Posted on September 28, 2011

Extortion Charges Hit Labor Coalition

Tamer El-Ghobashy, Wall Street Journal, September 27, 2011

The price of “security” at some construction sites was $1,000 a month. “Labor peace” was more expensive: $400 a week. Even “good will” was for sale, going for $100 a week.

To contractors who refused to pay, the United Hispanic Construction Workers delivered a stark message, sending van-loads of its members wielding baseball bats and pickaxes to New York City construction sites, authorities said.

Manhattan prosecutors made the allegations Monday in an indictment charging the UHCW and its two top officials with using violence and the threat of violence to extort contractors.

Charges against the nonprofit came after a lengthy investigation built around wiretapped phone calls between contractors and the UHCW’s leaders, prosecutors said. {snip}


Their defense attorney, Murray Richman, said he believed authorities were unfairly targeting the group, which he said has secured more than 10,000 jobs for members in 25 years.

“If white guys do it, they call it a union,” Mr. Richman said. “If people of color do it, they call it a crime.”


According to its website, the coalition was established in 1982 to help black and Latino construction workers secure jobs that were historically dominated by white laborers and their unions. Violent clashes between UHCW members and contractors have occurred over the years, police said.

Prosecutors said the coalition forced companies that wouldn’t hire its workers to make payments to avoid trouble. When contractors refused, coalition members would show up in force at their sites. Over the past five years, the group targeted 15 job sites, which prosecutors would not name.

In several cases, Mr. Vance said, “as many as 30 members stormed a job site in an attempt to intimidate the builder and force him or her into paying for bogus security costs, labor peace, or protection from other labor coalitions.”