A federal appeals court has reversed multiple extortion and racketeering convictions against two Teamsters found guilty in 2014 of threatening to picket businesses unless they hired union workers.
According to the decision handed down Friday by 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Juan Torruella in Boston, former Teamsters John Perry and Joseph Burhoe didn't violate a federal law against using robbery or extortion to influence interstate commerce because the defendants were seeking real jobs for themselves and union members.
"Not only were the jobs not fictitious, the government failed to prove that the union members did not perform actual work," the decision said.
The decision also said the court failed to instruct the jury that picketing to alert the public that an employer hires nonunion workers "undertaken to maintain the prevailing wage in the community" is a "legitimate labor objective."
The men were convicted in November 2014 after employers and managers of various businesses testified that they were threatened and intimidated by the Teamsters. The case focused on the men's actions between 2007 and 2011.
The court upheld a conviction against the two men on a lesser charge.
The ruling comes after four Teamsters were acquitted last month of threatening "Top Chef" host Padma Lakshmi and using strong-arm tactics to try to extort jobs from a nonunion company filming the reality TV show in the Boston area.
The attorney who represented Burhoe in the case told The Boston Globe that she's relieved by the reversals.
"The court recognized what we argued from the beginning of this case five years ago: that threats of pickets are a legitimate labor tool and that union members have a right to seek work that is being done by non-union members at lower wages," said Miriam Conrad, the head federal public defender in Boston.
A spokeswoman for Acting United States Attorney William Weinreb said prosecutors are withholding comment until the decision is reviewed.