Union Boss Doing Double Duty as Motorcycle Gang Chief

As a boss of the Outlaws motorcycle club since the early 1990s, the prosecutor alleged, Thomas E. “Woody” Sienkowski built and detonated bombs, trashed taverns and went hunting along Midwest highways armed with an assault rifle, rival biker gangs his prey.  He allegedly hustled drugs, conspired to commit murder and was a committed field general in a war pitting the Outlaws against their encroaching rivals, the Hell’s Angels.


Sienkowski began serving a 10-year prison term [for racketeering] earlier this year and currently is being held at the Milan (Mich.) Federal Correctional Institution.


But the efforts on behalf of Sienkowski by [Bucyrus Intl.] and by the Steelworkers union leadership [Local 1343] did not go unnoticed back in South Milwaukee, where union politics still are in an uproar and feelings about Bucyrus and its dealings with Sienkowski.


More than a dozen other steelworkers interviewed in recent months said they believed their representation was compromised by having a top officer under indictment who enjoyed a working trip to Las Vegas, frequent use of company phones, visits with his lawyer on company time, use of a cell phone while at work and strong management support during a headline-making criminal trial.


Those interviewed said these allowances for Sienkowski came while he was using his widely known association with the Outlaws to stifle any dissent.  They also said he was discouraging grievances, vowing revenge against political opponents and even threatening violence against individuals who questioned his and Janikowski’s policies.


Most of the Bucyrus workers interviewed asked that their names not be used for fear of reprisal by the union, by the company or even by the Outlaws.


About the same time he began working at Bucyrus [in 1977], Sienkowski began his association with the Outlaws. At the plant, he did not hide those ties.  It would have been hard to do anyway, since his body was adorned with Outlaws tattoos, including an old club emblem featuring a swastika and a raised middle finger.


He was first elected in 1997 as a committeeman. In 2000, he was elected vice president, both of the local’s unit at Bucyrus and of the local itself, an amalgamated union representing workers at a half-dozen other companies.


Shortly after Sienkowski’s election in 2000, employees said that unusual fliers began appearing on the Bucyrus-controlled union bulletin boards near the time clocks.  Pro-Outlaws, anti-government literature, including an appeal for money for the defense of several Outlaws awaiting federal racketeering trials, allegedly went up.  When Sienkowski himself was indicted, more fliers allegedly appeared, asking workers to give money to union stewards for his family.


Among the qualities that [current Local 1343 president] Janikowski enumerated in his letter to the sentencing judge was that Sienkowski “knows how to raise and discuss issues in a non-threatening manner.”


That is at pointed odds with the descriptions of a half-dozen individuals interviewed who alleged acts of intimidation by Sienkowski relating to workplace issues ranging from mandatory overtime to the merits of the contract.


Several described a similar scenario — confrontation at the plant followed that evening by a visit at their home by Sienkowski, riding slowly by on his Harley-Davidson in their neighborhoods, his Outlaws “patch” in plain view.


“He would drive by and make sure I would see him,” said one Bucyrus employee. “You can’t confront those people,” he added. “Why? Because they have too much backing and too many devious ways.”


Another worker said that after a dispute with Sienkowski, in which Sienkowski demanded his steward pin, he was followed home by a black sedan.  After he called federal agents, he said, the sedan was intercepted and he was never followed home again. Federal agents won’t comment on the story.