Ten members of a Philadelphia ironworkers union are charged with conspiring to commit extortion, arson, destruction of property, and assault to force construction contractors to hire union workers, according to the FBI.
The FBI this week said the members of Ironworkers Local 401 collaborated with allies who sought out construction sites that employed non-union workers, threatening personnel there with “violence, destruction of property or other criminal acts unless union members were hired.”
So-called “goon squads,” including a group calling itself “The Helpful Union Guys” (or THUGs) went into action. Some “set a crane on fire and cut steel beams and colts” at a Quaker Meeting House construction site in 2012, according to the indictment. In 2010, union members assaulted non-union workers with baseball bats at another construction site.
In 2013, they “threatened the contractor of an apartment complex… if he did not hire Local 401 members,” the indictment said. As a result, “the contractor relinquished his profits and turned the job over to a union-affiliated contractor.”
Experts say such incidents go both underreported and unprosecuted. National Institute for Labor Relations Research has documented over 9,000 reports of union violence since 1975, of which “barely 3 percent… have led to an arrest and conviction.”
The institute noted that in many cases, police and company reports “indicate that the actual number of assaults, threats and property damage is tens of times greater than the news reports collected” document.
In the Ironworkers Local 401 case, four of the 10 defendants face minimum prison sentences of 35 years if convicted of all charges.