Thomas Williamson Sr. and Jeffrey Veach had a traditional, “old school” approach to putting union workers on the payroll. That approach may win them a stiff prison sentence. On January 24, Williamson and Veach, respectively, member and president of the Portage, Ind.-based International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental and Reinforcing Iron Workers Local 395, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana to one count of extortion conspiracy related to violent physical assaults committed four years earlier against nonunion workers at a construction site in Dyer, Ind. The pair had been arrested and charged in August 2018 following an investigation by the FBI, the U.S. Labor Department’s Office of Inspector General and the Dyer Police Department.
Union Corruption Update described this organized thuggery and its context several days after the arrests. Back on January 6, 2016, Local 395 member Thomas Williamson paid a visit to the foreman of a construction crew working on the expansion of the Plum Creek Christian Academy in Dyer, Ind., about a 40-minute drive south of Chicago just across from the Illinois state line. He wasn’t in a chipper mood. The crew had been hired by a nonunion contractor, the Cary, Ill.-based D5 Iron Works, Inc. According to eyewitnesses, Williamson instructed Richard Lindner, a crane operator and D5 president, to “sign up” with the union or cease work at once. Lindner asked Williamson to leave the site, as he was not covered by any accident insurance. Williamson tried a different course of action. He entered the church and engaged a youth pastor in conversation. It was “unethical,” he said, to use nonunion labor. This request did not make much of an impression on the pastor.
The following day, January 7, Williamson, accompanied by Jeffrey Veach, returned to the construction site. Lindner once again refused to be intimidated. It was at this point that Williamson allegedly grabbed Lindner’s jacket and called him a “scab bastard.” He then told Veach that it was time to “go back to old school.” The pair left the site and returned around 3 P.M. with about 10 union members, inflicting their own brand of persuasion. Union goons beat any number of nonunion workers with fists, steel-toe boots and pieces of hardwood. One worker, Scott Kudingo, suffered a broken jaw and had to undergo multiple surgeries at a local hospital. A month later, in February 2016, D5 Iron Works and five of its workers filed a civil suit in Illinois federal court against Iron Workers Local 395, seeking at least $3 million in actual damages plus an unspecified sum in punitive damages. The suit later was moved to Hammond, Ind. federal court in whose jurisdiction the attack took place.
The civil suit triggered a criminal investigation which in turn led to arrests and criminal charges in August 2018 against Williamson, Veach and several unidentified defendants for extortion conspiracy under the Hobbs Act of 1946. On the advice of their attorneys, the defendants pleaded not guilty, and were released on bond. The defense was counting on a dismissal given the U.S. Supreme Court’s Enmons decision of 1973 which interpreted the Hobbs Act as exempting unions from prosecution if they can demonstrate a pursuit of “legitimate” business objectives. This strategy would be to no avail. The extortion here was too blatant even for this loophole to be usable. As part of their plea deal, Williamson and Veach will be barred from holding union office for at least 13 years following the completion of their sentences; Veach in particular will vacate his position as union president. It looks like a happy ending so far.