‘Even Outright Violent Labor Activity . . . Is Categorically Excluded From the Hobbs Act’

A lawsuit filed by the Pennsylvania Convention Center Authority  (PCCA) in May charges that carpenters union bigwigs launched a violent campaign in 2014 at Philadelphia’s Pennsylvania Convention Center.

The campaign has allegedly involved “physical intimidation,” “stalking,” “assault and battery,” and the “destruction of property,” among other crimes. Estimated damages are in excess of a million dollars.

Carpenters union bigwigs are said to have initiated the campaign of destruction to save face after their intransigence had deprived rank-and-file members of the Metropolitan Regional Council of Carpenters (MRCC) union of the opportunity to continue working at the center.

The most egregious cases of orchestrated sabotage cited in the lawsuit occurred just before and during the 2015 Philadelphia Auto Show in late January and early February.

For example, roughly 200 MRCC zealots allegedly were admitted as paying guests, then implemented a well-planned scheme to damage exhibitor vehicles by “removing engine covers and fuses, ripping out wiring harnesses and stealing oil and gas caps, and jamming “caps and fuses into vehicle engines.”

Incredibly, a motion for dismissal filed by Philadelphia carpenters union chiefs in late June claims that stalking convention center guests and systematically vandalizing exhibitors’ property are licit forms of “labor protest” for which they cannot be held legally accountable.  (See the link below to read a news report regarding the motion for dismissal.)

Edward Coryell Sr., executive secretary-treasurer and business manager of the MRCC, other carpenters union bosses, and union lawyers are effectively claiming that union officials have a “right” to commit sabotage that has allegedly resulted in show cancellations, lost customers, and lost booking fees.

To back up this outrageous contention, the MRCC hierarchy’s June 30 brief invokes the U.S. Supreme Court’s controversial 1973 ruling in U.S. v. Enmons.

In this 42-year-old, 5-4 decision, a bitterly divided court found that Big Labor arson, assaults, death threats and other serious crimes may not be prosecuted under the federal Hobbs Anti-Extortion Act, as long as such crimes are committed pursuant to securing so-called “legitimate union objectives.”

In the union brief’s words, “Labor activity — even outright violent labor activity . . . is categorically excluded from the Hobbs Act under the Enmons doctrine as long as it is designed to achieve legitimate labor ends.”

Even convention center attorneys acknowledge that in a wide array of labor dispute Enmons really does grant union bosses a veritable “license to extort,” but contend that it does not apply in their case because MRCC-“represented” carpenters “are not entitled to work” at the convention center.

According to the plaintiffs, carpenters union members lost the right to work at the center in May 2014, after MRCC officials failed to meet the deadline for signing a “Consumer Satisfaction Agreement” (CSA).

(The purpose of the CSA was to stem the loss of convention bookings in Philadelphia caused by outrageous union work rules that had even prevented exhibitors from using power tools and ladders when setting up their booths.)

Unfortunately, if the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania merely finds that, contrary to the PCCA’s contention, MRCC union members remain eligible to perform show labor work at the Philadelphia convention center, the entire racketeering case will likely collapse. Of course, whether or not a bully like Ed Coryell is held accountable under the same federal laws as everyone else shouldn’t hinge on a secondary issue.

One positive aspect of PCCA v. Edward Coryell Sr. is that, as it unfolds, it will help raise public awareness about the “license to extort” granted union scofflaws by Enmons.

Fortunately, Congress retains the power to overturn Enmons legislatively and hold union officials who orchestrate threats and violence accountable under the Hobbs Act. That is exactly what S.62, legislation introduced in January by U.S. Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), would do.

S.62, otherwise known as the Freedom from Union Violence Act, would hold union officials who plan, commit or foment extortionate violence against a firm’s employees, owners, or customers to the same standard as business rivals, gangsters, or anyone else who does the same. The National Right to Work Committee is determined to do everything possible to see this legislation gets the careful consideration it deserves.

Philadelphia carpenters union bigwig Ed Coryell and his cohorts claim that, as a consequence of a 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision, they can’t be held liable even for “outright violent” actions. Image: Philadelphia Inquirer

Carpenters may be uncouth but are not racketeers, union says