UPDATED 5:15 PM: Boston Mayor Martin Walsh’s Press Secretary issued a statement to Deadline tonight. “The permits were issued for this show and production of the show went forward — to our understanding — on schedule,” Kate Norton said. “In fact, the Mayor, along with a number of other city officials, directly participated in the filming of this show. I’m looking forward to seeing the episode.”
PREVIOUSLY, 2:19 PM: Mayor Martin Walsh was not happy. By the time he learned that Top Chef was filming in Boston with a non-union crew, he’d already wrapped a guest appearance on the Bravo show. “The mayor’s office said he felt ‘sideswiped,’” a source familiar with the situation said, “and because of that, they held up the show’s permits for a couple of days and threatened to not issue permits for the rest of the shoot.”
Shot at a local museum, the episode showed the mayor chowing down and welcoming Top Chef to the city. A few days later, reps from Teamsters Local 25 called the Mayor’s Office of Tourism, Sports and Entertainment to find out where the show had received permits to shoot around the city so they could set up picket lines. Panicky phone calls ensued, and “that’s when the mayor realized it was a non-union production,” the source said, “and he was concerned that by appearing on the show, it made him look like he doesn’t support the local unions. So they held the show’s permits for a couple of days and it delayed their schedule.”
Withholding film permits because of a show’s union status is a violation of Massachusetts state law. “That would be unlawful discrimination,” Boston labor attorney John Davis told Deadline. No one in the Boston film office or in the mayor’s office would comment on the record about the incident.
A few weeks later, Top Chef was filming in the Boston suburb of Milton when about a dozen members of Boston’s Teamsters Local 25 showed up to picket the show and began screaming racist, sexist and homophobic threats at members of the cast and crew. The show’s host, Padma Lakshmi, and Jenn Levy, Bravo’s SVP Production, both were threatened as they drove onto the set.
Local 25 President Sean O’Brien rejected Deadline’s account of the fracas, first reported on Wednesday, despite police and other corroboration of the published account.
“The Top Chef situation as it is written is fiction at best,” he said in a statement released by the union. “We have the right to lawfully demonstrate and protest the filming of non-union non-Massachusetts workers. We have fought long and hard to protect our members, their livelihoods and will continue to do so. If the allegations were true, Milton Police would have taken appropriate action.”
Local 25 spokeswoman Melissa Hurley told the Boston Herald, “As far as we’re concerned, nothing happened.”
That claim doesn’t hold up against a police report about the incident. John King, Milton’s Deputy Police Chief, told Deadline that the Teamsters were “threatening, heckling and harassing” the cast and crew. He said the first policeman on the scene had to call for backup after the Teamsters “gave the officer trouble.”
Reading from the police report, he said that the Teamsters were “hostile, swearing, and refusing to let people come in and out. Officers repeatedly tried to de-escalate the situation.” When more police arrived, the Teamsters went to the show’s hospitality tent and “harassed the crew there.” When the officers went there, King said, “A group of them slashed the tires on 14 different cars owned by the crew.”
The Boston Globe on Thursday confirmed Deadline’s account. “Source confirms ‘Top Chef’ harassment by local Teamsters,” reads the Globe’s headline. “A source close to the network did tell us that details of the Deadline account are true,” the story states.
“Historically, the relationship between Hollywood and the Charlestown-based Teamsters Local 25 has been volatile,” the Globe story continued. “Following the 1978 filming in Boston of The Brink’s Job, directed by William Friedkin and produced by Dino De Laurentiis, two members of the Teamsters were convicted on racketeering charges. At the time, De Laurentiis said hiring pressure from the Teamsters added $1 million to production costs. For many years, that and similar incidents had a chilling effect on the state’s efforts to lure Hollywood to the Hub.”
Season 12 of Top Chef premieres October 15 on Bravo, but no word yet on when the Boston episode will air.