Labor Pains: Because Being in a Union can be Painful

The Union Thug Tradition Continues

Union violence is far from a new story, but sadly, it’s a recurring one.

Police in Philadelphia say that the vandalism and arson — notably $500,000 in damage done to the site where a Quaker meetinghouse is being constructed by a nonunion company — is “absolutely” related to a union dispute. Michael Resnick, the public safety director in Philadelphia, said that the union members “have a First Amendment right to stand out with their signs and say what they want to say, but they do not have a right to destroy property or hurt people.”

Union members, of course, are feigning surprise that they are being implicated in the investigation of the December 21, 2012 incident. One leader told the Philadelphia Inquirer:

“Getting asked these type of questions is like being asked, ‘When did you stop beating your wife?’ ” said Pat Gillespie, business manager for the Philadelphia Building and Construction Trades Council.

The “union thug” is a reputation that labor has long tried to shed: The “Hug-a-Thug” events this summer wanted to portray a kinder, gentler labor union member. And certainly, the vast majority of union members are average citizens, individuals who can think and act (and donate to political causes) without a union boss telling them what to do.

But the reputation is also one that labor has capitalized on, because it makes their threats all the more credible. Karen Lewis of the Chicago Teachers Union even recalled labor’s heyday, memorializing that “The labor leaders of that time, though, were ready to kill. They were. They were just–off with their heads. They were seriously talking about that.” But it isn’t something she disavows — she followed that up with a quick “I don’t think we’re at that point.” Hopefully she’ll give us a “heads up” when she’s there.

Dennis Duffey, a labor boss in Toledo, Ohio, declared just last week that the City Council President should be “removed, tarred and feathered, or de-nutted” according to reports from the Toledo Blade. There are no reports of an apology from Duffey, but there are plenty of references to Duffey’s image: In 2005, the Blade referred to Duffey as a “union strongman” and a local Democratic Party leader characterized Duffey’s tactics as “twisting arms” in 2011.

The title of the Philadelphia Inquirer’s piece standing alone is also instructive: “Meetinghouse vandalism brings look at tactics in labor disputes.” [emphasis added]. Violence and threats are just items in labor’s toolbox. And thanks to lax federal and state laws, criminal activity by labor unions is too often ignored.

The Employee Rights Act would criminalize union threats of violence — threats that today often evade prosecution.

It also bears mentioning that this report is coming from the Philadelphia Inquirer– a paper that is ensuring it’s own labor strife. It’s sister paper, the Daily News, reports that the two publications, along with the website Philly.com, are facing liquidation on Friday if their unions don’t come to a new agreement with their parent company.

Categories: Center for Union FactsEmployee Rights ActViolence