Editorials

editorial

No place for Teamsters’ thuggish tactics

Members of Teamsters Local 25 were arraigned Wednesday on extortion charges stemming from alleged incidents involving last year’s “Top Chef” production in the Boston area.
Jane Flavell Collins
Members of Teamsters Local 25 were arraigned Wednesday on extortion charges stemming from alleged incidents involving last year’s “Top Chef” production in the Boston area.

Mayor Walsh owes the public some answers about his administration’s relationship with Teamsters Local 25, the union that’s again in trouble after five members, including the union’s secretary-treasurer, were indicted for extortion . The indictments themselves aren’t any surprise — the union has a long and checkered history with law enforcement — but the city’s role in the allegations was.

The indictments stem from last summer’s filming of the television show “Top Chef” in and around Boston. When the Teamsters learned the show’s producers had already hired nonunion crews, prosecutors say, they demanded jobs for their members.

By itself, advocacy isn’t a crime; it’s what unions do. But the Teamsters, prosecutors said, crossed the line into criminal actions by seeking to extort “imposed, unwanted, unnecessary and superfluous” jobs for their members from the producers, and then threatening violence against the show when it didn’t comply. They slashed tires at a set in Milton and made verbal threats. Their actions weren’t aimed at unionizing the crew at “Top Chef,” but at getting money for themselves. It was, in other words, a shakedown.

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And someone in City Hall, according to prosecutors, seemingly played a role. An unnamed city official called two venues in Boston where “Top Chef” planned to film and warned them that the Teamsters would picket their establishments if the production went ahead. One of the venues, Omni Parker House, dropped out of the production after the city official’s call.

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Walsh says he does not know the identity of the official who made the call, and has asked attorney Brian Kelly, a former federal prosecutor, to conduct an internal review. It’s always possible that there’s an innocent explanation. But a full and fair investigation is definitely needed here; otherwise it would appear that the unnamed public official’s call helped the union put pressure on the producers to give them the unnecessary and unneeded work.

But the effect of the Teamsters’ thuggish tactics is embarrassingly clear. The Teamsters, US Attorney Carmen Ortiz said Wednesday, “managed to chase a legitimate business out of the City of Boston and then harassed the cast and crew when they set up shop in Milton. This kind of conduct reflects poorly on our city and must be addressed for what it is — not union organizing, but criminal extortion.”

Such self-serving schemes, under the guise of union actions, have no place in modern Boston. As the mayor, Walsh ought to take a strong stand against them. The mayor’s spokeswoman, Laura Oggeri, issued a statement Wednesday that said, “If the allegations against these five individuals are found to be true, we do not condone these activities in any way.” The same should be true if Kelly finds any official knowingly aided them.