Boston Politicians Did Union Dons’ Dirty Work?

Depending on how their case turns out, Boston political operatives Kenneth Brissette (left) and Timothy Sullivan could establish a new means for Big Labor bosses to seize monopoly power over employees through extortion, and get away with it. (credit: LANE TURNER/boston GLOBE STAFF)

Early 2018 Federal Extortion Trial Looms For Two Mayoral Aides

Two appointees of union-label Boston Mayor Martin Walsh are now scheduled to go on trial next January for using illegal strong-arm tactics to prevail upon Crash Line Productions (CLP), the producer of the Boston Calling music festival, to hire nine unionized workers for positions that had already been filled.

Lawyers for the aides, tourism and entertainment czar Kenneth Brissette and intergovernmental affairs chief Timothy Sullivan, have contended that, since their clients did not personally obtain any money, goods, or services through the alleged extortion, they could not be prosecuted for extortion.

Fortunately, this argument did not sway U.S. District Judge Leo T. Sorokin, who refused to dismiss the charges. But defense attorneys will be free to make the same contention at trial.

‘Does Extortion Cease to Be Criminal When It’s DoneFor Political Gain?’

If the Big Labor Boston politicians’ legal strategy ultimately works, it will set a disturbing precedent, encouraging rogue union bosses to contract out the task of extorting union-free employers and employees to elected officials and their appointees.

National Right to Work Committee President Mark Mix commented: “A federal jury in Massachusetts is now scheduled early next year to hear a case that hinges largely on this question: ‘Does extortion cease to be criminal when it’s done for political gain?’”

In May and June 2016, respectively, Mr. Brissette and Mr. Sullivan were arrested on charges of “union-related extortion” in connection with the September 2014 Boston Calling music festival.

The indictment stated that officials of Local 11 of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, or IATSE, union had attempted to obtain work from CLP since March 2013.

The company repeatedly told Mr. Brissette and Mr. Sullivan that it had already secured all the labor it needed through a union-free contractor. Nevertheless, the Boston politicians stubbornly continued to insist that CLP hire at least nine forced-dues paying members of Local 11.

Meanwhile, the two mayoral staffers delayed, for no legitimate reason, release of the permits CLP needed for Boston Calling to take place.

Finally, just three days before the concert was scheduled to happen, CLP relented, and cut a deal with the Local 11 brass to hire eight additional laborers and one foreman. Almost immediately afterward, the mayor’s office released the permits.

The federal 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.

Enmons Court Outrageously Exempted Most Big Labor Extortion From Hobbs Act

As a music festival featuring performers from around the U.S. and the world, Boston Calling clearly meets the legal definition of “international commerce,” according to both the prosecution and the defense in U.S. v. Brissette.

Nevertheless, until a few years ago, unscrupulous bosses of a union like IATSE Local 11 might have felt free to orchestrate direct threats and violence against employees of a company like CLP to bring it to heel.

The reason for union bosses’ confidence that they can, in many cases, get away with extortion is the U.S. Supreme Court’s outrageous 1973 ruling in U.S. v. Enmons. In this case, a 5-4 majority of justices found that threats, violence and vandalism perpetrated to secure “legitimate” union objectives are exempted from the Hobbs Act.

However, over the course of the past two decades, some federal courts have ruled that the Enmons loophole does not apply to union militants who are accused of threatening and assaulting independent employees of nonunion businesses that aren’t legally required to negotiate with union bosses over anything.

Big Labor Eager to Widen Union-Violence Loophole In Anti-Extortion Law

“If IATSE union bosses and their goons had personally extorted CLP employees, they would surely have mounted an Enmons-based defense, with uncertain success,” noted Mr. Mix.

“But if the Brissette-Sullivan contention that, because the forced-dues money reaped through their successful shakedown of CLP didn’t go straight into the politicians’ own pockets, they can’t be guilty of extortion prevails next year, the Hobbs Act loophole could be greatly widened.

“Depending on how it turns out, U.S. v. Brissette could establish a whole new means for Big Labor bosses to seize monopoly power over employees through extortion, and get away with it.”

Mr. Mix concluded that the case should at least increase the pressure on Congress to close the current Hobbs loophole by passing legislation that holds scofflaw union bosses who orchestrate threats, vandalism and violence to the same standard as other citizens who commit the same crimes.

(Source: July 2017 National Right to Work Newsletter)