In the wake of a Verizon strike that saw clashes between union protesters and company employees, it’s worth asking a simple question: Why do union toughs have a federal “Get Out of Jail Free” card?
Most people don’t know it, but the Supreme Court’s 1973 Enmons decision exempts union officials from federal prosecution for violent activities “used to gain legitimate union objectives.” This baffling immunity gives union thugs license to harass, intimidate and even attack independent-minded workers.
According to figures compiled by the National Institute for Labor Relations Research, the media has reported more than 12,000 instances of union violence over the last three decades. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg - incidents that didn’t make the morning paper point to a much larger, unreported total.
Union violence reflects Big Labor’s coercive approach to organizing. Instead of relying on persuasion, union officials have increasingly resorted to threats and compulsion to swell their forced-dues-paying ranks. In states without right-to-work laws, non-union employees can be fired if they refuse to pay union dues. Notorious “card check” organizing drives allow union operatives to pay house calls and gang up on individual workers to get them to sign authorization cards, which are then counted as “votes” toward unionization. And Big Labor’s top leadership has never shied away from coercive or even violent activities.
Richard Trumka, the AFL-CIO’s president, is a case in point. As head of the United Mine Workers (UMW), Mr. Trumka made his reputation by leading notoriously violent strikes. In 1989, a Virginia judge concluded that “violent activities are being organized, orchestrated and encouraged by the leadership of this union” during a UMW strike against Pittston Coal. In 1993, Eddie York was shot dead for the crime of going to work during another UMW work stoppage.
When one reporter asked him about union violence, Mr. Trumka dismissively replied: “I’m saying if you strike a match and put your finger in it, you’re likely to get burned.”
Mr. Trumka’s thuggish tactics are symptomatic of Big Labor’s culture of coercion. In non-right-to-work states, federal labor law allows union officials to extract mandatory dues from non-union employees. Union bosses think a chunk of every workers’ paycheck is rightfully theirs - and history proves they’ll do almost anything to get it.
Union violence shows no sign of abating, either. A 2007 Volvo strike in Dublin, Va., turned ugly when United Auto Worker vigilantes smashed car windows, slashed tires and even held a mock “scab funeral” to silence independent workers. In 2009, a California state employee was beaten up for the crime of trying to videotape a local meeting of the Service Employees International Union. Just a few weeks ago, an Ohio contractor woke up to gunfire and the word “scab” scrawled across his vehicle.
Meanwhile, an uncertain end to the Verizon strike won’t erase memories of union intimidation. A Superior Court in Suffolk, Mass., issued an injunction against the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers during the strike after finding that union toughs resorted to violence or threats of violence against company employees. According to Verizon, company managers were stalked and sexually harassed by union operatives. One nonstriking employee was even shot with a BB gun.
Violence isn’t a partisan issue. It’s a simple question of right or wrong. Union thugs shouldn’t be empowered to intimidate, beat up and even kill workers who refuse to toe the union line. Federal law enforcement agencies should have the same authority to investigate union violence as they do any other crime.
Instead, the glaring loophole left by the Enmonsdecision has created a massive double standard. Congress should close the union-violence exemption immediately and restore law and order to the American work force.
Fortunately, the Freedom from Union Violence Act would do just that. Americans should contact their congressional representatives today and ask that they support this critical legislation to close the union violence loophole once and for all.
Mark Mix is president of the National Right to Work Committee.