Look for the Union Label

, Malcolm A. Kline, Leave a comment

As labor union leaders high-five each other this weekend over their ancestors’ creation of the Labor Day holiday more than a century ago, we would do well to remember a bit of their history that neither they, nor their admirers in academe, may want you to know.

labor union stage strike

Forty two years ago, the Supreme Court exempted unions from prosecution of acts of violence. “That exemption stems from the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Anti-Racketeer­ing Act of 1943, known as the Hobbs Act,” Kevin Mooney wrote in a study published by the Capital Research Center two years ago. “That law forbids the obstruction of interstate commerce by robbery or extortion.”

“It’s the main federal law against extortion (economic gain through violence). Unions’ exemp­tion is rooted in the 1973 Enmons case, in which the Supreme Court ruled that unions are exempt because the law simply doesn’t apply when unions are seeking ‘legitimate’ union objectives.”

“The case involved three members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) who were indicted for firing high-powered rifles at three utility company transformers. The oil that drained from one of the transformers blew up a substation. The U.S. District Court in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, dismissed the charges against the IBEW, arguing that the actions were not illegal since they were done to obtain legitimate union objectives. Writing for the 5-4 majority, Justice Potter Stewart put the onus back on Congress for creating a loophole in the Hobbs Act.”

“He wrote that, because the Hobbs Act bans the ‘wrongful’ use of force in obtaining wages and other things of value, it does not ban such actions unless they are wrongful. Since unions can legitimately strike to ob­tain higher pay and benefits, unions have a ‘legitimate claim’ to those improvements, and since those claims are legitimate, the Hobbs Act does not apply. Dissenting from the Enmons decision, Justice William O. Douglas, a liberal but a staunch civil libertarian, objected that ‘The Court today achieves by interpretation what those who were opposed to the Hobbs Act were unable to get Congress to do.’”

“Thousands of violent acts have gone unpun­ished as a result of Enmons. For example, the National Institute for Labor Relations Research identified 8,799 incidents of union-related violence between 1975 and 1998. Less than 3% of these incidents resulted in convictions, according to the Institute.”