PHILADELPHIA – A longtime union boss was convicted Tuesday in a racketeering case that accused him of using violence, vandalism and intimidation to get construction jobs for his members.
Joseph Dougherty, 73, told Ironworkers Local 401 members they were at “war” with nonunion competitors, especially as construction jobs dried up after the 2008 recession. Dougherty’s conviction Tuesday came after nearly a dozen members pleaded guilty rather than face trial.
Several members testified against him, including a top deputy who described the arson of a Quaker meetinghouse being built with nonunion crews. Witnesses also described torching another construction site; rumbling over jobs with the rival carpenters union; and flattening tires and causing other “mischief” on an 18-month picket line at an apartment construction project that relied on nonunion workers.
The jury heard dozens of wiretaps of phone calls between Dougherty and other union brass. The rank-and-file agitators called themselves the goon squad and “The Helpful Union Guys,” or THUGS.
One Texas contractor described her decision to hire a few union ironworkers for an antenna tower project near Philadelphia, just to avoid trouble. A union worker tapped for the job once dropped his tools from the 1,000-foot tower, and then came back late from lunch and missed the shuttle back up to the top.
The worker was fired. Dougherty was heard on an FBI wiretap telling his aides that he didn’t want any retribution, since the contractor had agreed to work with the union.
Defence lawyers for some of those who pleaded guilty said their clients had to do “night work” — the union’s term for vandalism — in order to get day work at the union hall.
Defence lawyer Fortunato “Fred” Perri Jr. argued that Dougherty, an ironworker since 1966, never directed his members to commit crimes and should not be held responsible for them.
The racketeering, extortion and other convictions carry what could amount to a life sentence. The judge cited a 15-year minimum sentence in ordering Dougherty to be taken into custody immediately and jailed pending his April 29 sentencing.