WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court is hearing Tuesday a dispute between the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and a concrete company in Washington state that labor advocates say could undermine workers’ rights if the ruling goes against the union.

The legal question is whether the company, Glacier Northwest Inc., can sue the union for damages in state court for an August 2017 walkout in which it says concrete was lost when drivers walked off the job.

The union says the company must wait until the National Labor Relations Board, which handles labor disputes, completes its own investigation into whether the strike action and alleged damage was an activity protected by federal labor law.

In the past, business interests that are often in conflict with organized labor have been highly critical of the labor board. The Supreme Court’s conservative majority has ruled against the unions in several high-profile cases in recent years.

The case before judges Tuesday centers on an incident in which members of Teamsters Local 174 went on strike after negotiations on a new collective agreement broke down.

When truck drivers walked off the job, the company says some of the concrete already in the delivery process became useless. The drivers returned the trucks to company facilities, some of which had partial or full loads on board. As a result of the strike, the concrete hardened in the trucks and had to be broken up before it could be removed, the company says.

Glacier says it lost $100,000 as a result of breaking a contract on the day of the strike and is also seeking additional damages. The company says it was able to do the previously scheduled work the following week.

The Washington Supreme Court ruled against the union in December 2021, saying any concrete losses were «incidental to a strike possibly protected by federal law.»

The Biden administration filed a brief taking the middle ground, and Attorney General Elizabeth Prelogar said lawsuits like the one filed by the concrete company could potentially continue in state court if they allege strikers failed to «take reasonable precautions to protect the employer». property from foreseeable and imminent damage.

Prelogar added that, under federal law, workers and unions are generally not responsible for economic losses caused by a strike, but the right to strike does come with some limitations.

After the state Supreme Court ruling, the National Labor Relations Board issued a complaint accusing the company of unfair labor practices, saying the drivers’ actions were «possibly protected.» The board has not completed its review and state courts should have waited before deciding whether the company’s lawsuit should be dismissed, Prelogar wrote.

Glacier is represented by Noel Francisco, who served as attorney general during the Trump administration. He wrote in court documents that federal law does not protect «intentional destruction of property» or «strike-related conduct that fails to include reasonable precautions to protect the employer’s property, much less willfully destroys it.»

The company is backed by business and anti-union groups, including the US Chamber of Commerce, which said in a report that the state court’s decision that willful destruction of property could be considered a protected activity was in conflict. with the precedent of the US Supreme Court.

Several labor groups and unions endorse the Teamsters. In a report, the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Cabinetmakers of America and the Service Employees International Union said the current process for evaluating whether labor disputes in state courts are superseded by federal law, which dates back to a ruling from The 1959 Supreme Court, «has served to protect the rights of labor employees to bargain collectively and lawfully strike for better wages, benefits, and working conditions.»