In June 2014, Teamsters threatened to physically injure “Top Chef” host Padma Lakshmi as she tried to cross a picket line, according to testimony from one of the show’s producers Wednesday in Boston federal court.
The four Teamsters “swarmed (Lakshmi’s) vehicle and surrounded it,” Ellie Carbajal, a longtime supervising producer on the show, testified in federal court, according to People.
The incident occurred outside a restaurant where the Bravo reality TV show was taping and the Teamsters were picketing. The show’s former co-executive producer, Erica Ross, described on Tuesday how Lakshmi was “visibly terrified.”
Lakshmi and Carbajal are both of Indian descent.
Lakshmi is expected to testify Thursday.
Four members of Teamsters Local 25 are accused of trying to extort producers of the non-union company for jobs in June 2014, according to Page Six.
John Fidler, Daniel Redmond, Robert Cafarelli and Michael Ross have pleaded not guilty and maintain they were legally picketing outside the restaurant in the Boston suburb of Milton that day, Page Six reports.
Attorneys for the Teamsters said in court that their clients went to the Steel & Rye restaurant to legally pressure the show’s production company after it hired non-union assistants to drive cast and crew vehicles.
“The defendants went to Milton to get jobs for their out-of-work brothers and sisters in the union,” attorney Kevin Barron said in his opening argument on Tuesday, reported MassLive.com. “That’s what they’re there for. This is real work we’re talking about.”
Barron argued that “the union doesn’t have to take no for an answer. Unions have a right, people have a right to organize and demand things from employers. There is no extortion, no crime, no conspiracy, just five middle-aged truckdrivers doing a picket.”
The show’s producers testified that things got ugly.
According to Deadline, Carbajal testified that the Teamsters were “furious” and that one, with his face just inches away from Lakshmi’s car window, told his buddies: “That’s the pretty one. We want to smash her face in.”
Media accounts from 2014 said one of the Teamsters shouted at Lakshmi: “We’re gonna bash that pretty face in, you f***ing whore.”
Carbajal also shared a video showing the protesters hurling racial and sexist insults at her. It shows Redmond calling her a “f***ing towel head” and “c**t.”
On the tape she can be heard telling him, “Your mama would be so proud.”
“At least I’m not a scab like you,” Redmond told her.
“They got in my face. I was scared,” Carbajal testified, according to Page Six. “I couldn’t believe they were doing this. They were grown men.”
The show’s former location manager, Derek Cunningham, also testified that he was so terrified after being threatened by two of the Teamsters that he “slept with a knife and a hatchet,” according to Deadline.
“I didn’t receive any quote-unquote death threats,” he testified, but said he has been in fear for his life since “the whole scene, generally, from June 5, honestly, to right now.”
A Mediaite report on the situation from August 2014 said Teamsters harassed the show’s crew the entire time they were filming, allegedly slashing tires on the crew’s cars and vans.
For two weeks, “the picketers continued to subject us to threats of violence, sexual and racist harassment,” one crew member told Mediaite. “I was scared to go to work. We had to face this nightmare daily until we wrapped the show.”
A fifth defendant in the case, Mark Harrington, the local’s former secretary-treasurer, pleaded guilty to the same charges in December and is serving six months of home confinement and two years of probation, Deadline reports. He was also ordered to pay a $10,000 fine and $24,000 in restitution.