Why Isn’t There a Joint Union Standard?

On September 29, an official and members of Boston’s Teamsters Local 25 were indicted on extortion charges, which U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz described as “old school thug tactics to get no-work jobs,” for allegedly threatening the company that produces the television show Top Chef.

The appalling actions of the Teamsters were set in motion when Mark Harrington, the secretary-treasurer of Teamster Local 25, got wind that the production company was not using union labor.

According to the Federal District Court filing, once Harrington learned of this he contacted the production company and “advised the producer that he did not care about Company A and that all he cared about was that some of his guys get hired on the show.”

The producer simply replied that all jobs on set had been filled. Harrington did not take no for an answer. Later on, Harrington and another union official “warned the producer that if Company A did not make a deal with Local 25, they would start to follow them and picket.”

The Teamsters lived up to their promise. Boston Magazine highlighted some of the more nefarious, alleged criminal activity carried out by the Teamsters, who:

“yelled profanities and racial and homophobic slurs at the crew and others” and used “actual physical violence and threats of physical violence” to intimidate the production company behind Top Chef when they realized they were not using union labor.


The indictment recalls a well publicized tire slashing incident outside Steel & Rye in Milton. Teamsters reportedly threatened the show’s host, Padma Lakshmi, with violence when she was outside the restaurant, shouting, “We’re gonna bash that pretty face in, you fucking whore!” Local Teamster officials denied the incident at the time and framed media reports as an attempt to smear organized labor.

At this point, these are only allegations, but unions are known for using these tactics (read more about union intimidation tactics, here, here, and here).

However, the alleged criminal activity by a Teamsters official brings up an interesting comparison.

In August, the National Labor Relations Board overturned decades old joint employer standard precedent that determines when one employer is held legally responsible for the actions of another employer. Before recent Board decision, two businesses were deemed joint employers only when they both exercised substantial, direct, and immediate control over hiring, firing, disciplining, supervising, and directing workers. Now the NLRB has expanded the definition to include indirect control, unexercised potential control.

The NLRB argued in the majority that companies utilize common business relationships—franchising, contracting and temporary staff—to insulate themselves from labor violations and collective bargaining responsibilities.

Seemingly, if corporations are deemed liable for the wrongdoings of an entity that they voluntarily associate with and may reserve control over, then why are labor unions insulated from liability when union officials commit criminal acts when pursuing union objectives—in this case, obtaining work? Also, why is a national union shielded from liability when local unions commit criminal acts?

A national union, in essence, acts in a similar fashion as a franchisor of labor services. National unions let local unions use its brand, “provide services to their locals, such as legal advice and leadership training” and help negotiate collective bargaining agreements.

National labor unions write up constitutions that local union constitutions or bylaws may not contradict.

National unions reserve the right to remove local presidents and takeover the operations of local unions, which is rare but it does happen.

Since labor unions exercise direct and reserved control over affiliated unions, maybe it is appropriate to hold these large organizations liable for the transgressions of other organizations that they associated with.