The Law Should Not Condone Violence

Yesterday, Ironworkers Local 401 union leader Joseph Dougherty was given a 19 year prison sentence for encouraging sabotage and intimidation to advance his union’s interests.

The judge in the case offered a scathing rebuke of Dougherty and an indictment of tolerance for union violence in Pennsylvania:

Comparing Dougherty to Lady Macbeth, U.S. District Judge Michael Baylson chastised the 73-year-old business manager for acting behind the scenes and relying on “an army of ironworkers” to commit crimes for him.

“That’s the real tragedy of this case,” Baylson said. “His leadership led to a lot of damage. It led to a lot of crimes. It continued the bad reputation Philadelphia has for tolerating union violence.”

Incredibly, other union leaders continue to support Dougherty. Anyone reading the facts of this case should be appalled, not celebrating or supporting Dougherty with rallies.

Speaking to his union subordinates, Dougherty repeatedly referred to nonunion contractors as “subhuman” and “pigs.”

“You should be able to do whatever you want to them, and it should be legal,” he said on one recording. “There shouldn’t be a crime.”

Still, argued Dougherty lawyer Mark Cedrone, there was no proof that his client ordered – or even knew about – many of the attacks union members carried out on construction sites across the region.

That list included some of the most high-profile incidents in the city’s recent history, such as the 2012 arson of a Quaker meetinghouse in Chestnut Hill, the baseball-bat beatings of nonunion workers outside a King of Prussia Toys R Us in 2010, and an all-out brawl in 2013 between ironworkers and members of the Carpenters union. …

Members rose through the ranks by participating in goon squads that struck back at contractors who refused to hire their union ironworkers. One group openly referred to itself as “the Helpful Union Guys” – “T.H.U.G.S.” for short.

While Dougherty may not have participated in or ordered all of attacks, Livermore said, he rewarded his union’s saboteurs with plum job assignments and his support for elected union posts.

The violence and sabotage are an all too real part of labor disputes in Pennsylvania. And yet, inexplicably, Pennsylvania law carves out exemptions for hostile and aggressive behavior if the behavior occurs during the midst of a labor dispute.

That’s not a typo. While state law rightly criminalizes harassment, stalking, and threats involving weapons of mass destruction (WMD), “a party to a labor dispute”—including labor union leaders—are exempt. There is no plausible justification for tolerating stalking, harassment, or threating to use WMDs on another person.

Readers may think this is just some crazy, archaic law we never fixed—like laws preventing carrying an ice cream cone in your back pocket. Reality paints a different picture. The exemptions were created relatively recently, and they have been used to excuse union violence.

Take the case of Sarina Rose who, along with her young children, suffered harassment and was threatened by union members. Yet, a judge dismissed the case, citing the exemptions in the law, essentially saying this kind of behavior is to be expected when dealing with unions.   

It’s pretty clear we need to get serious about ending a culture that accepts violence or threats of violence as just the cost of doing business.  

It starts by passing HB 874, which moved out of the state House in April. The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Ron Marsico, ends the ability of labor disputants to stalk, harass, and threaten with impunity.

The bill currently sits on the Senate floor, awaiting action.