Violence Committed For ‘Legitimate’ Union Goals Isn’t Extortion??
(Article first appeared in the September 2014 National Right to Work Committee Newsletter)
This summer, pro-Right to Work U.S. Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) introduced in Congress’s upper chamber an important legal reform known as the Freedom from Union Violence Act (S.2535).
Along with U.S. House companion legislation (H.R.2021) introduced last year by Georgia U.S. Rep. Paul Broun, also a staunch forced-unionism foe, S.2535 would close a gaping, judicially-created loophole in the Hobbs Act, which penalizes the use of extortionate threats and violence in interstate commerce.
S.2535 and H.R. 2021 would hold union officials who plan, commit or foment extortionate violence against a firm’s employees or owners to the same standard as business rivals, gangsters, or anyone else who does the same.
If the Vitter/Broun legislation is enacted, power-hungry, win-at-any-cost Big Labor barons will no longer be able, without fear of federal prosecution, to resort to violence as a union “bargaining” tool.
Mark Mix, president of the National Right to Work Committee, vowed to continue mobilizing more and more members and other citizens to contact their federal elected officials to express their strong support for this legislation.
It’s ‘Extraordinarily Difficult’ to Prosecute Union Lawbreakers
Mr. Mix explained: “In today’s America, prosecutions of Big Labor arson, assaults, death threats and other serious crimes are, with relatively few exceptions, extraordinarily difficult.
“Such prosecutions are frequently hindered because of the loophole in federal law that exempts extortionate violence from prosecution when it is committed pursuant to so-called ‘legitimate union objectives.’
“And one objective that prosecutors often seem to regard as ‘legitimate’ is the acquisition of a deal with the employer providing for the termination of front-line employees who refuse to pay dues or fees to the union.
“Time and again, federal prosecutors have amassed extensive evidence that Big Labor bosses have orchestrated, authorized, and/or ratified violence, vandalism and threats for the purpose of securing forced-dues contract clauses or other union demands.
“Nevertheless, because of the pro-union violence loophole in the federal Hobbs Act, extortion investigations of the implicated union officials rarely result in an indictment.”
Scope of Enmons Loophole at Issue in Pennsylvania Case
It was in its controversial 1973 Enmons decision, Mr. Mix explained, that a divided U.S. Supreme Court exempted threats, vandalism and violence perpetrated to secure “legitimate” union goals.
“Understandably enough,” he added, “many ordinary Americans find it difficult to believe a five-justice majority on the High Court could ever have foisted such a bizarre interpretation on the Hobbs Act.
“After all, this measure’s lead congressional sponsor declared on the floor of the House that it is ‘grounded on the bedrock principle that crime is crime, no matter who commits it,’ and ‘covers whoever in any way or degree interferes with interstate or foreign commerce by robbery or extortion.’
“But professional jurists know that, as strange as it seems, the ‘legitimate union objectives’ loophole in the Hobbs Act is established case law.
“As recently as this summer, for example, while ruling on a motion in a case related to construction union violence in eastern Pennsylvania, U.S. District Judge Michael Baylson stated that the use of ‘strike-related violence’ to secure ‘legitimate’ union contract demands does ‘not constitute Hobbs Act extortion.’
“At the same time, Judge Baylson contends that Enmons does not protect the kind of violence allegedly orchestrated by Philadelphia ironworkers union chief Joe Dougherty and his cohorts, because the employees and businesses targeted were nonunion.
“But thanks to extensive media coverage of the indictment of 10 Ironworkers Local 401 bosses and militants early this year, and union lawyers’ so-far unsuccessful efforts to use Enmons to get the charges dismissed, this controversial precedent is now facing renewed public scrutiny.”
The federal indictment, to which multiple counts were added in late July, accuses Local 401 business manager Dougherty, Local 401 business agent Ed Sweeney, and their cohorts of resorting again and again to assault and vandalism to bring union-free employees and employers into line.
Nonunion Employees Were ‘Allegedly Assaulted With Baseball Bats’ by Union Goons
The original indictment specified:
“These actions include assaulting nonunion employees with baseball bats, slashing the tires of vehicles, smashing vehicles with crowbars, cutting and changing the locks on construction sites, filling the locks with superglue, damaging construction equipment, [and] stealing construction materials . . . .”
Union goons’ alleged targets include a site where a Quaker meetinghouse was being built and workers building a toy store.
As a February 24 Philadelphia Inquirer news story explained, investigators used electronic surveillance to collect “dozens of texts and conversations” in which Mr. Dougherty, Mr. Sweeney, and other union officials “allegedly congratulated one another for pulling off acts of vandalism.”
For example, the day after three defendants allegedly inflicted roughly $500,000 in damages by setting a crane on fire and cutting steel beams and bolts supporting the Quaker meetinghouse then under construction with union-free ironworkers’ participation, Mr. Sweeney sent the arsonists the text message: “Nice hit.”
Mr. Mix commended Judge Baylson for rejecting union lawyers’ contention that Enmons must be applied even to extortionate violence committed against nonunion business owners and managers who aren’t legally required to negotiate with union bosses over anything.
But he also noted that, should Joe Dougherty and other Ironworkers Local 401 bosses be convicted on some or all of the racketeering charges they now face, they would still be able to file an Enmons-based appeal, based on the claim that the district judge interpreted this precedent too narrowly.
Freedom From Union Violence Act Would Close Enmons Loophole
“One positive aspect of U.S. v. Joseph Dougherty,” said Mr. Mix, “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 legislatively and hold union bosses who orchestrate threats and violence accountable under the Hobbs Act. That’s exactly what S.2535 and H.R.2021 would do.
“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 ironworkers union lawyers have used this year in federal court to try to get alleged union racketeers 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, 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.”