“Epidemic of Union Violence”

A 1973 Supreme Court decision effectively made vandalism, assault and even murder by union officials exempt from federal anti-extortion law, and “the result has been an epidemic of union-related violence,” according to a new study from the Cato Institute (www.cato.org). In “Freedom from Union Violence,” author David Kendrick traces the history of labor law and union violence during the 20th century, beginning with the notorious case of a former Idaho governor murdered in 1905 by union mine workers who felt he had betrayed them by calling in federal troops during a strike.

In 1946 Congress passed the Hobbs Act, aimed at a wide spectrum of union violence. Among other things, it defined criminal extortion as “the obtaining of property . . . by wrongful use of actual or threatened force, violence or fear [emphasis added].” In using the word “wrongful,” Kendrick says, “Congress left a narrow opening through which the U.S. Supreme Court would push a bulldozer in 1973.” In its decision in United States v. Enmons, the Court upheld a lower court ruling that three electrical union members indicted for sabotaging a substation and other violence had done nothing illegal because they were pursuing “legitimate” union objectives.

“The Court’s misreading of the clear legislative history of the Hobbs Act is incredible,” he writes. Kendrick, who is program director at the National Institute for Labor Relations Research, draws on his organization’s comprehensive data file to quantify the result. “Since 1975, at least 181 Americans have died as a result of union violence,” the data show. “There have also been more than 5,600 assaults, kidnappings, and threats-almost all committed by striking union militants.”

Kendrick catalogs many of the most serious instances of union violence since the Enmons decision and reports that despite nearly 9,000 incidents of union-related violence since 1975, there were fewer than 2,000 arrests and only 258 convictions. Research indicates that “barely 3 percent of the violent incidents recorded in the Institute’s data file have led to convictions,” and thus “thousands of acts of union violence have gone unpunished,” the report concludes. “Legislation such as the Freedom from Union Violence Act may be the only way of dealing with the problem.”