Goon City — Part 2
How federal law and Philadelphia’s political structure contribute to union abuses

Carpenters union members protest outside Milkboy Coffee in Philadelphia.


Most of Philadelphia’s construction unions have faced numerous allegations of illegal intimidation. Meanwhile, many union leaders have held their positions for years, becoming millionaires in the process.

Edward Coryell, the business manager of the Philadelphia carpenters’ union, made a total of $311,759 in 2011 for his union work, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

Since Coryell first assumed the position in 1976, the carpenters’ union has been involved in numerous conflicts with businesses. During the early Eighties, members of the union stole or damaged at least $18,000 in property at construction sites, blew up a contractor’s truck, and threatened a restaurant owner with a gun and knives, according to the National Right to Work database.

“It certainly wasn’t us,” Coryell tells me.

Employers have also filed at least three cases with the National Labor Relations Board alleging that members of the carpenters’ union made “threatening statements” to them. The NLRB also has on record at least three other “various complaints” about members of the union, according to the Center for Union Facts.

The electrical workers’ union also has a long record. John Dougherty, the business manager, did not return my phone calls. But news reports say he has been in office since at least 1995, and the U.S. Department of Labor reports he earned $205,649 in 2011, the latest year on record.

The National Right to Work database shows that in 2000, members of the electrical workers’ union allegedly broke an injunction and blocked an entrance to a Verizon facility, cutting service to more than a thousand telephone lines.

The NLRB has also received complaints from businesses about the electrical workers’ union, including two instances of coercive statements, two of “denial of access” to a workplace, two of “threatening statements,” two of “harassment,” and one of “violence/assault,” according to the Center for Union Facts.

The ironworkers’ union has a similarly bad record. Its business manager, Joseph J. Dougherty, earned $207,889 in 2011. Employers have filed at least ten cases with the NLRB against this union for picketing and strike actions, among other allegations.

And in one of the rare cases that did yield arrests and convictions, ironworkers assaulted nonunion workers. Toys“R”Us was tearing down its old building and constructing a new one, using nonunion labor for some of the project. Union members regularly picketed outside the construction site, so the workers employed there would gather in a nearby parking lot, then enter the construction site together.

On June 23, 2010, some members of the ironworkers’ union showed up at the parking lot and started hitting the workers’ trucks with baseball bats. The workers fled, and the union members chased them, assaulting them with the baseball bats. One worker had to be taken to the hospital.

Two members of the union were arrested and pled guilty to simple assault. Meanwhile, police say they believe two other ironworkers were involved in the assault but went free for lack of evidence.

“We made a couple of phone calls [to the ironworkers’ union], and we didn’t get a lot of cooperation,” says James Godboy, the detective who investigated the assault.

In some cases, the union leadership appears to have participated in or led acts of violence and intimidation. The Building Trades Council, a construction-trades labor organization with 13 union affiliates, employs a business representative named Fred Cosenza, who earned $102,213 in 2011. A recent video taken at a construction site shows a white male striking a security guard. The male was identified by an eyewitness and by developer Michael Pestronk as Fred Cosenza.

Cosenza has a history of making employers feel uncomfortable. On July 13, 2000, he accompanied six other union officials to a company’s office to ask for jobs. The employees were so frightened that one of them called the police. The office manager testified, as the administrative-law judge’s decision summarizes, that Cosenza and the other union members “would not leave ‘until they got what they came for,’ that matters became tense, and that she was ‘freaked out’ and ‘scared.’”

The National Labor Relations Board examined the case, and in 2004 it affirmed the decision by the administrative-law judge stating that “even if obtaining employment was still among their purposes . . . and I doubt that it was, the organizers’ tactic of attempting to bully the Respondent into permitting them to bypass the normal [job] application procedures does not justify their refusal to leave the facility.”

A separate NLRB complaint reports Cosenza’s showing up at a job site with six other union organizers. NLRB member William Cowen wrote in his concurring decision that Cosenza and his companions “were simply at the jobsite to provoke the Respondent into not hiring them so that a spurious unfair labor practice charge could be filed.” Cowen also notes another union representative’s “offensive and disruptive behavior” during the visit.