^ Mayor Walsh : a former labor leader who, as Mayor, cannot do “job actions.” And now knows it

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Responding to indictments of Boston City administrators Ken Brissette and Tim Sullivan by the United States Attorney’s office, some who oppose the accusations are saying not only that City Hall is not at fault in the matter but that City officials should actively encourage union hiring and union organizing. I cannot agree.

Private industry employment is none of any government’s business. The only exceptions are rules basic to all employment : minimum wages, safety concerns, paid leave and the like, as well as wage theft and workplace abuses. These are matters for the Attorney General, not for City Halls.

Association is protected by the First Amendment and by similar clauses in state Constitutions. But authorized does not mean prescribed. It is up to the associators to decide whether to associate; and firms whose employees do not associate are not to be penalized thereby, nor preferred.

City Hall certainly has a mission to attract business into the City. But attracting business does not mean telling those businesses how to manage their hiring. A City that attempted to impose such a condition would soon find itself losing businesses, not gaining them. (It has already been tried in Boston.   Two years ago a hotel developer cancelled his development when a City Councillor, at a public meeting, demanded, as a condition of his support, that the hotel be a union shop.)

Labor Law governs the organizing of unions. It neither discourages nor encourages one or the other choice. This is how it should be. Those who form businesses are free to decide how best to address their employee relationships; and they are free to campaign against the formation of a union. Those who seek to organize a union, or to maintain one, must make their case.

Other nations may do this differently; in Germany, unions are preferred, at least in large firms, as a matter of public policy. Yet even in Germany, the government does not intervene to force a decision, or to dictate to firms seeking government licenses. Much more the case in our nation, where no law or public policy permits governments to impose labor agreements upon  businesses, much less demand it.

Our law on these matters may change; but until that happens, no government official can do what Brissette and Sullivan are accused of doing, and no government head can order it or encourage it. If it is to be a condition of Boston city contracts that a firm hire a union work force, that rule must be enacted via home rule petition. My sense is that such a petition won’t pass the legislature any time soon; nor can I support it. Nor do I think such a law would or should survive Constitutional scrutiny. Yet even if I am wrong, until such law is enacted and court approved, City Hall must be scrupulously workforce neutral in the matter of approving applications by companies for city licenses.

As for the case itself, which some union activists are protesting — saying that the accused can’t have extorted because they asked “nothing for themselves” — since when is it not extortion for A to force B to pay money to C ?

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere


  1. How about leaving the legal interpretation to the lawyers? Cuz you’re way off, and you left out the most important part. This is a business that’s organizing an event on city property. The city is acting as land owner here, not as government. Any private landowner would absolutely have the right to insist that all work performed on his/her/its property be by union companies. The city has the same rights.


    1. The City cannot deny to a license applicant the license to which the City’s duly enacted ordinances entitle it. Until there is an ordinance authorizing what you advocated — and no such ordinance will ever survive the home rule process — what you advocate is illegal.-30-


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