Why Teamsters were Acquitted After Menacing the “Top Chef” Crew

I remember where I was when I first blogged about this case – a hotel in San Francisco. Some things just stick with me. Perhaps I remember this because I found the actions of the Teamsters so outlandish. As outlandish as they were, they were, unfortunately, lawful – and had been since 1973.

This case arose out of events in 2014 when the Top Chef television crew was filming at a restaurant in Boston. The union used non-union vehicle drivers, but Teamsters Local 25 wanted the show to hire Teamster drivers. The show did not use Teamster drivers because it already had (non-union) employees serve as drivers.

According to Padma Lakshmi, celebrity host of Top Chef, a car in which she was a passenger tried to enter the restaurant’s parking lot to begin filming but was blocked by Teamster Local 25 members. The Teamsters “swarmed” Lakshmi’s vehicle and were “furious.” One Teamster leaned his arm into the car and said: “Lookee here, what a pretty face,” or “what a shame about that pretty face.” Lakshmi interpreted this to be a threat to her physical safety. She testified she was terrified over this, and a witnessed confirmed Lakshmi was stunned. That’s not all. The Teamsters vociferously slurred racist, misogynist, and homophobic taunts to the show’s crew while nine of the show’s production vehicles had their tires slashed.

Sounds pretty bad, right? Prosecutors agreed, and charged the Teamsters members with attempted extortion and conspiracy to extort. But, since the U.S. Supreme Court case U.S. v. Enmons (1973), this activity is lawful, and the Teamsters were acquitted. As summed up by one of the Teamsters’ lawyers, “it’s not unlawful to be mean.”

The Hobbs Act says it is illegal (criminal extortion) to threaten or use violence to obtain the property of another without consent. That is exactly what the Teamsters did here. But, Enmons, in interpreting the Hobbs Act, held that union member conduct, even if at times violent or destructive, cannot be prosecuted as criminally extortionate when that conduct was intended to further “legitimate union objectives, such as higher wages in return for genuine services that the employer seeks.” Here, Teamsters argued that their actions were intended for the lawful purpose of influencing the production company to hire Teamster drivers and to pay Teamster wages for driving services needed by the production company.

I hope this case is further appealed to the United States Supreme Court (and the Court takes it). A crime should be a crime. The Supreme Court should re-evaluate the immunity from extortionate crimes that Enmons provides unions.

Matt Austin owns Austin Legal, LLC, a boutique law firm based in Ohio that limits its representation to employers dealing with labor, employment, and OSHA matters. You can reach Matt by calling him at (614) 285-5342 or emailing him at Matt@MattAustinLaborLaw.com.

Unions Adapt to Right to Work Laws to Increase Membership

The United States now has more right to work than compulsory unionism states. In right to work states, employees are not forced to be in a union just to work at a union company. Employees, instead, choose whether to join the union and pay union dues or not pay union dues. Regardless of their decision, if the company is unionized, the union represents everyone – even those who do not pay dues. This has proved challenging to union organizers whose job is to increase revenue through dues paying members.

I recently stumbled upon some of the playbook organizers use in right to work states to increase dues.

  1. Fight the Boss

One key to surviving right to work is to do the essentials that unionists should be doing anyway: win grievances. Fight for a good contract. Involve members in regular meetings. Distribute newsletters that report your victories and struggles.

Interesting that the first rule is to create hostility at work. Instead of focusing on positive aspects of employment, the union’s objective is to “Fight the Boss” and flaunt it.

  1. Ask People to Join

Signing up a new member can be as simple as asking your co-worker to join the union: they’re not going to join if no one asks. Remind co-workers of all the ways the union has benefited them personally. Let them know their co-workers don’t appreciate their freeloading.

This assumes the union has benefited the co-worker. What about the co-worker who is not receiving merit pay increases or promotions because of the union contract? Further, is there an implied threat in letting co-workers know you “don’t appreciate their freeloading?”

  1. Make Membership the Union’s Business, Not the Boss’s

Every new employee should be welcomed into the union right away. Push for contract language that allows union leaders to talk with new hires at orientation. To prevent Human Resources from pushing drop-out forms, propose contract language that prohibits the employer from talking with bargaining unit members about union membership. That’s your business, not theirs.

While I’ve seen these clauses before but they don’t stay in a collective bargaining agreement that I’ve negotiated. Orientation is during working hours, and employees are being paid to attend. The Union has the right to talk with employees outside of work.

  1. Track Union Membership

Cross-reference your seniority list to identify those who aren’t paying dues. In your union meetings, include monthly reports on membership where you name the people who are freeloading! This helps to create a culture where it’s not okay to freeload off your co-workers.

So that was an implied threat about freeloaders in No. 2. Here, the union condones bullying co-workers until they become dues paying union members.

Matt Austin who owns Austin Legal, LLC, a boutique law firm based in Ohio that limits its representation to employers dealing with labor, employment, and OSHA matters. You can call Matt at (614) 285-5342 or email him at Matt@MattAustinLaborLaw.com.

Union Trying to Organize Casino Workers Guilty of Bullying

Unite Here tried to organize workers at an Indiana casino to join the union. Part of the organizing strategy was to harass customers of the casino at their homes and businesses through a secondary boycott. A secondary boycott is a tactic used by unions to stop a neutral third party (casino customers) from doing business with the target of the union’s labor dispute (the casino). A fine line exists between free speech protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and an illegal secondary boycott. According to the judge, Unite Here went way over that line.

Here, the union frequently visited customers of the casino at their homes and businesses. For example, the union entered a restaurant owned by casino patrons and began questioning the restaurant’s customers about the casino habits of the owners. The union refused to leave until the owners threatened to call the police to intervene.

For another example, the union members distributed leaflets to neighbors within a block of one of the casino’s patrons. The leaflets described him and his wife as being regular customers of the casino. This customer alleged that his reputation in the neighborhood had been diminished, neighbors and family members questioned whether he had a gambling addition or problem, and one neighbor stopped doing business with him since the leafletting commenced.

According to the judge, there is no doubt that the union illegally tried to coerce casino patrons from going to the casino.

Matt Austin who owns Austin Legal, LLC, a boutique law firm based in Ohio that limits its representation to employers dealing with labor, employment, and OSHA matters. You can call Matt at (614) 285-5342 or email him at Matt@MattAustinLaborLaw.com.


Reminiscent of 1985, Philly Ironworker and New Jersey Longshoreman Bosses Guilty of Extortion and Vandalism

The 73-year old union boss of the 700-member Philadelphia Ironworkers union was found guilty of running a “shadow gang” that directed union members to engage in extortion and vandalize work sites in order to intimidate nonunion contractors and control all ironwork being performed in Philadelphia. The boss faces between 15 and 110 years in prison.

The union members involved in the case had a network of individuals that identified construction projects and job sites where work was being performed with nonunion labor. Union organizers would then approach the construction foremen with threats of violence or property destruction unless they hired union members. Backing up their threat, the union members would engage in “night work” consisting of arson and vandalism at nonunion sites.

In New Jersey, a longshoreman, a former Newark police officer, and a third man pled guilty to taking “Christmas Tributes” from dockworkers on the state’s waterfront in return for better jobs and wages. Thousands of union members were required to pay between a few hundred and a few thousand dollars out of their year-end bonus in order to receive higher-paying jobs, preferred shift assignments, and overtime.

Matt Austin is a lawyer based in the Columbus, Ohio office of Roetzel & Andress, LPA who limits his practice to representing employers dealing with labor, employment, and OSHA matters. You can call Matt at (614) 723-2010 or email him at maustin@ralaw.com.