Tucked deep in a South Philadelphia neighborhood that decorates for St. Patrick’s Day the way other places do for Christmas, there stands a bar that’s locally notorious for underage drinking and random brutality.
On a sunny afternoon in March, I tried unsuccessfully to visit; conflicting hours were reported online, and all phone numbers I could find for the bar had been disconnected. But when I asked a young woman who lived nearby whether the pub was safe to check out later that evening, she refused to answer directly but repeatedly recommended I go to a bar down the street instead. Another neighbor later tells me by phone that he was almost jumped outside the bar once — he had spoken out when a drunk man flicked a cigarette into his chest as he rode his bicycle past— but makes me promise not to mention his name.
Welcome to Doc’s Union Pub, an establishment owned and operated by the top brass of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 98, one of the most powerful construction unions in Philadelphia. The bar is reportedly named after John Dougherty — “Johnny Doc,” as he’s known locally — a high-paid union business agent with a reputation for using intimidation tactics to advance the goals of his union, political or otherwise.
Doc’s Union Pub is the direct or indirect recipient of huge amounts of money from Local 98’s political-action committee, one of the most significant campaign spenders in the state. Mike Connell Catering (also known as Mike the Cook Catering), a company that appears to operate primarily out of Doc’s Union Pub, also cashes in on its union connections.
The flow of money from the union’s PAC to labor leaders’ businesses isn’t necessarily illegal, even though it resembles a self-pay scheme. Nevertheless, public records distinctly show union leadership becoming wealthy even as the average worker struggled through a bad economy; between 2008 and 2012, around a third of Philadelphia’s unionized construction workers were unemployed or underemployed.
Philadelphia’s construction unions are under increased scrutiny since several members of Ironworkers Local 401 were charged in February with multiple crimes including arson, violent crime in the aid of racketeering, and conspiracy under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. The investigation is ongoing, and both the indictment and sources have suggested the federal government will examine the unions’ political connections.
The liquor license and corporate papers for Doc’s Union Pub list Brian Burrows as the bar’s president, stockholder, director, and manager/steward. Burrows is also the current president of Local 98 and the treasurer of the union’s PAC. The liquor license and corporate papers further list Michael B. Neill, director of Local 98’s apprenticeship training, as the secretary/treasurer, director, and stockholder. The property is owned by JMB Real Estate Corporation — which lists Dougherty, Burrows, and Neill as its officers.
Between 2012 and 2013, Doc’s Union Pub received at least $85,250 from seven direct disbursements from Local 98’s PAC, according to data from the Federal Election Commission. Likewise, between 2004 and 2013, Mike Connell Catering received 34 separate disbursements from the PAC, adding up to $217,100.
State-level candidates supported by Local 98 also patronized Doc’s Union Pub and Mike Connell Catering, spending big. Between 2001 and 2012, 14 Pennsylvania candidates and committees received Local 98 money — and together, they spent $405,000 at Doc’s Union Pub. Between 2005 and 2013, Mike’s Catering Company also received $50,750 from eight Pennsylvania candidates who had received financial support from the electrical workers’ union.
Politicians’ affinity for Doc’s Union Pub is odd, given the bar’s rap sheet. Since 2001, the bar has been cited at least twelve times, racking up more than $7,000 in fines and enduring at least one suspension of its license. On multiple occasions, the pub was caught serving liquor to minors; in 2011, the bar had allegedly “failed to maintain complete and truthful records covering the operation of the licensed business” for the required two-year period, though the final ruling is unclear; it has also repeatedly been ticketed for noise violations. Online reviews emphasize the casual violence that’s prone to break out there.
There are indications that the electrical-workers’ union leaders are making significant profits from Local 98 even beyond the restaurant and catering company. Between 2002 and 2012, John Dougherty earned $1,955,837 in gross salary from working as a business manager for the union; add in his other disbursements and he received $2,274,247 during that decade, becoming the highest-paid Local 98 officer for all of those years. And when Dougherty unsuccessfully ran for Pennsylvania state senate in 2008, the union’s PAC spent at least $495,682 to support him.
There’s confusion about other aspects of Dougherty’s financial situation. In 2006, federal agents searched Dougherty’s home but failed to file charges against him. In 2012, the corresponding search warrant, which was not previously public record, surfaced, and the Philadelphia Inquirer reported: “The FBI alleged . . . Dougherty’s bank records showed a pattern of deposits and withdrawals of ‘substantial amounts of cash’ in ‘what appears to be an effort to conceal financial dealings.’ From 2002 to 2005, the FBI said, Dougherty deposited about $106,000 in cash that could not be traced to any known source.”
In 2007, the Inquirer reported that “a Philadelphia electrical contractor was charged Tuesday with stealing $869,000 from a union benefits plan, bribing a bank executive, and ‘making illegal payments’ to labor leader John Dougherty.” But federal officials have still failed to file charges.
Dougherty’s family and close friends also appear to be making money from their union affiliations. Multiple news articles say John Dougherty’s daughter is Erin Dougherty. A former Doc’s Union Pub bartender, Erin Dougherty also received $195,967 for union work between 2001 and 2012, according to union filings.
And according to a 2006 Philadelphia Magazine article, Dougherty once “took in a girl with a drug-using mother — Tara, [who, in 2006, was] 22.” According to records from the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, a 19-year-old named Tara Chupka, the same age as the girl Dougherty took in, had been served alcohol by Erin Dougherty at Doc’s Union Pub in 2003. Property records place a Tara Chupka, now 30, at John Dougherty’s home address on East Moyamensing Avenue between 2003 and 2006. And a Tara Chupka has received $463,884 working for Local 98 between 2004 and 2012.
National Review Online called and e-mailed Dougherty’s office on the morning of March 12 asking for an interview, but he had not responded by publication.
Brian Burrows also made significant money while working as the president of Local 98. Records show he was paid $737,693 between 2008 and 2012 in gross salary; add in other disbursements, and he got $847,086.
Electrical workers are required to contribute money regularly, not only to cover dues but also to fund Local 98’s political activities. But such lavish spending, both directly on union leaders’ salaries and in payments to their businesses through PAC disbursements or events hosted by PAC-supported political candidates, contrasts sharply with the modest lot of the electrical workers Local 98 purports to represent.
Though specific statistics for electrical workers who belonged to a union weren’t available, in a report published in 2010, the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry found that “a disproportionate share of unemployment comes from occupations that felt the most direct effect of the housing crisis on the construction industry. In both Pennsylvania and nationally, the unemployment rate among blue-collar construction occupations equaled 23 percent in the first six months of 2010.” It estimated that nearly two and half times the number of construction workers in Pennsylvania had been unemployed between 2008 and June 2010 as had been employed.
— Jillian Kay Melchior writes for National Review as a Thomas L. Rhodes Fellow for the Franklin Center. She is also a senior fellow for the Independent Women’s Forum.