In December, three ex-officials of the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 17 pled guilty to extortion.
The charges the trio faced stem from a campaign of violence against non-union contractors in the Buffalo, New York region and involved more than the three who pled guilty.
Five of their former union brothers have decided, however, to take their chances in court–with the trio who pled guilty now helping the prosecution.
The case involves a myriad of violent acts, including a (non-fatal) stabbing, throwing hot coffee in the face of one victim, threats, sabotage, and property damage.
According to court papers, the executive who was stabbed in the neck asked a union organizer what benefit he would get if he hired members of the union.
“You guys slash my tires, stab me in the neck, try to beat me up,” he protested. “What are the positives?”
“The positives,” reportedly replied the organizer, “are that the negatives you are complaining about would go away.”
Last week, the trial against the five union thugs began, with both sides making their opening arguments.
According to the Buffalo News, it appears that the defense will be making the typical union argument that union violence is legal:
The defense is expected to counter by emphasizing the contentious nature of labor-management relations, especially in the construction industry, where it can be violent and confrontational.
They also plan to argue that while the layman may find the union’s conduct troublesome, in many cases it was lawful.
“They did what the law allows them to do,” said defense lawyer Joel L. Daniels. “They did what they had the green light to do.” [Emphasis added.]
Under a 1973 Supreme Court case, U.S. vs. Enmons, the justices ruled that, while individuals could be held accountable for their violent acts, unions as a whole could not if those acts were committed to serve a legitimate union objective.
As the Cato Institute reported years ago:
Under the Supreme Court’s 1973 Enmons decision, vandalism, assault, even murder by union officials are exempt from federal anti-extortion law. As long as the violence is aimed at obtaining property for which the union can assert a “lawful claim”–for example, wage or benefit increases– the violence is deemed to be in furtherance of “legitimate” union objectives. By the Court’s peculiar logic, such violence does not count as extortion.
The result has been an epidemic of union-related violence. The National Institute for Labor Relations Research (NILRR) has recorded 8,799 incidents of violence from news reports since 1975. Those reports show only 258 convictions, suggesting a conviction rate of less than 3 percent. Moreover, local law enforcement authorities often get many more reports of strike violence than journalists can possibly cover.
This is the loophole that the defense attorneys representing the operating engineers thugs in Buffalo apparently plan on exploiting.
Despite the frequency of union violence that occurs, union-bought politicians have effectively blocked the Freedom from Union Violence Act from passage.