Showing posts with label Teamsters. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Teamsters. Show all posts

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

JURY VERDICT IN “TOP CHEF” UNION EXTORTION TRIAL “TAKES THE CAKE”



"If the law supposes that," said Mr. Bumble, squeezing his hat emphatically in both hands, "the law is a ass - a idiot".
Oliver Twist – Charles Dickens (1838)

In a surprising turn of events, a federal jury in Boston has found members of the Teamsters Union not guilty on charges of extortion in an ugly case of union hardball tactics against the production crew and cast of the television show “Top Chef” while the show was filming in Boston in 2014.

I first wrote about this case in 2016 following the federal indictment of members of Teamsters Local 25 and one member entering a guilty plea to extortion.  Prior to finding the union members not guilty of extortion in attempting to force the show to hire non-union workers, the jury had been instructed by U.S. District Judge Douglas Woodlock that the prosecution had the burden of proving that the four Teamsters didn’t just want to replace non-union workers with union workers, but were instead trying to force Top Chef to hire Teamsters for truck-driving work the show neither wanted nor needed.  The judge further instructed jurors that replacing non-union workers would be a legal and legitimate labor objective.  Attorneys for the Teamsters had argued to the jury that the union members could not be convicted on federal extortion charges, even if they had made threats, if they had legitimate labor objectives in mind. To put this in perspective, let’s look back at my original post on the case, in which the Teamster Union’s tactics were described:

From the picket line outside the Milton restaurant, the members of Local 25 screamed racist, sexist and homophobic threats and slurs for hours as production crew and cast came and went.  Some of the worst conduct was directed toward the show’s host. When Lakshmi arrived at the scene, one of the union members rushed her car and screamed “We’re gonna bash that pretty face in, you f***ing whore!”  Local 25 members picketed the restaurant, physically roughed up members of the production crew, and slashed the tires of fourteen production workers.   In responding to local media reports of the incident at the time, a Local 25 spokeswoman stated, “As far as we’re concerned, nothing happened.”

U.S. Attorney William Weinreb expressed disappointment in the jury’s verdict. “The government believed, and continues to believe, that the conduct in this case crossed the line and constituted a violation of federal law. The defendants’ conduct was an affront to all of the hard-working and law-abiding members of organized labor. We will continue to aggressively prosecute extortion in all its forms to ensure that Boston remains a safe and welcoming place to do business.”

It bears mention that prior to the trial, an indicted official of Local 25 pled guilty to federal extortion charges in connection with union threats of physical violence and production disruption against the cast and crew of the top-rated culinary reality show.

In light of the egregious and undisputed facts of the union’s conduct, and the apparent strength of the government’s case at the time of the indictment, the not guilty verdict comes as a surprise.  The Northeast is a more union-friendly environment, and it is possible that may have had some influence on the jury.  As noted in my original post, there also was a local political angle.  However, if the existing labor law, as given to the jury in their instructions,  permits the type of thuggish behavior shown in this case, it begs the question of what conduct would be not be permitted?



Friday, September 16, 2016

FORMER UNION OFFICIAL’S “GOOSE IS COOKED” IN “TOP CHEF” UNION EXTORTION CASE


            “Top Chef” is one of my favorite shows, and because of my last post on a legal victory against union hardball tactics, this story out of Boston caught my eye. 
            Mark Harrington, a former official of Teamsters Local 25 pled guilty to federal extortion charges in connection with union threats of physical violence and production disruption against the cast and crew of the top-rated culinary reality show because they were using non-union workers. Charges are still pending against four other union members, who have entered pleas of not guilty. Bean Town politics also are entangled in the case. In a separate but related federal  indictment, Boston’s head of tourism is accused of withholding permits for Top Chef to film in the area and calling local restaurants that were scheduled to host the show, and threatening them that they would be picketed by the union if they did not withdraw the invitations.
            After the union officials were initially indicted in 2015, Local 25 argued that they were not engaged in criminal activity, but were instead engaged in the protected concerted activity of picketing, as allowed for under the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”).  However federal prosecutors fired back that the union defendants were not entitled to collective bargaining rights because they did not have a collective bargaining agreement with the Top Chef production company, and the positions they were seeking for union members already were filled by non-union employees.  The ugly facts of this case make it clear that what occurred was not protected union activity under the NLRA.  As noted by U.S. Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz at the time of the September 25, 2015 indictments:
In the course of this alleged conspiracy, they managed to chase a legitimate business out of the City of Boston and then harassed the cast and crew when they set up shop in Milton. This kind of conduct reflects poorly on our city and must be addressed for what it is – not union organizing, but criminal extortion.
           
             Here is what happened.  In June 2014, Top Chef came to Boston to film the twelfth season of the show.  This included Top Chef host Padma Lakshmi.  Following the threats against Boston restaurants, they withdrew their offers to host the filming of the show, and Top Chef decided to move their production plans to a well-known restaurant in nearby Milton, Massachusetts. During the production of the show, Local 25 members picketed the restaurant, physically roughed up members of the production crew, and slashed the tires of fourteen production workers. 
            From the picket line outside the Milton restaurant, the members of Local 25 screamed racist, sexist and homophobic threats and slurs for hours as production crew and cast came and went.  Some of the worst conduct was directed toward the show’s host. When Lakshmi arrived at the scene, one of the union members rushed her car and screamed “We’re gonna bash that pretty face in, you f***ing whore!”  In responding to local media reports of the incident at the time, a Local 25 spokeswoman stated, “As far as we’re concerned, nothing happened.”
            The indictment a year later charged the union members with using violent tactics in an attempt to extort jobs from Top Chef under the threat of disrupting or shutting down production.  By agreeing to plead guilty, Harrington, who was the former Secretary-Treasurer of Local 25, received a deal in which he will receive no prison time and will spend no more than two years of probation.  The maximum sentence available was up to 20 years in prison and fines of up to $250,000.  The other union members still await trial.
            According to media reports, this is not atypical behavior for Local 25.  Other union members have previously been convicted of money-laundering, extortion, racketeering and shaking down movie producers who tried to film in Boston.  The union is politically active, and has made campaign donations to Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh, a former union attorney, every member of the Boston City Council, and Attorney General Maura Healey.
            The good news in this case is that the U.S. Department of Justice took action against obviously criminal and terrorizing action by the union, but the bad news is that the relative “slap on the wrist” no jail-time sentence of Harrington is unlikely to prove much of a deterrent to such abusive union activity in the future. There is no indication as to what, if any, involvement the National Labor Relations Board ("NLRB") had in the case.
            In light of the NLRB’s recently announced joint employer standard for franchise operations, an interesting perspective on the Top Chef incident was offered in an article by the Competitive Enterprise Institute entitled “Why Isn't There a Joint Union Standard?”  According to the author:
The NLRB argued in the majority that companies utilize common business relationships—franchising, contracting and temporary staff—to insulate themselves from labor violations and collective bargaining responsibilities.
Seemingly, if corporations are deemed liable for the wrongdoings of an entity that they voluntarily associate with and may reserve control over, then why are labor unions insulated from liability when union officials commit criminal acts when pursuing union objectives—in this case, obtaining work? Also, why is a national union shielded from liability when local unions commit criminal acts?
A national union, in essence, acts in a similar fashion as a franchisor of labor services. National unions let local unions use its brand, “provide services to their locals, such as legal advice and leadership training” and help negotiate collective bargaining agreements.
           
          As they might say on Top Chef, food for thought.

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