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Labor and Industry

On The Decline, Philadelphia Labor Unions Are Becoming Increasingly Petulant

As labor unions continue to hemorrhage members, the long-standing conflict between the construction trade unions and open shop contractors here in Philadelphia is showing up in the news with greater frequency these days.  For those that think that union violence is a new thing, let me disabuse you of that thought quickly – it has been going on for years.  And it needs to stop.

Just before Christmas, a construction site at the Chestnut Hill Friends Meetinghouse was attacked overnight causing approximately $500,000 in damage to the nearly $6 million project.  Cuts were made in the steel columns being used to frame the building using an acetylene torch, bolts on other columns were loosened, and a fire was set in the crane being used to erect the steel.  In other words, this was not a bunch of kids out in search of a little mischief.  Whoever staged this attack knew what they were doing.  This has been confirmed by the Philadelphia detective in charge of the investigation.

So what precipitated such a callous act?  The Meetinghouse had the audacity to hire an open shop contractor, with experience building houses of worship, that gave it the lowest bid to perform the work.

In a New York Times article about the incident, Pat Gillespie, business manager of the Philadelphia Building Trades, denied the trade unions were responsible and laughably tried to pawn it off as the work of some unhappy contractor who did not get paid.  The lunacy of this argument begins to sound even more brazen when one considers that 4 union members were at the site just days before the attack attempting to disrupt work and were asked to leave.  They were sure to remind those at the site that they “would do what they had to do” before leaving that day.

I plan to address this ongoing problem further in later posts.  For now, let’s review the complete lack of regard an attack like this demonstrates.  To name a few:

(1)  The damage caused to the construction project itself was significant.  Damaging structural beams and portions of the building already constructed undoubtedly resulted in increases in construction costs for the contractors on the job and, most likely, the owner. 

(2)  From the information I have learned so far, the crane that was burned was owned by a very small two-man operation.  It was their only equipment.  By destroying it, those responsible for the attack likely made it impossible for this small business to operate any longer.  Those workers have lost their jobs.  Consider the fact that it also likely means they can’t feed some of the people they are responsible to feed without the lost income.

(3)  The project site was in a close-quartered residential neighborhood.  In addition to the property damage caused, imagine what would have happened if the fire that was started spread to the nearby homes.  What’s more, the attack happened in the middle of the night when people were likely sound asleep in those homes.  It is not out of the question that people could have died.  Clearly those who carried out the attack did not consider this might happen.

(4)  I am told the FBI, Philadelphia Police, and various other valuable resources were brought in to investigate the crime and make sure the site was safe for workers to return.  A valuable use of taxpayer dollars, don’t you think?

(5)  On a larger and perhaps more esoteric level, events like this don’t help an already struggling economy.  These types of intimidation are designed to scare people into refusing to deal with non-union companies.  This is a blatant attempt to avoid the type of open market competition that keeps prices down and gives every worker (union or non-union) an opportunity for an honest days wage.  Some owners will elect not to build at all, others will take their money and projects to another state or locale to avoid the conflict.  And yes, rank and file union members are hurt because there is less work to go around and they are all classified as thugs.  To be sure, many would neither endorse nor participate in the type of activity that took place at the Friends Meetinghouse.  Unfortunately, others are doing it on their behalf.

This type of nonsense needs to stop.  Labor union leaders need to publicly condemn it.  Rank and file union members need to identify the people responsible for this and other attacks and do what they can to prevent future attacks.  The police need to investigate this incident, identify those responsible, and prosecute them under the toughest laws possible.  The public needs to loudly declare that this type of petulant behavior is unacceptable.  And politicians need to stop pandering to labor unions (more on this in my next post), get some guts, and address this problem head on before it escalates further.

Open debate in the public square about labor issues, as with any other matter of public concern, is fair game.  In fact such debate should happen; it’s healthy for a nation to have those discussions.  I invite and encourage that reasoned debate.  Attacks on construction sites in the middle of the night are not free speech and, Mr. Gillespie, would not even be used to resolve a pay dispute by any reputable contractor.  The threat of violence when you don’t get what you want should sound familiar to any red-blooded American.  Fear and intimidation are the tactics of terrorists and people who cannot win the debate in the public square.

The problem is the trade unions are losing the debate; and they know it.  Rather than adjusting to the times, making better arguments, and competing in the market, many (not all) have opted for something different from standing in the arena of ideas and making their case.  Shame on them.


About Josh Quinter

I am a politcally active private practice attorney in Suburban Philadelphia.



  1. Pingback: Labor Union Membership Down, Bullying Up « Pennsylvania Patriot - February 11, 2013

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