A former union president was sentenced to more than three years in prison for violent extortion on Wednesday after he coordinated a brutal assault on a group of non-union workers at an Indiana church.
Jeffrey Veach resigned as president of Iron Workers Local 395 after pleading guilty to the charges in January—two days after the labor group endorsed Joe Biden. The 57-year-old Veach coordinated an attack in January 2016 against D5 Iron Works, a non-union company in Illinois, over a construction contract that encroached on the union's perceived "territory." The attack left one of the non-union workers with a broken jaw that later required multiple surgeries.
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"At Veach's direction, the union members conducted a coordinated attack on the D5 workers," the Justice Department said in a release. "The victims were beaten with fists and loose pieces of hardwood."
Iron Workers Local 395 did not respond to a request for comment about Veach's sentence.
Union attorneys argued that the incident should have been exempt from prosecution because the assault took place as part of "legitimate union objectives," echoing the 1973 Supreme Court Enmons ruling, which found federal anti-extortion laws do not apply to union violence if it is conducted to advance union interests. Labor watchdogs welcomed the sentence, saying that the federal government needs to ramp up enforcement to curb violence. Matthew Leen, vice president of the National Right to Work Committee, called on Congress to eliminate that exemption in the future.
"Unfortunately, there is a long history of union bosses considering intimidation and violence to be legitimate tools to be used against workers and employers who refuse to toe the union line," Leen told the Washington Free Beacon. "This case demonstrates why it is past time to enact the Freedom of Union Violence Act, which eliminates unions' exemptions from the Hobbs Anti-Extortion Act."
The Iron Workers union endorsed Joe Biden for president in January, two days before Veach's guilty plea, calling Biden "one of us" in a statement. It has since spent more than $1 million to bolster the Biden campaign and other Democratic candidates, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Veach will be barred from serving in union leadership again for another 13 years at the end of his prison term.