Union workers involved in beatings plead guilty to extortion conspiracy

Two union members involved in a fight outside of a church have pleaded guilty to Hobbs Act extortion conspiracy after attempting to obtain union contracts from two employers that refused to only hire local union workers.

Plea agreements were filed Wednesday with the United States District Court for the Northern District of Indiana for Iron Workers Local 395 workers Jeffrey Veach, of Portage, and Thomas Williamson, of Schererville. A civil complaint alleging assault and battery was filed against both men and Local 395 in 2016, and the union officers were indicted by the Department of Justice in 2018.

Trouble arose in January 2016 when Veach and Williamson demanded that Illinois corporation D5 Iron Works sign a union contract and hire only Local 395 members for a construction project the company was working on in what it considered Local 395’s “territory.” D5, which employed six workers on a school construction project in Dyer, refused. None of its employees had requested union representation.

In retaliation, Veach and Williamson announced they would “take things back to old school” by using threats and violence, according to the plea agreements. The two union officers gathered up other union members that afternoon and led a coordinated assault on D5’s owner and its employees at the school while parents were picking up their children for the day.

Local 395 members attacked the D5 workers and beat them with fists and loose pieces of hardwood, kicking them while they were on the ground, according to the plea agreements. As a result of the attack, one D5 worker sustained a broken jaw that required several surgeries, extended hospitalization and medical treatment, the plea agreement says.

“The purpose of the attack was to intimidate D5 and the general contractor, in order to get the D5 workers off the site and to get Local 395 ironworkers on the site to complete the job,” the plea agreements state.

A civil suit brought by D5 and its employees sought justice and restitution. Veach and Williamson agreed in plea agreements to make 100% restitution to the company and its injured workers. According to the plea agreement, the men agreed to accept prison terms of 2 to 4.5 years, plus three years of supervision and to resign their union affiliation. Their convictions bar them from participation in union matters for 13 years under federal law.

Additionally, the civil complaint charges violation of the Labor Act, 29 U.S.C. §158(b)(4) and Indiana’s Right to Work law, and seeks damages for pain and suffering, injunctive relief and punitive damages.

Both men and the government agreed that the court should impose a prison sentence between two and 4½ years, followed by a three years of supervised release. The government agreed to dismiss counts two counts against the defendants.

“The Iron Workers made a mockery of worker free choice. These employees were beaten without any opportunity to register their desires. The criminal pleas send a powerful message to union officials nationwide and to their supporters who think America’s workers have one choice — union exclusive representation,” Center on National Labor Policy chairman Brett McMahon said in a statement.

Attorneys for Veach and Williamson did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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