‘Take the Fifth’ O’Brien Takes Over Teamsters

New Union Chief Refused to Testify at Top Chef Extortion Trial

In the long and ignoble history of union corruption, perhaps no single event galvanized American public opinion about the need for reforms empowering workers to clean up Big Labor more than the 1957 congressional testimony of then-Teamster President Dave Beck.

Subpoenaed by a select committee chaired by pro-Right to Work Sen. John McClellan (D-Ark.), Mr. Beck invoked the Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination 117 times rather than answer questions about Teamster corruption.

With 50% of America’s nonfarm payroll employees enjoying Right to Work protections under state law today, compared to just 24% in 1957, much progress has been made since the days of Dave Beck.

Cast, Crew and Restaurant Patrons Faced a Gauntlet Of Threats, Harassment

But the mindset of the Teamster hierarchy has changed distressingly little.

The latest case in point is longtime Boston Teamster strongman Sean O’Brien, who in March took over the presidency of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT).

The son of William “Billy” O’Brien, a convicted felon who went on to become the head of IBT Local 25 in Boston, Sean O’Brien was a subject of national media attention in 2013. 

Federal monitors brought charges against Mr. O’Brien after, while campaigning for fellow IBT boss Joe Bairos in Rhode Island, he declared that any union member daring to run against Mr. Bairos would have a “major problem” after the election and would “need to be punished.” 

(To make the charges go away, Mr. O’Brien agreed to a 14-day suspension.)

But Sean O’Brien is best known for being the head of Local 25 when fellow union officer Mark Harrington and four union militants threatened and intimidated the cast and crew of the union-free Top Chef reality show during a Boston-area shoot.

In the summer of 2014, Top Chef’s plan was to film an episode at the Omni Parker House Hotel and the Menton restaurant in Boston itself.

However, those two venues told Top Chef it was no longer welcome after receiving calls in advance of the filming from an appointee of union-label Mayor Marty Walsh, “informing” them they would be harassed by a Teamster mob if they didn’t back out. 

(Mr. Walsh is now President Joe Biden’s labor secretary.)

Consequently, the shoot was moved to a restaurant in nearby Milton. 

There, the entire cast and crew as well as restaurant patrons allegedly faced a gauntlet of Teamster verbal and physical attacks. Union goons threatened to assault and even kill crew members as a means of “persuading” the show’s producers to change their minds and sign a union contract.

‘As Far as We’re Concerned, Nothing Happened’

When media reports emerged about the thuggish Top Chef “protest” in Milton, during which one union goon allegedly snarled at host Padma Lakshmi, “I’ll smash your pretty little face in,” the Local 25 hierarchy denied any wrongdoing had occurred.

A few weeks after the incident, Local 25 spokeswoman Melissa Hurley curtly told the Boston Herald:  “As far as we’re concerned, nothing happened.”

But after Mr. Harrington and his four accomplices were indicted for extortion and other crimes in 2015, Mr. O’Brien apparently got nervous about potentially being indicted himself.

In advance of the Top Chef trial, Mr. O’Brien repeatedly let investigators know that, if asked to testify, he would invoke his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination rather than comply. 

While Mr. Harrington, who in Mr. O’Brien’s self-exculpatory account had “full authority to set up ‘informational’ picket lines,” pleaded guilty to attempted extortion in 2016, the four indicted Teamster toughs who went to trial in 2017 were all acquitted. 

Legal Deck Was Stacked in Teamster Bullies’ Favor By Enmons Ruling 

National Right to Work Committee Vice President Matthew Leen commented: 

“The Teamster bullies owed their acquittals in large part to the U.S. Supreme Court’s misbegotten 5-4 Enmons decision. Under this 1973 precedent, extortionate violence committed in pursuit of so-called ‘legitimate union objectives’ is not subject to prosecution under the federal Hobbs Anti-Extortion Act.

“A second reason the defendants got off scot-free, despite the overwhelming evidence implicating them, was that Teamster lawyers, bankrolled by Mr. O’Brien and his cohorts with forced-dues money, persuaded the judge presiding over the case to interpret Enmons far more expansively than most other jurists.

“Today Sean O’Brien proudly takes credit for getting the goons who allegedly trampled an elderly security guard and yelled racial and other slurs at the Top Chef production crew off the hook. 

“And he embodies why Right to Work members and supporters won’t be satisfied until employees in all 50 states enjoy Right to Work protections.”

This article was originally published in our monthly newsletter. Go here to access previous newsletter posts.
To support our cause and help end forced unionism, go here to donate.

NRTW Home » News » ‘Take the Fifth’ O’Brien Takes Over Teamsters