The Union Way
Punishment-free violence — and the legal loophole that allows it.


Deroy Murdock

Armed militants advance their agenda by bombing their opponents’ property, assaulting their persons, and even attempting to murder them. This is a case for the Department of Homeland Security, right?


Though they sometimes resemble terrorists, these non-state actors enjoy legal protection. Federal law lets labor zealots threaten and commit violence that promotes sanctioned union goals.

In the 1973 U.S. v. Enmons case, the Supreme Court exempted unions from the 1946 Hobbs Anti-Extortion Act, which forbids the obstruction of interstate commerce through violence or blackmail. Thanks to the Enmons loophole, organized labor can escape federal Hobbs Act prosecution, provided its mayhem furthers “legitimate union objectives,” such as higher wages. At least 15 states similarly shield labor brutality.

Hence, unions have rained terror upon their enemies, primarily lawful strike-replacement workers and salaried staffers. Unfortunately, those who feel union muscle often remain unavenged. As Stan Greer of the National Institute for Labor Relations Research (NILRR) explains, “the failure of overwhelmed or politically neutralized [local] police and prosecutors to enforce the law against union militants” leaves labor’s victims hungry for justice. Also distortive are union donations to elected officials who supervise law enforcement.

In an August 6, 1997 letter, for instance, Houston Police Patrolmen’s Union president Terry Martin urged his 1,100 members to “help our union brothers and sisters” in a Teamsters’s strike against United Parcel Service. Martin asked them to target UPS trucks with non-union drivers.

“Go out there and deal with the ‘scabs’ in the ‘zero tolerance’ mode that all criminals deserve to be treated with,” he wrote. “Whenever the UPS strike ends I will let you know so that we may end our ‘zero tolerance’ against the ‘scabs.’”

NILRR has found that victims of union henchmen rarely find justice in local, state, or federal criminal courts. According to media accounts NILRR has analyzed, 2,193 incidents of union violence occurred nationally between 1991 and 2001. Only 62 individuals were arrested and 10 people punished for these promised or actual attacks on people and property, yielding a reported conviction rate of just 0.45 percent. (Events the media missed would boost these figures.)

Consider these examples of union impunity:
Labor Ready manager Matthew Kahn helped guide replacement workers to Hollander Home Fashions after its Los Angeles-area plant was struck by the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees in March 2001. Ramiro Hernandez and several UNITE organizers allegedly ambushed Kahn on May 18, 2001 in Labor Ready’s parking lot. Khan suffered a concussion and multiple head lacerations. According to Women’s Wear Daily, Hernandez’s lawyers said he was arrested, but all charges against him were dropped.

The International Brotherhood of Teamsters was on strike against Overnite Transportation between October 1999 and October 2002. In Overnite’s resulting RICO lawsuit against the Teamsters, Memphis-based federal District Court Judge Bernice Donald said that 55 shootings and additional brick and projectile attacks against Overnite’s non-striking drivers were “related to attempted murder.”

20-year Overnite employee William Wonder was shot in the abdomen while driving a company vehicle near Memphis, Tennessee on December 1, 1999.

“Overnite bears a heavy responsibility here,” Teamsters president James Hoffa Jr. said in a statement that appeared to capitalize on Wonder’s near-fatal injuries. “Overnite can end this strike at a moment’s notice with a binding agreement.”

To date, no one has paid for shooting William Wonder.

As David C. Horn, vice president and general counsel of AK Steel Corporation, testified before the House Education and Workforce Committee last September 26, negotiations with the United Steelworkers of America and AK’s Mansfield, Ohio plant faltered in March, 1999. A company billboard soon sported a poster that read:

Wanted — good reliable small arms, unused explosives (C-4 preferred) names and addresses of all salary employees. Payback time!

The following September 25, Horn testified, “two, 1-gallon explosive devices with nails are found on plant property. The fuses had been lit but failed to detonate the devices.”

After a Molotov cocktail burned beside an oxygen-hauling truck near the facility that October 15, one of two pipe-bombs tossed into the plant exploded the following November 11, luckily injuring nobody.

On December 6, 9, and 11, 1999, the home mailboxes of three salaried AK employees exploded. On the 11th, another bomb damaged an S&S Transportation truck that indirectly supplied AK scrap metal, injuring Jamie King of Leesville, Ohio, then 22, who was asleep inside the vehicle. She temporarily ended up on crutches.

After additional violence, a union representative anonymously told a reporter for a July 18, 2000 story: AK’s “going to get somebody killed by not coming to the [negotiating] table.”

Rep. Joe Wilson (R., South Carolina) has had enough of this. His Freedom from Union Violence Act would end the Enmons exemption so the feds may prosecute labor hooligans who abandon peaceful union activism for intimidation and carnage.

“One element of terrorism is instilling fear in the general public,” Wilson says by phone. “This loophole instills fear in the workplace.” Wilson, who describes himself as “a National Review Republican,” adds: “I don’t take this as an anti-union bill. It is an effort to increase safety for union and non-union workers.”

This is a perfect GOP issue. President Bush and congressional Republicans should offer Democrats this choice: Punish those who pursue union goals by force or polish the brass knuckles of the labor bosses who fill Democratic-campaign coffers.

Will compassionate Democrats help stop this savagery, or will they wink at the thuggery practiced by too many unionists? After all, labor gave Democrats $89,882,124 for the 2002 elections, vs. $6,441,332 to Republicans (or 93 vs. 7 percent of donations), reports the Center for Responsive Politics’ campaign-finance database. Unions also gave Democrats generous, undeclared in-kind contributions.

This would put Democrats in an incredibly tight spot out of which it would be fascinating to watch them try to wiggle.

A vote on Rep. Wilson’s measure will show Americans which members of Congress still want federal officials to snooze while union hoodlums bust jaws and send blood spurting across picket lines.

— Mr. Murdock is a columnist with the Scripps Howard News Service.