.

"We're not taking the sign down," he said. "They're still stalking us. We're going to federal court."

Davis believes he will receive fairer treatment in federal court on the underlying labor dispute.

Elwood, who disputed the claim of following family members to school, said the situation is unique in that an ambulatory picket has been underway since August. Because of the nature of the excavating business, union representatives are allowed by law to follow company vehicles to work sites and picket there in addition to the business' home base.

Porter Superior Court Jeffrey Clymer, who issued the temporary restraining order, has scheduled a March 12 hearing to decide whether it will remain in effect.

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Porter/LaPorte county reporter

Bob is a 23-year veteran of The Times. He covers county government and courts in Porter County, federal courts, police news and regional issues. He also created the Vegan in the Region blog, is an Indiana University grad and lifelong region resident.