‘Legitimate Union Goals’ Defense Pays Off For Big Labor Lawyers
At a federal trial concluding August 15, Teamster toughs John Fidler, Michael Ross, Robert Cafarelli, and Daniel Redmond were accused of threatening and assaulting the cast and crew of the Emmy Award-winning TV reality show Top Chef three years ago during a shoot in Milton, Mass., a southern suburb of Boston.
During the trial, the union bullies’ lawyers sporadically suggested the charges against them were “exaggerated.”
But they never really denied that extortion as Americans commonly understand the term had occurred.
Instead, to avoid guilty verdicts the Teamster defendants in U.S. v. Fidler invoked through their lawyers, again and again, the controversial precedent set by a 5-4 U.S. Supreme Court nearly 45 years ago in U.S. v. Enmons.
‘The Union Doesn’t Have To Take No For an Answer’
Like many other reality shows, Top Chef maintains a permanent crew that travels to shooting locations across the country with the cast and furnishes an array of services, including transportation.
Consequently, the union-free production does not need to hire temporary truck drivers anywhere, including the Boston metropolitan area. But the hierarchy of Teamsters Local 25 in Beantown insisted that several forced- dues-paying union drivers be hired all the same.
In August 2014, Top Chef had originally planned to film an episode at the Omni Parker House Hotel and the Menton restaurant in Boston itself.
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 Boston Mayor Martin Walsh, “informing” them that they would be harassed by a Teamster mob if they didn’t back out.
Consequently, the shoot was moved to Milton’s Steel and Rye restaurant.
There, as Assistant U.S. Attorney Laura Kaplan told jurors August 1, the entire cast and crew as well as restaurant patrons 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.
Union lawyers responded that threats, harassment, vandalism, and physical coercion perpetrated to advance such an objective are all, in the wake of Enmons, permissible under federal law.
As Kenneth Barron, the defense attorney for Michael Ross, bluntly told the jury: “The union doesn’t have to take no for an answer.”
Hobbs Act Normally Prohibits Actual or Attempted Extortion
The federal Hobbs Act of 1946 normally prohibits actual or attempted extortion, i.e., the obtaining of things of value through threats or force, when it affects interstate or international commerce.
And the Fidler record includes ample compelling evidence of criminal activity seemingly prohibited under the Hobbs Act.
For example, one Teamster goon allegedly trampled an elderly security guard, while others blocked deliveries. The union radicals are said to have hurled “homophobic and racial slurs” at the production crew with the aim of intimidating them.
Moreover, when Top Chef host Padma Lakshmi arrived on the set, Mr. Fidler allegedly reached into her vehicle and threatened, “I’ll smash your pretty little face in.”
Unfortunately, union lawyers’ seemingly outlandish claims that threats of violence and actual violence perpetrated to advance Big Labor objectives may not be prosecuted under the Hobbs Act really are supported by the Enmons decision.
‘Regime of Violence, Whatever Its Precise Objective, … Is Condemned by the Act’
Justice Potter Stewart, writing for a majority of the court in February 1973, declared that union thugs who had been indicted for firing high-powered rifles at three utility company transformers, draining the oil from a transformer, and blowing up a substation, could not be prosecuted under the Hobbs Act.
Justice William O. Douglas, joined by Chief Justice Warren Burger and Justices Lewis Powell and William Rehnquist, strongly disagreed:
“At times, the legislative history of a measure is so clouded or obscure that we must perforce give some meaning to vague words. But where, as here, the consensus of the House is so clear, we should carry out its purpose. . . .
“The regime of violence, whatever its precise objective, is a common device of extortion and is condemned by the [Hobbs] Act.”
Despite Enmons, prosecutors still thought they could prevail in Fidler. Their hopes were based on rulings by some federal courts that seemed to show the Enmons loophole does not apply to the likes of the Local 25 defendants.
Prosecutions Can Occur Only When Union Extortionists Seek ‘No Show’ Jobs?
Mr. Fidler, Mr. Ross, Mr. Cafarelli, and Mr. Redmond (along with former Local 25 Secretary-Treasurer Mark Harrington, who pleaded guilty before the case went to trial) were accused of threatening and assaulting independent employees and nonunion business owners.
Bravo TV, the production company that carries Top Chef, wasn’t legally required to negotiate with union bosses over anything.
Under some legal precedents, Enmons consequently seemed not to offer legal protection for the Teamster goons in Boston.
For example, in 2014, Senior Judge Michael Baylson of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania refused to dismiss racketeering charges against Philadelphia Ironworkers Union militants.
Judge Baylson ruled that Enmons did not protect the Local 401 gang because their targets were union-free employees and businesses.
But Senior Judge Douglas Woodlock, who presided over the Fidler case in Boston, ultimately interpreted the Enmons exemption for union thuggery far more sweepingly.
According to Judge Woodlock, Enmons applies when union thugs are trying to take jobs away from union-free workers and thus make them available for forced-dues-paying unionists. It doesn’t apply, he explained, if the jobs sought are “no show” jobs that involve no work at all.
After the jury received the judge’s instructions, it was virtually inevitable that all the Teamster defendants would be acquitted on all charges. And that’s what happened on August 15.
Right to Work Committee Pushes For Congress to Overturn Enmons Ruling
National Right to Work Committee President Mark Mix said, regretfully, that the Fidler denouement is likely to have negative repercussions for independent workers and businesses across the country:
“This case looks like it’s going to lead to a dramatic expansion of union officials’ ability to intimidate, to assault, and to increase their coercive power over workers and business across the country.
“The only silver lining for Americans who believe in equal justice under the law is that the verdict will undoubtedly also help focus public attention on the need for Congress to overturn the misbegotten Enmons decision.”
In September, soon after this edition of the Right to Work Newsletter goes to press, Congressman Steve King (R-Iowa) is expected to introduce legislation known as the Freedom From Union Violence Act.
This measure, which has the Committee’s strong support, would overturn Enmons and hold union bosses who orchestrate threats and violence, regardless of their exact purpose, accountable under the Hobbs Act.
“Because Enmons was a matter of statutory, rather than constitutional, interpretation, Congress retains the power to reverse it legislatively,” explained Mr. Mix.
“The Committee is now ready to help Mr. King and other lawmakers do that. And, I am confident Committee members nationwide will lend us their support in this endeavor.”