Two former officials of an ironworkers' union local in Indiana have pleaded guilty in federal court for their role in a 2016 assault on a group of nonunion iron workers on the site of a church construction project.

Jeff Veach, 56, and Thomas Williamson, Sr., 68,  pleaded guilty on Jan. 24 to a Hobbs Act extortion conspiracy before U.S. Magistrate Judge John Martin in federal district court in Hammond, Ind., according to the Dept. of Justice.

Veach is the former president of Local 395, based in Portage, Ind., and Williamson is a former business agent for the local. Before their pleas, Veach stepped down as the local's president and Williamson retired as a business agent.

Williamson and Veach admitted that on Jan. 7, 2016, they conspired to use actual and threatened violence to obtain a business contract for Local 395 from general contractor Lagestee-Mulder of Holland, Ill., and a labor contract from D5 Iron Works of Union, Ill.

D5 was performing structural ironwork for the Dyer Baptist Church in Portage's Plumb Creek Christian Academy project in the town of Dyer.

The defendants admitted to knowing that D5 was not signed to a labor contract with Local 395 and that on Jan. 6, Williamson visited the church job site to talk to the foreman of the D5 crew and convince him to “sign up” with Local 395, or to stop work on the site, the Justice Dept. said.

According to the plea, after being told to leave the site, Williamson went across the street to the church. Once inside, he confronted a youth pastor for the church and told him that it was “unethical” to use nonunion labor for the construction site.

Indiana is a right-to-work state and the state does not permit union membership as a requirement of employment. Williamson offered to get “his guys” on the job site instead. The next morning, Williamson returned to the site, accompanied by Veach.

The D5 foreman again refused to join the union and asked the two defendants to leave the site. Williamson became angry and grabbed the foreman’s jacket, calling him, among other things, a “scab bastard,” DOJ said. As they left the site, Williamson remarked to Veach that they were going to have to “take things back to old school.”

The two defendants then gathered about 10 rank-and-file members of Local 395 to return to the site that afternoon. Once there, the union 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.

As a result of the attack, one D5 worker sustained a broken jaw that required several surgeries and extended hospitalization. As part of their plea agreement, Williamson and Veach agreed to pay full restitution to the victims.

Both face a possible sentence of between 24 months and 54 months in prison. At ENR press time, a sentencing date had not yet been not set for either man.

Under federal law both men will be barred from holding any union position for at least 13 years following the end of any prison sentences they receive.

A representative of D5 said the company had no comment on the case. Iron Workers Local 395 in Portage did not return calls from ENR seeking comment.

A federal grand jury in August 2018 indicted Williamson and Veach on one count of extortion conspiracy and two counts of attempted extortion. (View ENR 2018 story here.)

The Center on National Labor Policy of Springfield, Va., an advocacy group that says its mission is to protect "individual rights from excesses of union and government power," issued a statement saying, "The Iron Workers made a mockery of worker free choice." 

The group added, "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."