As Labor Day approaches, we celebrate the role of America's workforce in making this nation great. We also hail the positive minfluence of labor unions in helping workers achieve important strides in the workplace. But we cannot ignore an ugly underside that continues to this day: union violence.
According to the National Institute of Labor Relations Research, there have been more than 9,000 reported acts of union violence since 1975. These incidents have included intimidation, sexual and racial harassment, physical violence, vandalism and even death.
The proliferation of violence can be traced to a 1973 Supreme Court decision (U.S. vs. Enmons), which made it much more difficult to prosecute union violence. According to former U.S. Attorney General Ed Meese, "Enmons creates a 'union exception' to normal principles of law, justifying the use of force to achieve a union's bargaining goals."
Legislation to close this loophole -- the Freedom from Union Violence Act -- has been consistently introduced in Congress over the years, as recently as 2001. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) held hearings on the bill and said it was "about closing a loophole in an existing federal law that, as interpreted -- or more accurately misinterpreted -- by the Supreme Court in 1973, covers the violent conduct of everyone other than labor unions in this country."
Much of the violence in the past decade has occurred in picket-lines, and there are documented accounts of vicious attacks against non-striking employees: shootings, stabbings, beatings, as well as intimidation and harassment (including sexual and racist slurs).
A recent HBO documentary, titled American Standoff, revealed the brazen use of violence and intimidation in a Teamsters labor dispute with Overnite Trucking. The documentary reported sniper-style shootings and other threats at employees who chose not to join the union strike. During the labor dispute, William Wonder was hit in the stomach by sniper fire while driving his truck home from a job.
In May, a member of the United Auto Workers (UAW) who was sympathetic to the United Steel Workers of America (UWSA) in its labor dispute with AK Steel was charged with plotting to launch homemade rockets at the company's Mansfield, Ohio, plant. Less fantastic - but no less dangerous - are pipe bombs that have exploded in mailboxes, gun shots, and attacks on individuals for not joining the USWA in their labor dispute. In one incident, union members sent eight security guards and temporary workers to the hospital. Many other workers and executives been the victims of verbal intimidation, harassment, and racist and sexist slurs.
During a 1996 UAW strike at an Abex Friction Products plant in Winchester, Va., a non-striking Vietnamese immigrant (who fled to America to escape tyranny), had the windows of her car shot out and a severed cow's head placed on the hood of her car.
In another instance, Rod Carter, a UPS driver who refused to join a 1997 Teamsters strike, was pulled from his truck by five striking Teamsters who yelled racial slurs (Carter is black) and stabbed him six times with an ice pick.
It is a sad fact that many Americans who choose to work during a labor dispute are being targeted, threatened and in some instances severely injured or even killed.
It's time for Congress to turn the spotlight on these organized acts of violence to ensure that the give-and-take of labor negotiations doesn't turn violent, even deadly. Congress needs to conduct hearings on this important issue and take another serious look at legislative solutions like the Freedom from Union Violence Act to close the loophole on the grave problem of union violence.