Opinion

Big labor’s federal union violence exemption has cost workers their lives

Mark Mix President, National Right to Work

Many Americans believe that union violence is a thing from a long-ago era in labor relations. Sadly, on Labor Day 2013, they would be wrong.

Even now, union officials and their cohorts in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania are executing a prolonged campaign of intimidation, harassment, and even violence against construction firms and their workers who refuse to toe the union line.

The city’s construction trade unions targeted brother developers Matt and Mike Pestronk, who founded Post Brothers Construction, when they started converting an old factory building into an apartment complex.

After construction began, Philadelphia Building Trades Union militants planted nail “bombs” — nails welded together in a ball — to puncture tires of vehicles driving to and from the company site, pouring oil in front of the loading dock, blocking site deliveries, and shoving security guards simply because the Pestronk brothers hired non-union workers.

Worse, union thugs stalked the brothers’ wives and female employees, disseminated sexually suggestive materials and threats aimed at the brothers’ wives, and physically assaulted a nonmember construction engineer when he arrived at the work site.

The reports of vandalism, threats, and violence systematically targeted at Philadelphia construction employees and companies who wish to remain union-free are not anomalies. And sadly, thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court, workers and job providers targeted by union violence may have little recourse.

You see, a divided court held in its controversial 1973 United States v. Enmons ruling that violence and property damage done to advance “legitimate union objectives” are exempt from the Hobbs Act, a 1946 federal law that prohibited the obstruction of commerce via robbery, extortion, and violence.

In Enmons, the court ruled that striking union operatives who fired high-powered rifles at three company transformers, drained the oil from another company transformer, and blew up an entire company transformer substation were immune from federal prosecution. If these union thugs had been anyone else, they would have been subjected to prosecution under the Hobbs Act, but because they were perpetrating these crimes during a union-instigated strike against the company over higher wages, they were immune.

The court’s exemption gives union thugs license to harass, intimidate, and even attack independent-minded workers who are just trying to make a living and provide for their families during a strike.

Local union lawyers recently used the Enmons precedent to defend union thugs in Buffalo, New York who stabbed a construction company owner in the neck, threw scalding hot coffee at nonunion construction workers, caused $330,000 of damage by pouring sand into construction vehicles’ engines, and threatening a company representative that they were going to sexually assault his wife during a prolonged campaign of intimidation targeting nonunion workers and firms. The national AFL-CIO union hierarchy even moved to file a brief citing Enmons as reason not to prosecute the union militants.

And as a result of Enmons, Big Labor’s reliance on coercion to achieve its goals has permeated to its very core. In fact, it’s even reflected in big labor’s approach to organizing. In the 26 states without right to work protections for workers, non-member employees can be fired if they refuse to pay union dues. Meanwhile, union organizers are increasing making home visits to pressure workers into signing union cards that are later counted as “votes” toward unionization in a process commonly referred to as “card check.”

Big labor enjoys many special government granted powers and privileges but Republicans and Democrats should both agree that the exemption from prosecution for perpetrating violence should not be one of them. Fortunately, Congress has the power to override the Supreme Court’s ruling in Enmons by simply passing a law giving federal law enforcement agencies the same authority to investigate union violence as they do any other crime.

And that is why U.S. Congressman Paul Broun has introduced the Freedom from Union Violence Act (H.R. 2021) to immediately restore law and order to the American work force.

Violence is violence, and no one should be empowered to intimidate, beat up, and even kill workers simply because they do not acquiesce to union demands. Congress should act now, before someone else loses their life.

Mark Mix is president of the National Right to Work Committee.