Politics & Policy

Philadelphia’s Union ‘Thugs’ Indicted

Arrests for arson, violent crime, and conspiracy

FBI agents arrested several union members of Philadelphia’s Ironworkers Local 401 Wednesday on multiple counts including arson, violent crime in the aid of racketeering, and conspiracy under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.

The investigation is ongoing and will likely scrutinize unions’ allies in political office, according to sources.

National Review wrote extensively about Ironworkers Local 401 last year as part of a broader investigation into how, for decades, organized labor has dominated the construction industry in Philadelphia through violence, intimidation, harassment and vandalism. Investigations and arrests have long been rare. #ad#

The 49-page indictment details how members of Local 401, who called themselves “the Helpful Union Guys,” or “THUGS,” allegedly extorted, intimidated and bullied businesses and contractors, forcing them to hire union members, even when they were “unwanted, unnecessary and superfluous.”

Members used arson, vandalism, sabotage and occasional violence to retaliate against those who chose to use non-union workers, the indictment says. Local 401 members were also allegedly behind the arson attack on a Quaker meeting house just days before Christmas 2012, which resulted in $500,000 in damage. The indictment also accuses two ironworkers of participating in a 2010 baseball-bat assault on non-union workers building a Toys R Us store in King of Prussia.

The indictment describes tense relations between unions, which became especially heated when Local 401 believed other workers were encroaching on ironwork jobs.

“You hope you get cancer so you can just go there and shoot every mother f*cker [member of the other union] down there,” said Ed Sweeny, a Local 401 business agent, according to the indictment. “You want to get cancer and just go there and shoot everybody. It’s insane, man, to have, to actually, to wish, you know, you would die so that you can go down there and kill them.”

Unions are almost never targeted as criminal organizations, in large part because in 1973 the Supreme Court ruled in United States v. Enmons that union officials cannot be prosecuted or even investigated if they are carrying out “legitimate union business.”

In the past, that’s often prevented unions from investigation under RICO or the Hobbs Act, which prohibits “the “wrongful use of actual or threatened force, violence, or fear,” and defines extortion as “the obtaining of property from another, with his consent . . . under color of official right.”


Edward Hanko, the FBI’s Special Agent in Charge in Philadelphia, tells National Review that though it was “a long and complex road,” he believes Enmons will not extend legal protections to the ironworkers indicted yesterday, many of whom could spend the rest of their lives in prison.

“Here’s where, of course, the difference comes: When you commit acts of violence, threats, intimidation, arson — that’s when you stop doing legitimate business for a union. That’s criminal activity. The difference is what allowed us to go forward with the RICO investigation,” Hanko explains.

In the past, many Philadelphia residents didn’t report criminal behavior from unions because they were afraid, Hanko says. “Maybe now that they can see a tangible result of a federal investigation, it will spur more people to come and tell their stories,” he says.

Rob Reeves Jr., the contractor building the Quaker meetinghouse that Local 401 allegedly vandalized, calls the indictment “a step in the right direction.”

“I hope it puts a chilling effect on other unions that have been doing very much the same type of thing for decades,” Reeves tells me. “It’s not just the Ironworkers. It’s the building trades [also], and many of the various unions have done [similar] things throughout the years .”

National Review’s investigation found that although 143 Philadelphia-based incidents of union violence had been documented in news reports between 1975 and 2009, arrests were mentioned only 38 times, and only eight convictions were noted.

The National Right to Work Committee, which counted those instances, estimates that for every union-related criminal incident that makes the papers, another 10 go unreported. By that count, Philadelphia has endured 45 incidents of union violence every year for almost four decades.

— 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.

Jillian Kay Melchior — Jillian Kay Melchior writes for National Review as a Thomas L. Rhodes Fellow for the Franklin Center. She is also a senior fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum.

Most Popular

Politics & Policy

San Francisco Bans Fur Sales

San Francisco has banned the sale of fur. From the CBS-SF story: San Francisco has become the first major U.S. city to ban the sale of fur clothing and products. Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a measure that prohibits the sale of fur clothes, accessories, even souvenirs in stores and ... Read More

For the First Time in Weeks, Relief Sweeps over Austin

Making the click-through worthwhile: The Austin bomber is done in by one of his own devices; some new numbers suggest that a small but significant portion of Trump voters are tiring of the chaos and aren’t showing up to support other Republicans in 2018; and the mixed news for conservatives coming out of the ... Read More

The Baleful Effect of #MeToo on Campus

Remember the series of hurricanes that pounded the Caribbean last summer? Something like that has been occurring on college campuses, as they're hit by one destructive mania after another: diversity, Title IX, anti-speech protests. Now it's the #MeToo Movement. In this Martin Center article, British academic ... Read More
Politics & Policy

A Time for Choosing

This year’s Conservative Political Action Conference was controversial. Invitations to European nationalist populists such as Nigel Farage and Marion Maréchal-Le Pen (the niece of Marine Le Pen) caused many longtime conservatives to question whether they still belong to the conservative movement. Vocal critics ... Read More