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'Top Chef' vs. Boston Teamsters: Emails Prove Nasty Labor Dispute

How the city's politics got in the way


The dispute between the Boston Teamsters and the producers behind Top Chef continues to grow. Recently, emails between Top Chef employees and city officials were released. According to the Boston Globe, the email exchange released was between the show's talent scout, Derek Cunningham — and other Top Chef crew — and Boston's director of tourism, sports, and entertainment, Ken Brissette. The first email from Cunningham to Brissette arrived on the morning of June 5, 2014, where Cunningham complains to the city official about Teamster harassment over using nonunion workers on set, stating, "The phone calls to my cell have started. I know it's only going to get worse."

The email exchange revealed that while show producers detailed the issues they were having, members of the mayor's administration were unable to resolve the conflict. An email from the show's producer, David O'Connell, stated, "It's unfortunate that we will most likely have to leave Boston early" and "I don't know when I'll be ably [sic] to bring another nonunion show to Boston while the threat if [sic] the Teamsters looms large." Despite the complaints from the Top Chef team, the Teamster-friendly mayor's office was able to do little to squash the problem.

The emails show efforts made by the show and the city to try to diffuse the labor disputes between Top Chef producers and the city's Teamsters. It was this unresolved conflict that led to the September indictment of four Teamsters from Boston for extortion, alleging they harassed and intimidated Top Chef producers during filming. The U.S. Attorney's Office stated that the men were accused of having "yelled racial and homophobic slurs at the film crew and others, threatened crew and cast members, and shouted profanities." Members of the crew have also alleged that Teamster members went as far as to verbally attack host Padma Lakshmi during filming. The Teamsters immediately refuted the allegations, releasing a statement that included, "If the allegations were true Milton Police would have taken appropriate action."