Federal Judge Refuses to Widen Big Labor’s Union-Violence Loophole
In an indictment issued last year, federal prosecutors charged that five Boston Teamster militants had employed thug tactics to secure no-work jobs from the producer of a reality TV show.
In explaining why she had sought a grand jury indictment, U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts Carmen Ortiz summarized what Mark Harrington, secretary-treasurer of Local 25 of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, and his henchmen had done:
“[T]hey 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 [a town located in Boston’s greater metropolitan area]. This kind of conduct reflects poorly on our city and must be addressed for what it is — not [lawful] union organizing, but criminal extortion.”
Ortiz was speaking in reference to what occurred when the cast and crew of Top Chef, a popular program carried by New York City Bravo TV, filmed an episode in Beantown a little more than two years ago. The show had originally planned for the shoot to take place at Boston’s Omni Parker House Hotel and the Menton Restaurant.
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 Mayor Martin Walsh, “informing” them that they would be harassed by a Teamster mob if they didn’t back out.
(In May, Brissette was separately charged with Big Labor-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. The indictment alleges that, at the Steel and Rye, 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 violence to try to prevent people from entering the set.”
When program host Padma Lakshmi arrived, one Teamster zealot allegedly screamed at her, “We’re gonna bash that pretty face in, you f***ing wh**e!” 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 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.
Nearly all Americans would agree that, if the Boston Teamster militants 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 fiend-of-the-court brief they submitted this spring to Judge Douglas Woodcock, who is presiding over the case, top Bay State AFL-CIO bosses conceded that the “actions alleged to have been committed” by the Teamster defendants are “deeply problematic . . . .”
Nevertheless, claimed 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.
Unfortunately, this seemingly outlandish claim was grounded in a U.S. Supreme Court precedent. In 1973, a deeply divided High Court 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 assaulting and threatening independent employees and nonunion business owners who aren’t legally required to negotiate with union bosses over anything. (Last month, Mark Harrington’s legal team announced his intent to plead guilty. The other defendants’ attorneys continue to say they will they fight the charges.)
In such cases, Enmons arguably offers no protection for union goons seeking to avoid a Hobbs Act prosecution.
Big Labor is apparently alarmed by recent precedents such as U.S. v. Joseph Dougherty (2014) that state Enmons does not protect union goons who target employees of union-free businesses. In their brief, Tolman and his associates insisted the Enmons loophole must forestall prosecutions of threats and violence perpetrated against union-free employees as well as against non-striking employees of unionized businesses.
But last week, U.S. Magistrate Judge Marianne Bowler, to whom Judge Woodcock had delegated the task of considering the defendants’ motion to get the charges against them dismissed, decided that the case could proceed.
A news story by Milton Valencia for the Globe (see the link below to read the whole thing) cited Bowler’s conclusion that the indictment “depicts conduct in the form of threats used to exact payments in the form of wages for unwanted, unnecessary and superfluous services that is a violation of the Hobbs Act.”
Right to Work supporters can be relieved that the union hierarchy’s bid to widen the union-violence loophole in the Hobbs Act has failed, at least for now. Meanwhile, opponents of compulsory unionism continue to fight 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.
Congress retains the power to reverse Enmons legislatively because this decision interpreted a federal statute rather than the U.S. Constitution. S.62, sponsored by Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), would close the so-called “legitimate union objectives” loophole in the Hobbs Act punched open by Enmons and hold union bosses who orchestrate threats, vandalism and violence to the same standard as other citizens who commit the same crimes.