I've Often Wondered How Unions Get Away With Their Violence

Discussion in 'Politics & Religion' started by pspr, Mar 2, 2013.

  1. pspr


    Now I know.

    Last week was the 40th anniversary of a Supreme Court decision declaring that union officials were free to encourage intimidation, harassment and even violence.

    Yet while the decision in United States v. Enmons is barely remembered, its ramifications have proved far-reaching — and the need for meaningful reform is more evident than ever before.

    The facts of the cases are as striking now as they were then.

    In the midst of a union strike at a utility company, three members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) tried to extort higher wages and benefits for themselves and their fellow union members.

    Their attempts at extortion bordered on the insane. First, they fired rifles at several of the company's power transformers, then siphoned the oil from another.

    And in an incident befitting a James Bond movie rather than a union strike, the three workers ended their rampage by blowing up a company substation — a fitting final act for an attempted extortion.

    But the barbarity of the union members' actions was only matched by the bizarreness of the Supreme Court's decision on how to prosecute the guilty parties.

    In a 5-4 ruling, the Court swept aside the argument that unions engaged in coordinated anti-business activities were subject to federal anti-racketeering laws.

    To be clear: If individual union members commit criminal acts, they can be penalized under federal and state criminal and civil law.

    The Enmons case, however, unshackles union officials from any legal penalties for collectively organizing or encouraging such actions.

    Such logic would never be applied to a business attempting a similar ploy. Should a corporate executive get caught encouraging violence, intimidation or extortion, he would be prosecuted to the full extent of the law under federal racketeering charges.

    Yet, according to the Court, such logic cannot possibly be applied to unions because their actions are in pursuit of a "legitimate" union aim — e.g., their contractual demands.

    But this is more than just a history lesson. Union violence exploded after the decision.

    Research by the National Institute for Labor Relations Research found that in the first 25 years following Enmons, there occurred an "epidemic of union-related violence."

    The exact numbers were staggering: At least 8,799 incidents, resulting in only 258 convictions — a measly 3% conviction rate.

    A chief economist at the Department of Labor, Morgan Reynolds, concurred. He argued that the Enmons decision incentivized union officials to use coercion and the threat of violence.

    Their freedom from prosecution under federal racketeering laws gave them a corresponding freedom to bully and strong-arm both businesses and their own members.

    Philadelphia provides numerous examples of how widespread this issue remains.

    The National Right to Work Committee estimates that, on average, there are 45 incidents of union violence in the City of Brotherly Love each year — making union violence one of the city's longest-running traditions.

    In one horrific incident last year, picketing union members assaulted a non-union engineer as he tried to enter his construction site.

    Elsewhere, a dispute between a Philly construction union and a non-union contractor resulted in a fire that engulfed a local meeting house.

    Tellingly, union officials haven't condemned the overall trend. One prominent AFL-CIO official in the city boasted that "One person's harassment is another person's free speech exercise." He continued: "You have to protect what's yours and preserve the standards that have been established for our area."

    A CEO could never say such words in regards to his competitors or his employees. Union officials, however, are only restrained by their own moral compass.

    Meanwhile, congressional attempts to rectify this glaring issue have been met with widespread derision from union-backed candidates and their allies. The most recent attempt — the Employee Rights Act, sponsored by Sen. Orrin Hatch and Rep. Tim Scott — was caricatured as an affront to union "rights," even as it tried to criminalize unions' ability to legally threaten violence against employees.

    At least the bill supporters weren't met with violent union protests. Not that it would have mattered: The union officials behind such actions wouldn't have had much to fear, even if their members wouldn't have been so lucky.

    • Berman is executive director of the Center for Union Facts.