Years of alleged intimidation by an ironworkers' union local in Philadelphia through site vandalism, violence and extortion targeting non-union contractors, workers and even the carpenters' union culminated in the arrest last month of 10 of the local's managers and members.
They were indicted on U.S. racketeering, conspiracy and arson charges, while the parent union took over the local's operations.
The Feb. 18 indictment charged Local 401 business manager and leader Joseph Dougherty and nine other officers and members. The FBI arrested them on Feb. 19.
Walter Wise, president of the International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental & Reinforcing Iron Workers, said the parent union tapped Stephen M. Sweeney, a regional vice president who also is president of the New Jersey state Senate, as administrator for up to 18 months.
"Until the indictments, we had not received any complaints concerning Local 401 or of the alleged activity," said Wise. North American locals are autonomous, he said.
According to prosecutors, informants would contact the Local 401 union hall or a business agent to identify projects. A union official then would approach the foreman, who would be implicitly or explicitly threatened with violence, property destruction or other crimes if union members were not hired, the 49-page indictment claims. Informants kept tabs on which projects used non-union labor.
When deemed necessary, the local dispatched a group of members, known as "goon squads," to threaten contractors. One group jokingly called itself "The Helpful Union Guys," or "THUGs."
Union leaders rewarded goon-squad members with special treatment in job assignments and top positions, says the indictment. Prosecutors say Dougherty, 72, "authorized, supervised and controlled the criminal activity," which included threatened assaults of contractors and workers and vandalism of equipment and property, including $500,000 in damage at a Quaker meeting-house project in Chestnut Hill, Pa.
U.S. Attorney Zane D. Memeger said that, because project contractor E. Allen Reeves Inc. would not hire Local 401 members, defendant James Walsh, whom the indictment terms the union's "hit man," and two others set a project crane ablaze and cut steel beams.
The defendants would not comment, but an attorney for Dougherty told The Philadelphia Inquirer that he "committed his life to union work."
Wise told ENR that Sweeney and other parent union officials will select, train and supervise four Local 401 members to run the union. Sweeney has handled recent mergers of area locals, and contractors are "supportive," he says.
"The overwhelming majority of Local 401 members are appalled and should not be branded by the actions of a few," adds Wise. "This situation has enabled us to speed reform in the local."