United States v. Enmons
|United States v. Enmons|
|Argued December 4, 1972
Decided February 22, 1973
|Full case name||United States v. Enmons|
|Citations||410 U.S. 396 (more)|
|Majority||Stewart, joined by Brennan, White, Marshall, Blackmun|
|Dissent||Douglas, joined by Burger, Powell, Rehnquist|
United States v. Enmons, 410 U.S. 396 (1973), was a controversial United States Supreme Court case in which the Court held that violence, if carried out in furtherance of a labor union's objectives, does not violate the law according to the extortion and robbery provisions of the federal Anti-Racketeering Act of 1934 or the Hobbs Act.
The case involved a labor strike in which union members fired rifles at three utility company transformers, drained the oil from another, and blew up an entire company substation. The labor union in question was seeking a higher-pay contract and other benefits from their employer, the Gulf States Utilities Company which is now part of Entergy. The Court decided that the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) was immune from prosecution because their violent acts were in pursuit of a legitimate union objective.
Details of the case
The indictment against the alleged conspirators charged them with being in violation of the Hobbs Act, which states that anyone attempting to affect or obstruct commerce through violence or the threat of violence against any person or property "shall be fined not more than $10,000 or imprisoned not more than twenty years, or both." The indictment argued that the union members obstructed commerce with their actions against the Utilities Company, and attempted to "obtain the property of [their employer] in the form of wages and other things of value" by using the wrongful use of force and the fear of economic loss.
The court acknowledged that using threats and force to obtain property is wrongful. However, the court reasoned that it is considered "wrongful" only when the perpetrator has no "legitimate claim" to it. Since federal law empowers unions with the right to strike, the use of violence to secure higher pay and benefits was not extortion. The case was dismissed. The court's ruling set a legal precedent where violent acts against an employer by workers on strike, including destruction of property, assault, and homicide, are not punishable offenses under federal law. They can, however, be punishable under state or federal civil and criminal laws. These laws can include assault and battery, murder, and theft, among others.
In understanding Enmons, it is important to keep in mind that what the Hobbs Act outlaws is extortion, not just any bad act. Federal law, in particular the National Labor Relations Act, says that collective bargaining and strikes in support of collective bargaining goals are legal and protected. Therefore, since collective bargaining is purpose that is not extortion, one of the key elements of a Hobbs Act violation is not met.
While labor unions as a whole are exempt from prosecution, individual members can still be held accountable and prosecuted according to local laws. However, evidence suggests that this rarely is the case. According to a 1998 policy analysis by the Cato Institute,
"The result has been an epidemic of union-related violence. The National Institute for Labor Relations Research (NILRR) has recorded 8,799 incidents of violence from news reports since [the Enmons ruling]. Those reports show only 258 convictions, suggesting a conviction rate of less than 3 percent. Moreover, local law enforcement authorities often get many more reports of strike violence than journalists can possibly cover."
It is difficult to tell racketeer-controlled unions from other unions, because both types depend on violence and the threat of violence…The plain truth is that our labor laws have arranged incentives so that honest, noncoercive union officials find it difficult to survive in competition with the muscleman types."
However, others argue the FUVA has greatly exaggerated the existence of union violence. In a law review article, Julius G. Getman and F. Ray Marshall, The Continuing Assault on the Right to Strike, 79 Tex. L. Rev. 703, 712-13 (2001), law professor Julius Getman and former Secretary of Labor Ray Marshall, analyzed the evidence of union violence.
The claim that strike violence is "escalating" has no empirical basis. Even the study conducted by the National Institute for Labor Relations Research - cited regularly as authority for this proposition by FUVA's proponents - draws no such conclusion. And the study itself is a scholarly monstrosity that seeks to study union violence by compiling media reports, mainly newspaper articles concerning strike violence. The Institute admits that it did not actually investigate any of the incidents reported and does not know if the reports are accurate. It concludes: "Because it relies on news accounts the Institute cannot guarantee the accuracy of the file itself." In fact, articles about employer-instigated violence are included in the study's effort to determine union violence. n59 It seems obvious that the methodology employed confuses those strikes most written about with those most violent. Further, the Institute includes incidents of "psychological violence; i.e., intimidation, coercion and verbal threats" - terms which it does not bother to define. It seems clear, however, that this definition would include nonviolent civil disobedience of the type used by the civil rights movement and increasingly by the labor movement. But whatever the definition, it is almost certain that strike-related violence has decreased since the Enmons decision because the number of strikes has declined significantly
Since 1973, a number of bills have been proposed to overturn US v. Enmons. The Freedom from Union Violence Act (FUVA) was first introduced as H.R. 1796 on June 8, 1995, and has been reintroduced in every Congress since. None of these bills have made it out of committee.
- Union Corruption: Why it happens, How to combat it at the Wayback Machine (archived October 6, 2011)
- Freedom and American Labor Relations Law: 1946-1996
- Congress Has Chance to End Union Violence
- Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council: Union's Bad Name Moving toward cleanup
- The "Enmons" Loophole: A Need to Amend the Hobbs Act.
- "UNITED STATES, Appellant, v. Travis Paul ENMONS et al.". Legal Information Institute. Cornell University Law School. Retrieved 3 May 2015.
- Freedom from Union Violence, Cato Institute Policy Analysis no. 316, September 9, 1998 by David Kendrick
-  - National Right to Work Committee: "Top Ten Special Privelages of Organized Labor"
- H.R. 1796: Freedom from Union Violence Act
- Other Legislation with the Same Title