Labor Pains: Because Being in a Union can be Painful

Threats and Violence: Look for the Union Label

A recently released report on several state laws that protect violent labor union organizers from prosecution is incredibly telling. Egregious conduct, ranging from making a “credible threat to cause serious bodily injury” to engaging in stalking that causes a person to “fear for his or her safety or the safety of a third person; or suffer other emotional distress”, is OK if it’s done in the course of labor activity.

As the United States Chamber of Commerce report explains, there’s bad legal precedent for protecting employees and employers from violent union organizing activities:

State carve outs from the criminal code are likely an outgrowth of a United States Supreme Court decision from 1973 [United States v. Enmons, 410 U.S. 396], in which the court ruled that violence in pursuit of union demands cannot be prosecuted under federal law. In the Enmons case, workers on strike at Gulf States Utilities Company were charged with “firing high powered rifles at three Company transformers, draining the oil from a Company transformer, and blowing up a transformer substation owned by the Company.”

The case was decided based on statutory interpretation of the Hobbs Act. The Supreme Court’s syllabus statement for the case is telling:

The Hobbs Act, which makes it a federal crime to obstruct interstate commerce by robbery or extortion, does not reach the use of violence (which is readily punishable under state law) to achieve legitimate union objectives, such as higher wages in return for genuine services that the employer seeks. (emphasis added)

It turns out that these actions may not actually be criminally punishable.

Legal commentators on both sides of the aisle have complained that many criminal laws that exist at the federal level could be more effectively handled by the states. But here is one instance where the states have fallen short by making exceptions for conduct that is wrongful, but for the favored actor.

It’s because of these shortcomings in federal legislation that the Employee Rights Act (ERA) prohibits union violence in organizing activity. The ERA would preempt these outrageous state law exemptions and protect employees from violence and threats.

We’re supposed to have equality under the law in America, and giving union organizers a free pass on criminal activity flies in the face of this basic right.

Categories: Center for Union FactsCrime & CorruptionEmployee Rights ActViolence