‘It’s Shocking So Little Was Done For So Long’

NL-201402page8Union ‘Criminal Enterprise’ Bullied Buffalo Hardhats For a Decade

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In a federal trial beginning last month, former bosses of Local 17 of the International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE/AFL-CIO) and several of their henchmen are accused of using death threats, assaults and vandalism to build and maintain a construction industry empire in western New York State.

The racketeering case against what federal prosecutors call the “Local 17 criminal enterprise” furnishes clear evidence of how, all too often, Big Labor plans and executes violence and sabotage to secure forced-unionism privileges.

As a January 5 Buffalo News account of the then-looming trial by reporter Phil Fairbanks noted, federal prosecutors contend that the Big Labor criminal conduct “involved some of the region’s biggest construction projects, including Roswell Park Cancer Institute and Ralph Wilson Stadium.”

Moreover, the lawbreaking “often added millions of dollars to the cost” of the targeted projects.

Shortly Before Trial Began, Four Union Felons Entered Guilty Pleas

In late December, three of the defendants in the Buffalo racketeering case pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge William Skretny to violations of the federal Hobbs Anti-Extortion Act and “agreed to testify in the upcoming trial of their seven co-defendants,” according to an FBI press release.

Yet another defendant pleaded guilty January 13.

The FBI’s Buffalo Division briefly explained the significance of the December pleas:

“[E]ach of the defendants admitted that he [had] participated in a campaign of threats, violence and property destruction” against nonunion contractors “in an effort to force those contractors to enter into a collective bargaining agreement with Local 17.”

Former union organizer Carl Larson specifically admitted “to trying to force” an Orchard Park, N.Y.-based construction firm and its owner “to sign with Local 17 by threatening the owner personally” after the owner had been “stabbed by another Local 17 member,” according to the FBI.

Mr. Larson also admitted that, in February 2003, the firm’s owner had asked him, “What are the positives [to signing with the union]? You guys slash my tires, stab me in the neck, try to beat me up in a bar. What are the positives to signing?”

And Mr. Larson confessed to responding to the owner that “the positives are that the negatives you are complaining about would go away.”

Union militant Michael Eddy pleaded guilty to participating in a “campaign of violence and intimidation” against a Latham, N.Y., firm that was removing soil contaminated with coal tar from under a school in downtown Buffalo.

During this campaign, one Local 17 organizer “obtained the project manager’s home address and his wife’s name” and sent the latter a letter stating, ‘We would like for the job to run as smoothly as your wedding day did at [your wedding venue] . . . .’”

Union fanatic George DeWald pleaded guilty to being part of a band of Big Labor thugs who “went to a landfill “under the cover of darkness, where they put sand used for sandblasting into the engines and hydraulic lines of nine separate pieces” of heavy equipment.

This caused “significant delays” in an expansion of the landfill then underway “and over $240,000 in damage to the equipment.”

‘[I]f You’re Looking at An Illegal Means and a Legal End, You’ll Be OK’

Finally, union henchman Jeffrey Lennon admitted in January to trying to damage truck tires by placing sharp medal objects called “stars” at the entrance of a Buffalo construction site.

Given that roughly 100 witnesses, including the erstwhile defendants mentioned above, are poised to testify against former IUOE Local 17 President Mark Kirsch and his cohorts before the trial is over, readers may reasonably wonder how Mr. Kirsch and co. expect to be acquitted.

But as Mr. Fairbanks explained for the Buffalo News, despite the seemingly iron-clad evidence of racketeering by Mr. Kirsch et al, this is no “slam-dunk” case, largely because “courts have a long history of suggesting that a union’s reliance on violence, threats and intimidation can be permissible under federal law.”

Mr. Fairbanks was referring, above all, to the controversial 1973 Enmons decision, in which a divided U.S. Supreme Court exempted threats, vandalism and violence perpetrated to secure “legitimate” union objectives from federal prosecution under the Hobbs Anti -Extortion Act.

In the Local 17 case, union lawyers tacitly concede that any business owner who engaged in conduct similar to what their clients are accused of as a means of scaring off potential competitors could be charged with criminal extortion as defined by the Hobbs Act.

At the same time, Big Labor’s legal strategists insist former Local 17 officials and toughs cannot licitly be prosecuted under the same law — even if all of the charges in the indictment can be proven in court.

Rochester union lawyer Michael Harren, who is not personally involved in the case, summed up the Local 17 defense team’s thinking for Mr. Fairbanks:

“If you’re looking at an illegal means and an illegal end, you’re going to be in trouble. . . . But if you’re looking at an illegal means and a legal end, you’ll be OK.”

Big Labor Violence Has Deprived Western New York Of Vibrant Economic Growth

Today it is widely understood in western New York that union boss-orchestrated thuggery has deprived the region of vibrant economic growth by frightening away all kinds of job-creating businesses. That’s why many residents of the Buffalo area are relieved that Mark Kirsch and his goons are finally being tried in court.

Mr. Fairbanks quoted Buffalo business attorney Robert Doren: “It’s shocking so little was done for so long. . . . It’s about time.”

National Right to Work Committee President Mark Mix commented: “Unfortunately, as long as the Enmons decision stands, the people of western New York and other regions plagued by union violence can expect only incremental relief at best. And the Local 17 case could ultimately makes things even worse.

He explained: “There is no question that Enmons exempts thuggish union bosses from federal prosecution for violence and threats to extract from unionized employers privileges over which the employers are legally required to negotiate, such as forced union dues.

“Union lawyers are now contending that Enmons must be applied even to extortionate violence committed against nonunion businesses whose owners and managers aren’t legally required to negotiate with union bosses over anything.

“So far, the judge who is now presiding over the Local 17 racketeering case has rejected this brazen bid to widen the Enmons loophole. But if union lawyers fail to get Mark Kirsch off the hook for extortion in this winter’s trial, they are expected to file an Enmons-based appeal!”

Freedom From Union Violence Act Would Close Enmons Loophole

Mr. Mix continued: “One positive aspect of the trial of Mark Kirsch et al is that it is helping raise public awareness about the ‘license to extort’ granted union scofflaws by Enmons.

“Fortunately, since Enmons was a matter of statutory, rather than constitutional, interpretation, Congress retains the power to overturn it and hold union bosses who orchestrate threats and violence accountable under the Hobbs Act.

“Pending legislation popularly referred to as the Freedom from Union Violence Act would do precisely that.

“Congressman Paul Broun [R-Ga.] introduced the Freedom from Union Violence Act in the U.S. House as H.R.2021 in May 2013.

“National Right to Work leaders, members and supporters are now calling on Congressman Bob Goodlatte [R-Va.], chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, to allow a hearing on H.R.2021.

“The silver lining of the outrageous legal strategy being employed now by union lawyers in federal court to enable alleged union racketeers to get off scot-free is that it highlights the need for Congress to close the Enmons loophole.

“But without a House hearing on H.R.2021 soon it will be almost impossible for us to take advantage of this opportunity. That’s why the Committee is urging members nationwide to call Mr. Goodlatte at 202-225-5431 and ask him to hold a hearing on this important reform.”