We covered the indictment of the “THUGs” — seriously, that was the name of one of their “goon squads” — of Ironworkers Local Union 401 back in February. Ten people affiliated with the Philadelphia union, including the union’s financial secretary and multiple business agents, were charged with RICO crimes related to a series of actions that culminated in the December 2012 burning of a Quaker meetinghouse being built by a non-union contractor.
Eleven have now pleaded guilty. This week, Financial Secretary Joseph Dougherty (who was paid $211,989 total compensation in 2013 for his union service)—the only indicted “THUG” not to plead guilty—is standing trial for his alleged involvement in the violence and intimidation schemes.
The Philadelphia Daily News reports that prosecutors argued that the Ironworkers Local 401 enterprise allegedly orchestrated by Dougherty resembled the mafia. The paper reports:
“Both criminal enterprises existed and operated through a pattern of fear, violence, and intimidation,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Livermore wrote in a trial memorandum filed [Jan. 3]. “Both criminal enterprises used that well-earned fear to extort money from businesses.” […]
In the trial memo, Livermore likened the union under Dougherty to “the mafia” and said Dougherty was its “don” or “undisputed leader.” Another union member had even described Dougherty as the “Jimmy Hoffa” of the union, the memo says – a reference to the powerful Teamsters leader who disappeared in 1975.
Dougherty’s alleged associates testified that Dougherty was involved in ordering so-called “nightwork” — criminal activity conducted to advance union ends. Dougherty’s defense team has taken an interesting approach to addressing the charges, according to the AP:
“In Philadelphia, for decades and decades and decades, this town has been a strong and proud union town,” defense lawyer Fortunato Perri Jr. told jurors.
He said his client didn’t invent “night work” and shouldn’t be held responsible for his co-defendants’ crimes.
But prosecutors said Dougherty “ruled with an iron fist” and took union mischief to new heights.
“There has been a long tradition of night work within the Ironworkers Local 401 stretching back 50 years or more,” prosecutors said in one plea memo filed in the case. “(But) the defendants in this case took (it) to a new level.”
The defense attorney’s “union town” non sequitur aside, the claim that violence and intimidation have been Ironworkers hallmarks for a half-century shows why a crackdown on union violence is needed now as much as ever. The Employee Rights Act would close a loophole that exempts certain union conduct from federal anti-extortion laws. While existing law was able to corral the “THUGs” of Ironworkers Local 401, there is no valid reason to let this loophole continue to exist.