The Agenda

Murray Richman on Organized Labor and Double Standards

As much as I hate to be polemical, an article in the New York Times that caught my eye. It’s on a labor organization in New York city that has embraced a series of controversial tactics to advance the interests of its members:

Two leaders of a minority labor coalition pleaded not guilty on Monday to charges that they used their organization, United Hispanic Construction Workers, as a baseball-bat-wielding criminal enterprise that threatened and extorted its way onto construction sites across Manhattan and the Bronx over the last 16 years.

The defendants’ lawyer made an observation I found provocative, yet that I’ve been assured is quite sound:


Murray Richman, the defendants’ lawyer, said in court that the labor organization had an extensive job-creation record over the last 25 years and defended members’ right to seek construction work. “If white guys do it, they call it a union,” Mr. Richman said. “If people of color do it, they call it a crime.”

Outside the courthouse, Mr. Richman called coalition members — several dozen of whom surrounded him and applauded the defendants — hardworking people who had been forced to become “self-defensive on occasion.”

“These are decent people who want a decent life, just like everybody else,” he said. The organization’s legal troubles date to at least 1993, when some of its members were among 31 indicted on extortion charges. Four of the coalition’s members were acquitted — including Mr. Rodriguez — and a fifth acquitted on all but two counts. [Emphasis added]

A friend I trust observed that predominantly white construction unions in South Jersey are notorious for using similar tactics, which inclines me to think that Richman is actually making an important point: why do we turn a blind eye in some of these cases but not others? To be sure, I think that Richman draws the wrong conclusion, namely that the double standard is a reason to forgive or excuse his defendants rather than a reason to think twice about lionizing the “white guys” in question.

The Mitt Romney campaign has been gathering stories from employers, and this particular one is salient. It is safe to assume that there is another side to the story, which should be aired. It is important to take campaign advertisements with a big grain of result. Regardless, I found the story chilling and depressing. 

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