Here’s why labor gets away with almost anything it wants in Massachusetts.
Attorney General Maura Healey won’t defer to federal authorities on immigration policy and is demanding 40 years’ worth of documents from Exxon Mobil in a lawsuit challenging the company’s research on climate change. But she will happily leave it up to the feds to hold the Teamsters accountable for threats allegedly leveled against “Top Chef” star Padma Lakshmi back in 2014 — a time period Healey absurdly described as “years ago” during a Tuesday appearance on WGBH’s “Boston Public Radio.”
The acquittal of four Teamsters of attempted extortion as defined by the federal Hobbs Act led to a general conclusion the case belonged in state court. Not according to Healey. “That’s not my call to make,” said Healey, the AG who routinely takes on the Trump administration, from objecting to a temporary travel ban to standing up for sanctuary cities.
“But I want to be clear, I denounce that behavior,” said Healey, concerning the alleged actions of the defendants, who belong to Teamsters Local 25.
It’s easy to denounce the intimidation and racist and sexist remarks allegedly directed at the “Top Chef” production crew. But if there’s evidence of laws being broken, the AG has wide latitude to prosecute. Measured against her ferocious stance on national issues, Healey’s rationale for standing down in her own backyard is weak. Right after the acquittal, a spokeswoman for Healey told Globe columnist Kevin Cullen the AG — who defers to no one when it comes to President Trump — would defer to local district attorneys on a case like this. The reason that didn’t happen is also lame. A spokesman for Norfolk District Attorney Michael Morrissey said his office did not receive a complaint from Milton police, whose officers were outside the restaurant where the confrontation between Teamsters and the TV show crew took place. Two witnesses during the trial said they asked Milton police officers for help, but got no response.
The acquittals of the four Teamster defendants happened just a week ago. Since then, the city stood at the epicenter of a massive counterprotest to decry racism and bullying and stop hateful language before it was even spoken on Boston Common. Interestingly, defense lawyers representing the Teamsters argued that short of physical violence, what happens or is spoken on a picket line is protected speech. Given the outcome of the trial, the jury agreed.
If it feels like old news — it shouldn’t. The verdict and reluctance of state authorities to prosecute this type of behavior sends a message that bumps up against the one delivered by thousands of marchers denouncing hate. After the “Top Chef” case, if you’re a film company or television production crew trying to do business here with nonunion workers, expect to hear homophobic slurs and threats to smash a woman’s “pretty face.” Your tires might also get slashed and you might run into some unfriendly chest-bumping on the way into work.
The Democratic political establishment will say it doesn’t condone such actions, as it does its best to look the other way. Relieved the trial was over, Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh made it clear that, in his mind, “This trial was all about Milton, it had nothing to do with Boston.” Even as he said that, two Walsh aides await federal trial on separate, union-related extortion charges, accused of forcing Boston Calling concert organizers to hire union workers in 2014. Given the failure of federal prosecutors to win convictions in the “Top Chef” case, pressure is growing for the government to drop the Boston Calling case.
If that happens, it’s one more signal to labor that anything goes.