PA Unions Still Exempt from Harassment, Continue Harassing with Impunity

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A couple of months ago, the FBI unsealed an indictment against a combination of 10 Philadelphia Ironworkers members and officials. This exposed a loophole in Pennsylvania law that exempts unions in a dispute from crimes such as harassment, stalking or threatening another person with physical harm.

Public scrutiny has led to a good-faith effort to end this outrageous union privilege. However, at the moment, State Rep. Ron Miller’s (R-York) bill to end union exemptions from certain crimes has stalled.

In a previous post, I described the violent tactics used by the Ironworkers to intimidate employers into signing contracts with the union:

For three years, union members repeatedly threatened non-union construction employers with violence unless they hired a certain amount of union members. As the indictment noted, violence was “deeply ingrained in the structure of their organization.”

This wasn’t the first time either. In 2010, prosecutors alleged that Local 401 boss Joseph Dougherty and his associates attacked non-union workers at a Toys “R” Us construction site. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported, upon encountering a wall of picketers at the site, nonunion workers from Maura Buildings in Lebanon, Pa., called police while Local 401 members smashed their trucks with baseball bats and even hit a nonunion employee in the face.

Worse, according to The Wall Street Journal, one of the Ironworkers top officials, John Sweeney, got off on his charges because of the carve-outs that exempt unions from being charged with harassment when in a labor dispute. ”At trial in municipal court, the attorney for Mr. Sweeney cited the exemption in the state’s harassment law. The judge found Mr. Sweeney not guilty, saying he viewed the case in the context of a labor dispute.”

One would hope that that judicial outcome would sway Pennsylvania legislators to end the union exemption. If not, they should remember until there is a penalty associated with union harassment and stalking it will continue. And it has.

On May 7, 2014, CSNPhilly.com reports on another incident involving union harassment and intimidation, which, unfortunately, will likely go unpunished.

According to the report, “Ken Weinstein, owner of the Trolley Car Diner in Mount Airy, told NBC10 that members of the Electrical Union IBEW Local 98 show up to his business nearly every day to bully and intimidate him.”

Mr. Weinstein’s conflict with the IBEW is nearly identical to that of non-union construction employers had with the Ironworkers.

Union bullying began when Weinstein started renovating a church he planned to turn into a private school. Long story short, IBEW did not win one of the contracts and the union promptly started making threats and protesting at the location.

At one point, Weinstein and his 12-year-old son attempted to reconcile with the union protesters. This did not go well. Weinstein said, “When we went outside to serve them donuts and coffee, one of the protesters responded by saying, ‘we know where you live and we’ll visit you.’”

Weinstein filed a police complaint, but no one was charged or arrested for the alleged threat.

Obviously, Rep. Miller’s bill should be enacted because no individual or association should be exempt from violent behavior. Further, union officials arguments in support of preserving the union exemption from harassment and stalking crimes are insufficient, at best.

For example, Richard Bloomingdale, president of the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO, said ”We’re human beings. We’ve been known to do some stupid things.” President Walter Wise suggested closing the loophole would expose “both unions and management to expensive and unnecessary court fights.”

Hopefully, Keystone state elected officials will come to their senses and protect their constituents from union intimidation tactics and quickly.

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