How union thugs get a free pass

Why the Free­dom From Union Vi­o­lence Act is des­per­ately needed

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - By Mark Mix

The re­cent ac­quit­tal of four Bos­ton Team­sters charged with at­tempt­ing to ex­tort the pro­duc­ers of the pop­u­lar “Top Chef” tele­vi­sion show is the lat­est il­lus­tra­tion of a loop­hole in fed­eral law that per­mits or­ga­nized la­bor to en­gage in acts of ex­tor­tion that would be illegal if any­one else tried it.

Since a 1973 Supreme Court de­ci­sion ex­empted union ex­tor­tion and rack­e­teer­ing ac­tions from the Hobbs Act, so long as the ob­ject be­ing ex­torted con­sti­tuted a le­git­i­mate union ob­jec­tive, union thugs have been get­ting a free pass on vi­o­lence and threats such as what oc­curred in June 2014.

Per­haps in­spired by their Team­sters con­tract at the time driv­ing trucks for the movie “Black Mass,” star­ring Johnny Depp as in­fa­mous Bos­ton mob­ster Whitey Bul­ger, four Team­sters Lo­cal 25 mem­bers de­cided that the Emmy-win­ning “Top Chef” show shouldn’t be per­mit­ted to film on union turf un­less union bosses got their cut.

The show’s non-union staff does what­ever driv­ing is nec­es­sary, so there was no need to hire forced dues-pay­ing Team­sters mem­bers for the po­si­tions, but that didn’t stop Team­sters goons John Fi­dler, Michael Ross, Robert Ca­farelli and Daniel Redmond from try­ing.

“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. Mr. Bris­sette, an ap­pointee of union-la­bel Bos­ton Mayor Marty Walsh, had in­formed “Top Chef” they would be ha­rassed by a Team­ster mob if they re­fused union mil­i­tants’ re­quest.

Con­se­quently, the shoot was moved to the Steel & Rye res­tau­rant in the sub­urb of Mil­ton. 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 cast and crew mem­bers as a means of “per­suad­ing” the show’s pro­duc­ers to change their minds and sign a union con­tract.

Mem­bers of the pro­duc­tion crew were as­saulted. Tires were slashed. Sex­ist, racist and ho­mo­pho­bic slurs were hurled. Ac­cord­ing to multiple re­ports model, cook­book au­thor, and “Top Chef” host Padma Lak­shmi was threat­ened: “We’re gonna bash that pretty face in, you [ex­ple­tive] whore!”

The threats and vi­o­lence were all doc­u­mented by wit­nesses in the fed­eral ex­tor­tion trial which con­cluded on Aug. 15, 2017. De­spite it all, the four Team­sters mem­bers were still ac­quit­ted be­cause of a loop­hole in fed­eral anti-ex­tor­tion law for union ac­tiv­i­ties.

In the trial, the union bul­lies’ lawyers never quite de­nied that the ex­tor­tion, as Amer­i­cans com­monly un­der­stand the term, had oc­curred. In­stead, Team­sters lawyers in­voked the con­tro­ver­sial prece­dent set by a 5-4 U.S. Supreme Court ma­jor­ity nearly 45 years ago in U.S. v. En­mons to evade jail time for their clients.

The En­mons de­ci­sion ex­empts union of­fi­cials and mem­bers from anti-rack­e­teer­ing and ex­tor­tion laws, so long as union of­fi­cials can prove their ac­tions were “le­git­i­mate union ob­jec­tives.” In this case those ob­jec­tives were get­ting “Top Chef” to hire Team­sters driv­ers, even though its nonunion per­ma­nent crew al­ready han­dled trans­porta­tion. Ken­neth Bar­ron, one of the de­fense at­tor­neys, ex­plained the de­mands to the jury: “The union doesn’t have to take no for an an­swer.”

Union lawyers re­lied on the le­gal prece­dent set in En­mons. All their clients were try­ing to do, Mr. Bar­ron in­sisted to the jury, was take jobs away from union-free work­ers and thus make them avail­able for forced union dues-pay­ing Team­sters. That seemed plau­si­ble enough to the jury, who on Au­gust 15 unan­i­mously ac­quit­ted all four de­fen­dants on all charges.

This case is set­tled, but many Amer­i­cans are left won­der­ing how this pos­si­bly could be le­gal. How can such ob­vi­ous ex­tor­tion not be illegal just be­cause a la­bor union is in­volved?

The only pos­si­ble sil­ver lin­ing of the ver­dict is that it will help fo­cus public at­ten­tion on the need for Congress to adopt leg­is­la­tion over­turn­ing the mis­be­got­ten En­mons de­ci­sion. Since 1997, the Free­dom from Union Vi­o­lence Act has been reg­u­larly in­tro­duced in Congress to do just that, with the 2017 ver­sion ex­pected to be in­tro­duced on Capi­tol Hill shortly af­ter La­bor Day.

This com­mon sense law has been stonewalled or voted down time af­ter time by Big La­bor-backed politi­cians but as the ver­dict in Bos­ton shows, the Free­dom from Union Vi­o­lence Act is still des­per­ately needed to re­store equal jus­tice un­der the law. The ugly vi­o­lence, threats, and in­tim­i­da­tion de­ployed in Bos­ton by the four ac­quit­ted Team­sters ought to re­main only in movies about mob­sters, not as a le­gal weapon to be de­ployed by or­ga­nized la­bor. Mark Mix is pres­i­dent of the Na­tional Right to Work Com­mit­tee and Na­tional Right to Work Le­gal De­fense Foun­da­tion.

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