In desperate times, desperate measures are undertaken, and today that means some unions are willing to use intimidation and violence to force employers to meet demands. When unions turn criminal, they use strategies like extortion, assault, arson and property destruction to coerce employers and employees. There are numerous documented cases of unions crossing the line, and the laws are such that employees and employers can legally be put at risk of physical harm.
Acting Like Thugs
The National Institute for Labor Relations Research maintains the Institute’s Violent Event Data File. It contains 9,000 recorded cases of union violence—an average of 200 cases per year since 1975. There are also likely numerous unreported incidents. Violent acts include property damage and personal injury.
Unions have unprecedented legal protection, giving their representatives the freedom to act like thugs. It is estimated that only 3 percent of the 9,000 recorded violent incidents led to an arrest and conviction. The reason is that the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court case of “United States v. Emmons” decision held that union violence is exempt from the Hobbs Act when the violence is meant to secure “legitimate union objectives.” The Hobbs Act prevents interference with interstate commerce by using threatened or actual force, fear or violence.
The Emmons case permits property destruction, assault and personal injury as long as end goals are legitimate objectives. Some unions do go too far. In September 2015, five Boston Teamsters were indicted for attempted extortion of an out-of-town production company working on the show “Top Chef.” The union chased the legitimate business out of town and tormented the cast and crew.
The investigating FBI agent commented that unions do not have the right to use intimidation and violence, but it is noteworthy that he also said the strong-arm tactics were so egregious that they deserved investigation. It implies that not all cases of union intimidation and violence are worthy of investigation.
Sanctioning Employee Abuse
Last year, the union boss of the Ironworkers’ Local 401 in Philadelphia was sentenced to 19 years in prison for racketeering. He sanctioned nine fellow thugs to commit arson, beat nonunion workers with baseball bats and start brawls with nonunion employees of construction contractors. As the case worked its way through the courts, there were more convictions.
Employers need to understand the full implications of unionization, including the risk of violence. Strategies for staying union-proof include communicating the potential impact of organizing on employees by using documented cases of union acts. Employees need the right skills to repel union advances and need to be armed with the knowledge that union representatives are only sharing information that serves their purpose. The best way to keep unions out is to develop an effective communication system that promotes positive employer-employee relationships.