Union Dons Insist Criminal Organizing Tactics Aren’t ‘Extortion’
(download the June-July 2016 NRTWC Newsletter)
No court date has yet been set.
But Mark Harrington, secretary-treasurer of Local 25 of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, and four of his henchmen are expected to go on trial in the near future before U.S. District Judge Douglas P. Woodcock for alleged violations of the federal Hobbs Anti-Extortion Act and other related crimes.
According to U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz, Mr. Harrington and his cohorts terrorized the cast and crew of the cooking-competition Top Chef as the popular cable TV show filmed an episode in Milton, a town located in Boston’s greater metropolitan area.
Top Chef had originally planned for the shoot to take place at the Omni Parker House Hotel and the Menton restaurant in Boston.
However, these two venues told Top Chef it was no longer welcome after receiving calls in advance of the scheduled filming from Ken Brissette, an appointee of union-label Boston Mayor Martin Walsh, “informing” them that they would be harassed by a Teamster mob if they didn’t back out.
(On May 19, Mr. Brissette was separately charged with “union-related extortion” for “allegedly forcing a music festival to hire union stagehands by withholding city permits,” according to a Boston Globe news report.)
The Top Chef shoot went ahead at Milton’s Steel and Rye restaurant.
‘Rogue Teamsters’ Employed ‘Old-School Thug Tactics To Get No-Work Jobs’
In explaining why she had sought a grand jury indictment of the five Boston Teamster militants, Ms. Ortiz charged that a “group of rogue Teamsters” had “employed old-school thug tactics to get no-work jobs from an out-of-town production company.”
She continued: “In the course of the alleged conspiracy, they managed to chase a legitimate business out of the City of Boston and then harassed the cast and crew when they set up shop in Milton. This kind of conduct reflects poorly on our city and must be addressed for what it is — not [lawful] union organizing, but criminal extortion.”
The indictment itself alleges that, at the restaurant in Milton, two or three of the defendants assaulted crew members “in an attempt to forcibly enter the restaurant.”
The defendants also “blocked vehicles from the entryway to the set and used actual physical violence and threats of physical violence to try to prevent people from entering the set.”
Several weeks after the chaotic June 2014 Top Chef shoot in Milton, the Hollywood trade journal Deadline ran a story that gave a sampling of the abusive language and threats Teamster thugs are said to have rained on people arriving at and leaving the set.
Teamster Goon Threatened Top Chef Host: ‘We’re Gonna Bash That Pretty Face In’
For example, one Teamster zealot allegedly screamed at program host Padma Lakshmi: “We’re gonna bash that pretty face in, you f***ing wh**e!”
When Jenn Levy, development and production vice president of New York City-based Bravo TV, which carries Top Chef, tried to make her way past enraged picketers, they reportedly yelled at her, “You bi**h! You sl*t!”
And according to the indictment, nine parked vehicles belonging to crew members were found to have had their tires slashed after the defendants were observed by the crew “standing in close proximity” to the vehicles.
The Hobbs Act prohibits actual or attempted extortion, i.e., the obtaining of things of value through threats or force, when it affects interstate or international commerce.
Nearly all Americans would agree that, if Mr. Harrington et al actually did do what they are charged with having done, they should be criminally prosecuted under the Hobbs Act.
But not Steven Tolman, the president of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO, and his lieutenants.
In a friend-of-the court brief they recently submitted to Judge Woodcock, top Bay State AFL-CIO bosses concede that the “actions alleged to have been committed” by the Boston Teamster defendants are “deeply problematic . . . .”
Nevertheless, claims the union hierarchy, “these actions may not be prosecuted under the Hobbs Act” because the defendants sought to achieve “legitimate labor ends” through their thuggery.
In 1973, a Deeply Divided High Court Carved a Hobbs Act Loophole For Union Dons
Unfortunately, this seemingly outlandish claim is grounded in a U.S. Supreme Court decision.
Forty-three years ago, a deeply divided High Court actually did find, in U.S. v. Enmons, that threats, vandalism and violence perpetrated to secure “legitimate” union objectives are exempted from the Hobbs Act.
However, over the course of the past two decades, multiple federal courts have ruled that the Enmons loophole does not apply to the likes of the Local 25 defendants.
They are accused of threatening and assaulting independent employees and nonunion business owners who aren’t legally required to negotiate with union bosses over anything.
In such cases, Enmons arguably offers no protection for union goons seeking to avoid a Hobbs Act prosecution.
For example, in 2014, Senior Judge Michael Baylson of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania refused to dismiss extortion, racketeering and conspiracy charges against officers and militants of Philadelphia-based Local 401 of the Ironworkers Union.
Their motivation when ordering and committing assaults with baseball bats and tire slashings, smashing vehicles with crowbars, damaging construction equipment, and stealing construction materials, insisted the Local 401 defendants, was to advance “legitimate union objectives.”
Allowing Hobbs Prosecutions Of Union Organizing Violence Has a ‘Chilling Effect’?
But Judge Baylson, while agreeing that the use of “strike-related violence” to secure “legitimate” union contract demands does “not constitute Hobbs Act extortion,” found that Enmons did not protect the Local 401 gang because their targets were nonunion.
Ultimately, former Local 401 boss Joseph Dougherty was convicted of leading a conspiracy to extort and commit violence against union-free construction employees and businesses.
Eleven of his paid subordinates and militant followers pleaded guilty to resorting again and again to assault, arson and vandalism to bring independent employees and employers into line.
“Big Labor was evidently alarmed by the outcome of U.S. v. Joseph Dougherty,” said Mark Mix, president of the National Right to Work Committee. “The brief filed by the Massachusetts AFL-CIO brass in the Top Chef extortion case represents an attempt to prevent similar rulings in future union-violence cases.
“According to Steven Tolman and his associates, the Enmons loophole must forestall prosecutions of union threats and violence perpetrated against union-free employees as well as against nonstriking employees of unionized businesses.
“By basing her prosecution of Boston Teamster toughs on the understanding of the scope of Enmons articulated by jurists such as Mr. Baylson, Ms. Ortiz is, in Mr. Tolman’s view, making a grave error that could have a ‘chilling effect’ on union organizing activity.”
Right to Work Members Push For Congress to Overturn Enmons Ruling
“If AFL-CIO bosses in Massachusetts prevail,” warned Mr. Mix, “the scope of the union-violence loophole in the Hobbs Act will be greatly widened.”
Meanwhile, Committee members are fighting for passage of the Freedom from Union Violence Act (S.62), a pending Senate measure that would overturn Enmons and hold union bosses who orchestrate threats and violence, regardless of their exact purpose, accountable under the Hobbs Act.
“Because Enmons was a matter of statutory, rather than constitutional, interpretation, Congress retains the power to reverse it legislatively,” explained Mr. Mix.
“And that’s exactly what S.62, sponsored by Sen. David Vitter [R-La.] would do. Committee members nationwide are working to build Capitol Hill support for this much-needed reform.”